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Auburn expects to be without 16 players in practice return

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AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn expects to return to practice without 16 players who are sidelined after positive COVID-19 tests.

Coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday night that the Tigers had five positives early in the week and four more after additional testing Thursday. With contact tracing, seven others who had close contact with them face a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

“We had two position groups where we did not have enough guys,” coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday night. He declined to say which positions.

Malzahn said players didn’t want to attend meetings Thursday after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Players who test positive must stay isolated for 10 days followed by a seven-day reacclimation process.

The Tigers haven’t practiced since Tuesday and canceled a planned scrimmage on Saturday. Malzahn said players will be tested Sundays and Thursdays.

The Tigers are scheduled to open the season on Sept. 26 against Kentucky.

Wait a minute: Stars Wade, Davis decide to return to Ohio St

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Two of Ohio State’s biggest stars, cornerback Shaun Wade and guard Wyatt Davis, are opting back in for the 2020 football season.

The preseason All-Americans had decided to leave school to prepare for the NFL draft when it looked as if there would be no football season for the Big Ten. Both are expected to be first-round picks.

They changed their minds after the conference announced on Wednesday that teams would play an nine-game season starting Oct. 23-24.

The news is huge for Ohio State, which behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields has the talent to again compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Wade, who had opted out on Monday, announced on ESPN on Thursday that he would return.

“It was a long day yesterday being with family and friends and taking that time to talk to them and really making the right decision for myself, but I’m going to come back and be a Buckeye and really go strive for this national championship,” Wade said.

“Back in January, I didn’t go to the draft and my goal was to come back, be a captain, get my degree,” he said. “They then canceled football, now it’s back, so since it’s back we got a chance to win a national championship. That’s been my goal since day one.”

Wade said he had an agent but did not sign a contract.

Wade last play resulted in his ejection for targeting in the playoff semifinal loss to Clemson in January.

“I can’t go out like that,” he said.

Davis had announced his decision on Twitter Wednesday.

“I want Buckeye Nation to know that I want to play this season for Ohio State and I am working now to make that a reality,” he said.

Davis will anchor an offensive line that includes center Josh Myers and left tackle Thayer Munford, both also NFL prospects.

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Move toward fall football ramps up in Pac-12, Mountain West

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The Pac-12 university presidents and chancellors will meet Friday and be presented options for staging a fall football season, but Commissioner Larry Scott says a vote by the CEO Group is not expected.

“(Friday) is a chance to get everyone caught up on what’s been a very dynamic and rapidly changing series of events over the last 24 to 48 hours,” Scott told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We’ll obviously have to decide soon, but I’m not necessarily expecting a decision (Friday).”

A day after the Big Ten changed course from its decision to postpone fall sports because of the pandemic and set a late October start for football, the Pac-12 appeared headed toward a similar move.

The Mountain West is trying to do the same and there even is some movement in the Mid-American Conference toward reconsidering a fall season.

“The board has asked for a plan,” Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said. That conference’s university presidents next meeting is next week.

Meanwhile, early Thursday, it was announced that another FBS game could not be played because of COVID-19 issues with one of the teams. Charlotte at No. 12 North Carolina scheduled for Saturday had to be canceled because the 49ers did not have enough available offensive linemen.

The Pac-12’s medical concerns about playing through the pandemic have been eased by the conference earlier this month securing rapid, daily COVID-19 testing for all its schools. This week brought more good news. State and local authorities in California and Oregon signaled they would be willing to ease COVID-19-related restrictions that have made it nearly impossible for six Pac-12 teams to prepare for a football season.

There is still work to be done with health officials, but things are moving quickly enough that the Pac-12 is hopeful it could start a season that allows its teams to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The four playoff teams are scheduled to be selected Dec. 20.

“We feel we’ve got a responsibility to our student-athletes and our programs to explore that possibility. So that’s what we’re doing,” Scott said.

The Big Ten’s plan is to start an eight-games-in-eight-weeks regular season the weekend of Oct. 24, with a championship game on Dec. 19.

The San Jose Mercury News reported, citing unidentified sources, that the Pac-12’s athletic directors were targeting Oct. 31 to start football season. Scott declined to confirm the report or go into any details about potential models for a season.

The Pac-12 presidents’ meeting was originally scheduled to address basketball. The NCAA set a Nov. 25 opening date for the season. Scott said for the same reasons there is hope for a fall football season there is optimism the Pac-12 will start basketball season at the same time as the rest of the country.

Thompson, whose league includes three California schools, said he has been in frequent contact with Scott.

The lifting of restrictions in California has been hurdle for the Mountain West to clear, too, but the conference is still trying to catch-up in another pivotal area.

“The real trigger on this is the rapid-result testing,” Thompson told AP. “And that’s the key, if we can get that. We’re talking to a number of manufacturers and providers. That has to be done really before any decisions can concretely be made.”

Thompson said the goal in the Mountain West is also to have a season in place that could wrap up on Dec. 19 and allow its teams to be selected for the playoff and lucrative New Year’s Six bowls.

“You come up with a model and then you move it backwards and forwards depending on where you stand with some of the other issues, particularly testing,” Thompson said.

Another immediate concern for both the Pac-12 and Mountain West is wildfires raging in California and Oregon that have led to unsafe air quality in some areas. The Seattle Mariners had a series this weekend with the San Diego Padres moved to Southern California.

The Mid-American Conference, which was the first FBS league to postpone its fall sports season, indicated earlier in the week it was still focused on a winter/spring season. But some MAC players have followed the lead of their peers in Power Five conferences by pushing for a fall season on social media.

Kent State coach Sean Lewis also called for the conference to revisit the decision to punt on a fall season.

Charlotte-North Carolina became the 14th FBS game postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 since Aug. 26. It would have been the first meeting between the schools.

In its release, Charlotte said there had been three positive cases among football players discovered through regular league-required testing during the past two weeks. Those individuals had been placed in isolation with medical care, while others impacted through contact tracing were told to quarantine for 14 days.

Charlotte didn’t specify exactly how many players were affected and said its home opener with Georgia State on Sept. 26 is still on.

The disruptions are not a deterrent to the other conferences and the Pac-12 in particular does not look as if it is headed toward days of will-they-or-won’t-they speculation that gripped the Big Ten.

Scott would not make predictions about what his bosses will do but the Pac-12 is not operating in secrecy.

“We’ve tried to be very deliberate and very transparent,” Scott said. “The major concerns and obstacles have now been cleared.