No. 1 Alabama (6-0) couldn’t play last week when the coronavirus pandemic shelved its visit to LSU, one of 25 postponements or cancellations the past two weekends, so the Crimson Tide will resume its season unless the coronavirus pandemic shelves its welcoming of Kentucky (3-4).
There’s a fascinating matchup in Salt Lake City between No. 20 Southern California (2-0) and Utah (0-0), in which Utah will hope to open its season at last after two cancellations, unless there’s not any fascinating match in Salt Lake City. UCLA Coach Chip Kelly will return to Oregon to play the No. 11 Ducks (2-0), unless he ends up not having to bother.
The Big 12 will have Bedlam — No. 14 Oklahoma State (5-1) at No. 18 Oklahoma (5-2) — except there’s always the chance it won’t. Atop those conference standings stands No. 17 Iowa State (5-2), and its bout with visiting Kansas State ought to be something to check out except there’s always the chance of checking out a blank screen.
Mighty No. 7 Cincinnati (7-0) goes to see a program with a sustained mightiness through recent years, Central Florida (5-2), unless mighty Cincinnati remains home.
And in a matter of dark interest, Michigan (1-3) will play at Rutgers (1-3), which will serve as a measurement of just how far Jim Harbaugh’s sixth season has sunk, unless those suffering through that season get spared the prospect of more suffering because kickoff never comes.
Surely there’s an admirable human trait tucked somewhere into the way everybody continues to act about this season. We push through with the usual things that long have governed our football-addled lives. Some cheer for wins. Some cheer for others’ losses (and might outnumber those who cheer for wins). Some lambaste coaches. Some analyze games. Some lambaste coaches. Some make a Heisman list when maybe this time they ought to give out half a Heisman (preferably the upper half). Some lambaste coaches.
But the whole thing has always hinted at farce until recent weeks when it began teetering toward farce. As Kyle Bonagura of ESPN tweeted when he surveyed the latest Pac-12 cancellations, “We’re well past the point where this season should be viewed as anything but a bunch of exhibitions.” Undeterred after California’s game at Arizona State got thwarted, with Arizona State Coach Herm Edwards testing positive for the coronavirus, Bonagura later tweeted, “Does anyone have a homing beacon on the Cal equipment truck?”
Come 2030, the football-minded people whose autopsies someday might show laces in the brain might refer to this season as a throwaway. They might sit around and second-guess the damned play-calling and say, “Wow, Harbaugh really plummeted that year before he turned it around,” or, “Why did Harbaugh leave after such a throwaway year?” or, “Let’s give Harbaugh a chance to turn it around finally here in Year 17.”
Pat Fitzgerald, still somehow only 45 years old, came to the Zoom meeting Saturday night after his team’s 27-20 tough-out at Purdue. His 15th Northwestern team had just shown the season of his 14th — 3-9 last year — to be aberrant, something such an excellent coach long since knows how to correct. So Nicole Auerbach of the Athletic asked him the first question, about what particular elements a team might need to contend for a Big Ten division title, because Fitzgerald must know, his 13th team having done so in 2018.
Fitzgerald’s answer proved long and winding and detailed, never a problem. He went back to mid-August, when the Big Ten closed the curtain after eight practices, and then to the time (September) when that curtain reopened. Then he pinpointed the key stat of 2020, a stat that (sadly) doesn’t turn up anywhere near the turnover margins, the stat that might divide into number of players missing for positive tests and number of players missing for contact tracing.
“I think right now, Nicole, what you have to do, you’ve got to be covid-free,” he said. “You know? And we’ve gone however-many weeks since we reported, we haven’t had a positive covid test, and I’m knocking on wood right now. But our guys have been so disciplined when it comes to their social decisions. Our staff. Our support staff. Everybody that is around our football program, that’s in our Tier 1, has been absolutely phenomenal. And that’s just going to continue to be a challenge that goes beyond just the football side.”
A football season, hinging on a novel stat: Beer Pong Invitations Declined.
In beautiful Blacksburg, Va., on Saturday, Miami Coach Manny Diaz came to his Zoom meeting and began mentioning the snags that preceded the Hurricanes’ 25-24 win over Virginia Tech. The second question came from Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, mentioning the voluminous report of inactive Miami players that hit reporters in late morning and asking for snag details.
“We were on the brink, Tim,” Diaz said of his 7-1 team, now ranked 12th. “And you know, the players’ attitude, I thought, was most telling. They wanted to play. And we were right on the brink in some position groups if we could even function as a team. Some guys had to step up. … We were just really down on the numbers at offensive line. And you know, like, just makes it hard to practice, makes it hard to do anything. But no one cares, right? You go play a game, and there’s no excuses. Virginia Tech has certainly encountered equal, if not more, adversity in their season with what happened to their defense.”
Of course, the “no one cares” portion of that constitutes the proper way to approach football or any sport. It’s a coaching must. But all of the snags have mattered, matter still and will continue to matter this coming weekend with the usual dish of enticing games on the way, unless the dish arrives empty. As Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan, whose football team contended for the College Football Playoff last year back when seasons were normal, told reporters Friday just after a cancellation meant his 2020 football team would remain 0-0: “I don’t know where college football’s going, guys. I really don’t.”