We’ve put this off long enough. Developments have eventuated, if not to a full and definitive conclusion, and it’s time to come at this hot mess like cat with a laser toy. Football, such as it is, might have been, and very well could be, is back.
The year 2020, as we see, has not contented itself with putting face diapers on us and leaving us with awe-inspiring masses of extra hair. It’s messing with verb conjugations and even voices; it leaves nothing sacred. Least of all football. I have a feeling there will be no way for decent folk to talk about the unspeakable NFL this fall. But we’ll have our hands full with the NCAA anyway, so let’s get right on with it.
To begin with, we have a Power-3 core this season, at least as things stand now. The SEC, ACC, and Big-12 are playing. At this time, the Big-10 and PAC-12 are not (not that anyone will particularly notice the difference with the PAC-12). The conferences are playing an abbreviated season, dispensing with out-of-conference and certainly out-of-subdivision games. So we regret (and I mean we really regret) that there will be no Presbyterian Blue Hose sightings on FBS gridirons this fall, and no annual opportunity to cheer the Citadel on in its quixotic tilts at the SEC.
As we understand it, the Big 10 is steeped in a re-vote process, egged on by President Trump. So the Wolverine faithful who were hoping for Michigan’s most perfect season in ages may not get their wish (although Michigan’s president, an immunologist, is said to be the biggest obstacle to reversing the no-season decision for the conference). The PAC-12 likewise has a path to playing, although the decision wouldn’t be made for a few weeks.
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Final Four hangers-on like Oklahoma may still have something other than the SEC perennials and Clemson to worry about. But even though Ohio State is currently ranked #2 in the polls, we’re not convinced a Big-10 season more abbreviated than those of the Power-3 would be sufficient to justify considering the Buckeyes in the CFP.
All that is for the weeks that are yet to eventuate. Meanwhile, among our other conferences of particular interest, the AAC (Tulsa and Navy) and the Independents (Army) are playing seasons. As of now the MWC (Nevada, Wyoming, and Air Force) is not, although Air Force has the other service academies scheduled; and the MAC (Toledo) is not playing.
We’re gratified to report, however, that C-by-golly-USA is playing, and indeed has already logged actual games and real-world postponements this week, so we’re darn proud of ‘em. Sun Belt starts playing on 18 September, when the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina will host Campbell University’s Fighting Camels (FCS, Big South), and we may be able to finally put our weight down and feel at home with this fiercely evanescing NCAA season.
Speaking of FCS, our beloved Southland Conference, home of the McNeese State Cowboys, is playing an abbreviated schedule with a limited group of teams. But McNeese, rejoicing in its homebase of Lake Charles, Louisiana, which was absolutely wrecked by Hurricane Laura, is ineligible for postseason play this fall due to some reasons (academics, as we understand it), and doesn’t have fall 2020 games on the schedule as of this writing.
We’ll preview our Div II and III teams, such as their fortunes may be portended, when we get to Other Ranks.
The bottom line for FBS ball is that the Power-3 action starts next weekend, along with most of our other Inner Circle teams’ games. So although we want to get this show on the road, we’re not in a big all-fired hurry.
With play starting next week, we will defer insightful commentary on the following Inner Circle teams:
The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane, which beat Notre Dame 28-27 on 30 October 2010
#5 Oklahoma (which, OK, we need to mention has a QB now in Spencer Rattler; and we should urgently point out would in any other situation be assumed as a team to have its main weakness in these annual last-minute QB decisions, but in fact keeps having the last-minute QBs win the Heisman, and whose actual weakness is always, always the D; but the real insightful commentary will be next week)
Oklahoma State (about which we are so not going to discuss that nasty forced apology to the People’s Commissariat)
Virginia Tech (where Bud Foster is gone, and we’re not getting over that any time soon, plus we’re grateful that Keshawn King is in the RB lineup because we don’t recognize anybody else, and it’s kind of like that all over the roster; but we’ll get into all that later)
#6 LSU (where we are pleased to report that the auxiliary academic and research side of the university has filed for a patent on new cooling-and-circulation technology for helmets, proving once again that there is a valid role for non-football activities at FBS schools; but we have to cut this insightful-commentary-previewing off somewhere, so moving on…)
If you noticed we didn’t mention Navy, we congratulate you on your sharp eye. Navy and BYU slide in just under the wire for this weekend, playing a Monday night game at Annapolis. Navy will continue to bring the triple option, and BYU – coming off some nail-biting weeks of utter uncertainty about Independents scheduling this fall – has had little time to prepare for this last-minute match, so the Cougars may not be in the best possible shape to shut the triple-O down.
But Navy will be playing without Malcolm Perry behind center for the first time in three years, and his replacement, senior Dalen Morris, had to beat out Perry Olsen, whom many liked better for the job. Meanwhile, BYU QB Zach Wilson will be a formidable challenge for Navy’s experience-deficient defense. BYU is favored by 1.5.
Army also gets an outing this week, hosting Middle Tennessee midday on Saturday. We’re just going to have to see Army this fall; they underperformed our expectations a bit in 2019, and we don’t have a feel for them at this point. The triple option rules here as well. The Blue Raiders give 3.5 – and that’s even though Army will have the rare privilege of seating the entire Corps of Cadets in the stadium to cheer the team on. (Hah – Army’s up 7-0 on MTSU in the 2Q as this goes to post.)
Navy, incidentally, was unable to get approval from authorities in Maryland to march the Mids into the stands. The Fighting Mids will have to defend the checkerboards without them.
Our FBS Inner Circle ranks are sadly depleted without Nevada, Air Force (except for the service academy matches), Toledo, and Wyoming. We’ll defer further lamentations until it’s 100% clear there will be no play in their conferences at all this year.
With no Top 10 teams taking the field this weekend, we’re going to punt on this one as well (except to note that having Oregon at #9 is just silly. Right about #9 is probably where we’d put Oklahoma. Oregon would do nicely around #15).
Best of the rest
The AAC and C-USA are shaking some kinks out with cross-ranks (FCS) outings today, so the competitive pickings are a bit slim. On the other hand, Memphis could give us a pretty good game hosting Arkansas State in the evening slot on ESPN (7:00 PM CDT).
In FCS, as mentioned, we don’t expect to see McNeese State on the field for the time being. Sad!
In Div II, there’s no postseason to look forward to, and our Slippery Rock U. team as part of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference won’t be playing a season.
Likewise, the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) Bronchos find their conference season with the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) suspended as of mid-August.
We’re not clear on what the NCAA will do about players maintaining eligibility without games to play – something that affects all the divisions – but we have to assume there will be COVID waivers to cover that issue.
In Div III, the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, home of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, has postponed the athletic seasons until spring (and there is no start date or guarantee that sports seasons will actually transpire).
We’re happy to report that the New Jersey Athletic Conference, in which the Captains of Christopher Newport University participate, is playing an abbreviated six-game schedule. CNU’s first two (of eight) games will be out of conference; the Captains will host Brevard College on 19 September for their opener.
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) has the best OPSEC in college ball, hands down, with no news articles on their fall plans and no apparent football conference affiliation this year. According to Facebook, the school suspended all athletic activities back on 13 March. But the most recent Facebook entries for Mariner football indicate some training restarted this past week. No schedule for the fall, and chief rival Coast Guard – a member of New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), which has suspended sports activities – likewise has no football schedule at all.
We’ll be watching that one like a hawk.