ACC

Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports Images

Pac-12 football plans remain in holding pattern

1 Comment

The Pac-12 took a significant step toward joining the Big Ten in playing football in the fall, getting clearance to hold full-fledged practices from the states of California and Oregon.

Early Wednesday, the Big Ten grabbed headlines by changing course and agreeing to set an an eight-game football schedule that would start the weekend of Oct. 24.

The Pac-12 also has reconsidered starting its football season this fall, but it has more hurdles to clear. Half of its schools have been unable to ramp up preparation for the season because of restrictions put in place by state and local authorities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Later Wednesday, the Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced a breakthrough with the California and Oregon governors that was helped along by the conference’s plans to soon begin testing athletes daily for the virus.

“The Pac-12 welcomes today’s statements by Governor Newsom of California and Governor Brown of Oregon that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports in light of our adherence to strict health and safety protocols and stringent testing requirements, including our recently announced partnership with Quidel which will enable daily rapid results testing,” Scott said.

He added: “Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and immediately reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is required to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition.”

Earlier this month, the Pac-12 announced a partnership that would give the conference’s schools the capacity to perform daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes. Scott has called the testing a “game-changer” and it certainly proved to be so in the Big Ten. That league’s university presidents unanimously voted to return to competition in all fall sports and said their schools will begin daily antigen testing on Sept. 30.

The Pac-12 CEO Group is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the conference’s options. Because of the restrictions, it might take the teams that had been limited, including conference favorites Oregon and Southern California, more than a month to be ready to play. An Oct. 24 start, lined up with the Big Ten, could be challenging.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Scott spoke Wednesday. While there was some confusion about how the state’s rule limiting athletic activities to groups of no more than 12 could allow for football practice, ultimately things landed in a good place for the conference.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s spokesman said the two Pac-12 schools in that state met with the the Oregon Health Authority on Wednesday to discuss COVID-19 heath and safety plans for football and ask for a exemption to current sports guidance. An exemption has already be given to Oregon professional sports teams.

“We have granted that request, and, under the new guidance, OHA must receive written plans for approval,” Charles Boyle said in a statement.

Boyle said no plans had been received yet from the Pac-12.

“We want Oregon and Oregon State players to be able to focus on football while protecting their health and safety,” Boyle said. “We also want to ensure that team practices will not be derailed by a COVID-19 outbreak that would threaten the health not only of the players and coaches, but of their university communities and the wide communities of Eugene and Corvallis.”

The Big Ten and Pac-12 decided Aug. 11 to postpone all fall sports until January due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Football in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12 started last week, with the Southeastern Conference set to kick off its season on Sept. 26.

President Donald Trump pushed for the Big Ten to get back to football and had a similar sentiment for the Pac-12.

“I want to recommend Pac-12, you’re the only one now,” Trump said. “Open up, open up Pac-12.”

COVID-19 knocks out Virginia-Virginia Tech opener

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

The pandemic disrupted college sports again Saturday, with Virginia and Virginia Tech postponing their Sept. 19 football opener because of COVID-19 issues at Virginia Tech.

The schools said this was a mutual agreement. No makeup date was announced for the game that had been set for Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium. Virginia Tech also will not hold football practice for four days.

The postponement is the second for the Hokies since the Atlantic Coast Conference released a revised schedule. Their original opening game, slated for Sept. 12 against North Carolina State, was pushed back two weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak at N.C. State.

Virginia, suddenly faced with not opening its season until Oct. 3 at No. 1 Clemson, moved its home game against Duke to Sept. 26. The game was originally scheduled for Nov. 14.

It was just one of a series of maneuvers in a season that likely will require many more.

Since the Hokies’ original opener was postponed Aug. 26 because of outbreaks upending the Wolfpack’s preparation, there have been more than a dozen FBS games postponed because of issues with COVID-19. Three Big 12 teams scheduled to open this weekend, including No. 15 Oklahoma State, had their games postponed.

Also, BYU and Army agreed to postpone the Cougars’ visit to West Point, New York, on Sept. 19 after what BYU called “a small number” of positive test results and the resultant contact tracing restrictions. The schools said they hope to be able to reschedule.

On Saturday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said he had unidentified five starters out of practice this week because of COVID-19-related issues. A total of 10 players are sidelined from practice. No. 11 Auburn opens Sept. 26 against Kentucky.

