Georgia’s Smart wary of COVID-19 results before Peach Bowl

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Rising COVID-19 numbers have Georgia coach Kirby Smart concerned as the No. 11 Bulldogs prepare for Friday’s Peach Bowl game against No. 6 Cincinnati.

Smart said four players, including defensive standouts Eric Stokes and Monty Rice, will miss the game due to opting out for the NFL draft or injury concerns. Meanwhile, the defense could be bolstered if safety Richard LeCounte and tackle Jordan Davis return from injuries.

It’s the unknown – who might test positive or be ruled out due to contact tracing – that causes Smart anguish.

“Thrill a minute,” Smart said dryly on Monday when asked about his team’s status with COVID-19 testing results.

“We’ve had good information, bad information, information that changed,” he said. “It’s been a struggle. I can say that. That’s really all I can say about it. I’m not going to get into details. We’ve had our issues.”

Georgia avoided serious problems with players testing positive during the regular season. Smart said rising positive tests in Athens and on the University of Georgia campus are cause for concern.

Georgia’s final regular-season game against Vanderbilt was canceled after the Commodores’ roster fell below minimum requirements due to COVID-19 problems. On Sunday, the Music City Bowl between Iowa and Missouri was canceled because the Tigers had too few players available.

There is no apparent imminent threat of the Bulldogs being unable to play against Cincinnati. Smart wouldn’t say his team will be without any player due to COVID-19 testing.

The increased volatility of the situation, and the potential for problems before Friday, are cause for the increased nerves.

“It just changes every day,” Smart said. “… I’m just saying we’ve dealt with a lot of things, a lot more things here recently, than we have in the past.”

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said the Bearcats have not had any player opt out of the game. He said “we’re in a good place” with COVID-19 testing but said he’s also wary of changes before the game.

“It’s still early,” Fickell said. “You say that, you start trying to find something to knock on and different things like that because it’s one of those things you just cannot relax on. We’re continuing to do what we do. I think we’re basically going to be testing every single day, still asking our guys to make sacrifices. You just never know. One bad day can lead to a lot of different things.”

Georgia players were to be tested on Saturday, when players returned from a Christmas break, Monday and Wednesday.

Smart said his Bulldogs are facing three opponents: “Cincinnati, Cincinnati and COVID.”

He said a season of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has been stressful.

“It would be hard for me to imagine people being able to handle another year like this year back-to-back,” Smart said. “… I don’t know what the threshold is for what you can deal with in a season and stay sane. We’ve stretched that rubber band about as far as you can. The elasticity is ready to break in terms of what you can withstand to have a season.”

Stokes has announced he is skipping the game to prepare for the NFL draft, protecting his position as a possible first-round selection.

Smart says offensive guard Ben Cleveland, who was named a third-team AP All-America pick on Monday, Rice and tight end Tre McKitty also will not play.

LeCounte is practicing and trying to play for the first time since suffering shoulder and ribs injuries in a motorcycle accident on Oct. 31. Davis has been out since suffering an elbow injury against Kentucky, also on Oct. 31.

Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey suspended after arrest

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey was suspended from the team after he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the team said.

The 23-year-old, who was a team captain last season, was booked at about 2:45 a.m. and released after posting $500 bond, according to online records from the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are aware of the situation involving Chad Bailey,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s been suspended according to Department of Athletics policy. We have high expectations for all of our student-athletes, on and off the field, and we will follow all departmental and campus policies.”

Bailey was Mizzou’s third-leading tackler with 57 stops last season. He started all 11 games he played, missing two with an injury. He’ll be a sixth-year senior this fall after opting to return for his final year of eligibility, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Missouri student-athlete handbook says any athlete who is arrested must serve a minimum one-week suspension.

Bailey was pulled over at about 1 a.m. not far from the Columbia campus for an expired license plate and lane violation, a police statement said. Bailey told the officer he had consumed alcohol and then performed poorly on a field sobriety test, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Nebraska’s leading rusher Anthony Grant suspended indefinitely

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LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska opened spring practice with running back Anthony Grant suspended indefinitely to work on academics and other issues, first-year coach Matt Rhule announced.

Grant led the team in rushing with 915 yards and six touchdowns last season. He also caught 18 passes for 104 yards.

“Working on academics and general things. Nothing bad other than just our standards as a program,” Rhule said. “That will be day by day. Good kid. Just have to get him going in the right direction.”

Rhule said kick returner and reserve receiver Tommi Hill also is suspended. He did not specify a reason.

Backup tight ends Chris Hickman and James Carnie and reserve cornerback Tyreke Johnson left the team.