Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where you only realize how important your best long snapper is when the backup is sailing one 30 yards the wrong direction:
SECOND QUARTER: CAUTION OR CHICKEN?
We have reached the stage of this patchwork pandemic season where games are being lost (and perhaps found) in a matter of hours. Along with the drop-a-game, add-a-game scheduling throes has come a predictable side effect: accusing programs of ducking contests because they’re scared of losing.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (11), no stranger to ill-informed or unwise comments, took direct aim at Florida State (12) on Sunday and blasted away at the Seminoles for calling off their game with the Tigers on Saturday morning. The decision was based on the fact that Clemson had a player test positive after arriving in Tallahassee, and after practicing during the week while symptomatic but testing negative.
The game was called off just hours before the scheduled noon kickoff, which was a bummer for all involved parties. But Dabo wasn’t content to simply “express disappointment.” No, he had more to say.
“This game was not canceled because of COVID," Swinney said. "COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game. I have no doubt their players wanted to play and would have played. And same with the coaches. To me, the Florida State administration forfeited the game."
Swinney stopped short of saying the Seminoles were trying to avoid a fearful beatdown, but the implication seems clear. Florida State is 2–6 and in complete disarray, while Clemson is 7–1 and motivated to win big to maintain College Football Playoff standing.
But it doesn’t seem unreasonable for Florida State to be reluctant to play a game against a team that traveled in with a player who just tested positive after practicing all week. This isn’t to say Clemson’s virus protocols were in any way deficient or negligent; it just might be that the Noles were exercising a prudent and justifiable level of caution.
Not that they’re chicken.
This is a byproduct of playing football in a pandemic that remains uncontrolled and poorly defined—there are going to be differing levels of concern. If the teams’ records were reversed, would FSU be more eager to play? Maybe. But instead of understanding that a flawed season will contain some school-to-school variance on interpreting what’s safe and unsafe, Swinney is provocatively suspecting a rival of an ulterior motive. It’s yet another bad 2020 look for Dabo.
(It’s also humorously ironic that the coach with a $93 million contract complained about the $300,000 travel expense he says Clemson incurred going to Tallahassee for a nongame. Nobody is burning through more money in recent years than Clemson football, which spent $85,000 on a single recruiting weekend for 11 players and their families in 2019.)
Florida State coach Mike Norvell on Monday reiterated that the Seminoles want to reschedule the game against Clemson. He also sounded less than pleased with how his program is being characterized: "When you hear accusations of reasoning or intent, these guys have sacrificed more than most ever have going through to play a season. And we’re trying to do this the right way."
Meanwhile out West, another play-or-don’t-play controversy bubbled up Sunday night. With the Apple Cup (13) game for this week between Washington and Washington State called off, there was a flurry of activity and speculation regarding a possible impromptu matchup between the 2–0 Huskies and 8–0 BYU (14).
It would be a great game to pull off for both teams—the Cougars’ light schedule prevents them from having the juice to get into the CFP discussion, and the Pac-12 also needs as many quality wins as it can get. (Washington, for example, is looking at a four-game regular season at this point. If the Huskies win them all, that still seems unlikely to carry much weight with the playoff selection committee.)
That matchup apparently will not happen now. There were varying reports citing various anonymous sources on either side of the equation saying A) BYU didn’t want to play; or B) BYU did want to play but needed an immediate contract agreement from Washington. This is a new twist on the old schedule-controversy game, in which each school blames the other school for ducking the game and/or being difficult.
It should be noted that being difficult has long been considered part and parcel of dealing with BYU. And not a small reason why the Pac-12 has steadily stiff-armed any overtures from the Cougars to join the league.
As discussed on this week’s podcast, some teams and conferences on the outside of the playoff looking in should be doing all they can to find games that will enhance their chances. Basically, only three leagues can afford to stand pat and have some confidence their champion is making the field of four: the SEC, Big Ten and ACC.
Which means that if a Pac-12 team can’t make a deal work with BYU, someone else should be trying. And that someone else is Cincinnati. American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco (15) has passionately lobbied for his league to be considered part of a “Power 6,” but just saying it won’t make it happen. The Bearcats and Cougars both have an open date Dec. 5, and the winner would have the kind of victory it needs to make a better case for making the playoff. It obviously means someone would also lose, but the risk is worth the reward.
From Cincinnati’s standpoint, plugging in a BYU game on Dec. 5 presents a complication to playing surprising Tulsa (16) on Dec. 12, with potentially both a regular-season AAC title and hosting privileges for the AAC championship game on the line. BYU has fewer complications, with a final game against San Diego State on Dec. 12.
THE CLAY HELTON GOOD LUCK TOUR ROLLS ON
The Dash has long been an admirer of the ability of USC coach Clay Helton (17) to doggedly cling to employment. He has been more lucky than good since Sam Darnold left school, and the good fortune has continued (perhaps even escalated) this season.
The compendium of good breaks:
* A 12-game schedule that was supposed to include games against Alabama, Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington was reduced to a six-game schedule that includes none of those opponents.
- A deflected-pass touchdown, onside kick and another touchdown all were required in the final three minutes to pull out a miracle win against Arizona State (18).
- With a game under their belt, the Trojans in Week 2 faced an Arizona (19) team picked last in the Pac-12 South, playing its first game of the season and first game in 352 days. Yet the Wildcats led in the final minute, when a Kedon Slovis pass slid through an Arizona player’s hands and went right to Amon-Ra St. Brown for a first down inside the 10-yard line. USC scored what would be the winning touchdown on the next play.
- With two games under their belt, the Trojans Saturday faced the last team in America to play a 2020 football game, Utah (20). The Utes looked very much like a team that had gone 327 days between games. USC won, 33–17.
So here Helton sits, 3–0 and with the next three scheduled games all in greater Los Angeles: Colorado on Saturday, Washington State on Dec. 4, and then at UCLA on Dec. 12. Win the first two and the Pac-12 South will belong to the Trojans. Will a coach get fired amid a budget-straining pandemic while winning his division?
It’s not out of the question that Clay Helton is two wins away from securing a lucky seventh season at USC. Stay tuned.