A day earlier, Memphis announced it had multiple positive tests within the football program and a “significant number of individuals” who had to be quarantined because of contact tracing. The Tigers’ game against Houston on Friday was eventually postponed, and the Cougars worked quickly to fill the void, scheduling a visit to Baylor on Sept. 19.

On its web page, Virginia Tech reported Friday it has had 219 positive tests for the coronavirus in the previous seven days, putting its total infections at 633 since testing began Aug. 3. The numbers have risen steadily since students returned Aug. 24.

The school has not been releasing athlete-specific results.

Virginia released its latest numbers for athletes and athletic staff on Saturday, saying it has had five positive tests since the last update on Sept. 4. The school said four of the five positives were from students who recently returned to campus and that the football program has not had any positive results since the first report on July 24.

“The safety as well as the physical and mental well-being of these young men and women entrusted to our care by their families remains our top priority,” Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock said in a statement.

“I know the virus has always been here, but the virus in full force finally got to southwest Virginia, and the timing is pretty poor for football,” Babcock said later on a Zoom call, noting that schools have closed locally for a few weeks.

He added: “We could have played last week and N.C. State could not and then this week it’s reversed roles.”

He declined to say how many football players were included in the positive tests, citing the school’s interpretation of privacy laws, but added it was a “significant number where your chief medical officer says it was not safe to play.”

On Twitter, some of Virginia’s coaches praised their players.

“It is really this simple… you either are committed to your team or you are not,” offensive line coach Garett Tujague tweeted. “There are those that can sacrifice for each other and then there are those that CAN NOT. The greatest thing is… You get to make that choice.”

Running backs coach Mark Atuaia noted the “grave sacrifices” by his players.

“My heart goes out to them because no one is giving merit to the disciple my young brothers have displayed since the pandemic hit,” he wrote. “My UVA young brothers are AMAZING!!!”

Conferences proceeding with a fall football season are requiring their schools to test athletes three times per week, and the ACC altered its schedule, pushing back its start date a week and its championship game, in anticipation of teams being unable to play because of the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says any person who spends at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of a person who is infected with COVID-19 is deemed a high-risk contact and requires a 14-day quarantine. High-risk contacts can also involve touching or being sneezed on or coughed upon by an infected person.

The NCAA adopted those standards in its return-to-play guidelines.

Georgia Tech mum on name of Yellow Jackets’ starting QB

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

ATLANTA — Georgia Tech has finally decided on a starting quarterback.

But the Yellow Jackets aren’t publicly saying who earned the nod until this weekend’s season opener at Florida State.

“We have named the Q,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “You guys will find out Saturday who it is.”

James Graham, a sophomore, and Jeff Sims, a freshman, appear to be the leading candidates with Jordan Yates and Tucker Gleason filling in the depth chart behind them.

Graham started the final eight games last season, but completed just 45.1% of his passes, last in the Atlantic Coast Conference among quarterbacks with at least 40 attempts.

Even so, Patenaude, who also is Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks coach, was effusive when asked to describe how much Graham has grown entering his second full season.

“The thing that’s really been encouraging is that his understanding is so much higher,” Patenaude said. “He knows where to go with the ball and when you know where to go with the ball, you play with so much confidence. He made a couple of throws (this week) that he never would’ve made last year just because he understood where to go with the ball, the timing of the throw and the coverage.

“He stung a couple of balls in there that he physically could always do, but just mentally didn’t understand enough and the football piece wasn’t high enough where he knew where to go with the ball. Now he does and he’s playing at really high level.”

Sims, in his first summer camp, has impressed with his arm strength. He was recruited out of Sandalwood High in Jacksonville, Florida.

“When it all goes the right way, he looks as good as anybody in the country,” Patenaude said before adding that when “he throws with good balance and really understands where the ball should go, the ball comes out of his hands and it looks really, really good.”

Patenaude has no immediate plans to use two quarterbacks against Florida State unless the starter gets rattled and needs some time to settle down on the sideline.

“The plan would be to go in and let the starter roll and hopefully he’s flying around and making plays,” he said. “But I would certainly not be against taking a guy out and putting a guy in and letting somebody settle down or see something different.”

Either quarterback must help the Yellow Jackets, who finished 3-9 last season, get off to good start. Last year’s unit finished worst in the red zone, fourth-worst in average total yards, sixth-worst in third-down percentage and seventh-worst in passing among 130 FBS schools.

“The starter is getting the majority of the reps and the second and third guys are kind of splitting the rest of them,” Patenaude said. “I’m really happy with their development, and I’m really excited to see this dude play Saturday and I think you guys will be excited, too.”