At the end of August, I wrote a ‘State of College Football’ piece in which I discussed the Big Ten and PAC-12’s decisions, amongst those of other conferences, to postpone the traditionally fall football season. Now, only two months later, both conferences are gearing up to begin play in November. Today, we can examine what has already happened, namely in the ACC, SEC and Big 12, and consider what the future holds for the PAC-12 and Big Ten.
No college-football-during-COVID-story is complete without mentioning the absolute hoopla that came along with the Big Ten decision. After a call with the White House and considerable deliberation, the conference announced that football would indeed be played this fall on Sept. 16. The rationale behind a return to play, the conference’s commissioner explained, was predicated on the conference’s ability to guarantee daily testing of its athletes, as well as the development of new screening protocols for virus-related heart ailments. The conference also released rules surrounding the virus, comparable to those of the ACC, including a 21-day quarantine for any player who tests positive.
In a somewhat confusing fashion, the AP Top 25 Poll includes both teams that are currently playing and teams that are not. As such, pressure awaits Ohio State, ranked No. 6 this week, despite having yet to play a game. Penn State is ranked No. 9, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota are ranked No. 16, 20 and 25, respectively. It will be interesting to see how the season plays out for these teams, given that each will play eight in-conference games in eight weeks.
This decision was made in order to align with the timeline of the College Football playoffs, scheduled to begin with the playoff semifinals on Jan. 1. This doesn’t leave much room for flexibility. As has been seen in ACC play, it is highly possible that some games will be cancelled and/or postponed, because nothing goes perfectly to plan during a global pandemic.
In the PAC-12, there has been significantly less chaos and the decision to return to play was much more lowkey. In a shortened version of the season, the PAC-12 announced, each team will play five divisional games and one crossover game. The season begins on Nov. 7, and will run through the PAC-12 Championship Game, set for the weekend of December 18-19. Sitting at No. 12. in the AP Top 25 Poll, Oregon is the PAC-12’s only representative.
The Big 12 has been holding games with what appears to be an astounding number of fans in the stands since mid-November. Oklahoma State leads the conference in terms of poll ranking, sitting at No. 10 and Iowa State comes in at No. 24. As a whole, the Big 12 has so many inconsistent teams and it looks unlikely that the conference will be represented in the College Football Playoff. Last week, then ranked No. 3 Oklahoma suffered a loss to unranked Kansas State, then fell to Iowa State this week. Also this week, then No. 8 Texas was stunned by unranked TCU in a 33-31 upset.
By far, the SEC and ACC make up the majority of the spots among the AP Poll as a result of these teams’ sheer talent, but also because of their added benefit of having played several times already. Those two conferences make up the entirety of the top five spots and seven of the top ten. At the top is familiar foe, Clemson, who led the way with 52 first place votes this week.
This week, College Game Day willreturn to the ACC yet again, coming to Clemson, S.C. as the Tigers take on the No. 7 ranked Miami Hurricanes.
Last weekend SEC teams Alabama and Georgia both looked extremely strong. The Crimson Tide rolled past Texas A&M 52-25 led by the offensive wizard, Mac Jones, in the pocket. He went 20-for-27, racking up 435 yards and two touchdowns. Georgia dominated Auburn 27-6, setting up an exciting showdown at Alabama on Oct. 17.
Also worth note has been SMU’s play so far this fall. Currently ranked No. 18 in the polls, the 4-0 Mustangs stand atop the American Athletic Conference. On Saturday, they notched a 30-27 win over Memphis after two dominant victories against Stephen F. Austin and North Texas in the two weeks prior. Group of Five drama is always fun, and this year looks to be no different.
Despite COVID-19 and all the accompanying unknowns, it’s shaping up to be a fun fall for college football. Especially as we near the PAC-12 and Big Ten’s return, the chatter and conspiracy theories will continue to grow. Who has the virus? Who is hurt? The questions go on and on. I’m just happy to have college football to watch, and I’m sure many of you are too.