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Pac-12 football plans remain in holding pattern

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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.”

AP Top 25: La.-Lafayette leads 10 new teams in rankings

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Sun Belt rivals Louisiana-Lafayette and Appalachian State were among 10 new teams ranked Sunday in first regular-season Associated Press college football poll, which was stripped of the teams not yet scheduled to play a fall season.

There was no change at the very top: Preseason No. 1 Clemson received 60 of 61 first place-votes this week.

After all Division I teams were eligible to be voted on for the preseason Top 25, the panel of 61 voters was permitted to consider only the 60% of Football Bowl Subdivision teams scheduled to play in the fall now that the season has started.

That meant preseason No. 2 Ohio State, No. 7 Penn State and No. 9 Oregon, along with six other Big Ten and Pac-12 teams, dropped out of the rankings. The Big Ten, Pac-12, Mid-American Conference and Mountain West have delayed their seasons due to concerns about playing amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the Big Ten is taking some steps toward a possible mid-October start.

With those teams gone, Alabama moved up to No. 2. Oklahoma is No. 3, followed by No. 4 Georgia and No. 5 Florida. Defending champion LSU, with one first-place vote, is No. 6.

The Sun Belt Conference has two teams ranked for the first time since the conference began sponsoring football in 2001, with Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 19 and Appalachian State at No. 23, tied with Kentucky.

The Ragin’ Cajuns pulled off maybe the biggest upset of the weekend, winning at Iowa State 31-14 on Saturday. The Cyclones had been ranked No. 23 and are the one team currently scheduled to play to fall out of the rankings after being in the preseason Top 25.

Louisiana-Lafayette was last ranked in 1943.

POLL POINTS

The rest of the newcomers to the Top 25:

– No. 16 Memphis has the highest ranking of those teams entering the poll. Not surprising. The Tigers were first among the others receiving votes in the preseason poll and opened the season by beating Arkansas State last week. That same Arkansas State then turned around and upset Kansas State on the road Saturday. The Tigers might have to sit on that ranking for a little while. Players being sidelined by positive COVID-19 tests and related quarantines forced the postponement of Memphis’ game Friday against Houston.

– No. 17 Miami also garnered some support in the preseason. The Hurricanes join on the strength of a 31-14 victory Thursday against Conference USA contender UAB.

– No. 18 Louisville beat Western Kentucky 35-21 to open its season and is ranked for the first time since 2017.

– No. 20 Virginia Tech has already had two games postponed. The Hokies were supposed to open their season Saturday against North Carolina State, but the Wolfpack’s preparation for the season was delayed by a COVID-19 outbreak. Now Virginia Tech is dealing with coronavirus issues of its own and its game next week against Virginia has been postponed.

– No. 21 BYU opened the season on Labor Day, beating Navy 55-3. But the Cougars’ next game has been postponed because of positive COVID-19 cases among the players.

– No. 22 Army has opened the season with two victories by a combined score of 79-7.

– No. 23 Kentucky is scheduled to start the season Sept. 26, along with the rest of the SEC.

– No. 25 Pitt opened the season by beating Austin Peay 55-0 in a game that was shortened in the second half. With the Panthers up 42-0 halftime, the teams agreed to play 10-minute quarters.

CONFERENCE CALL

SEC – 8 (Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 15, 23t).

ACC – 7 (Nos. 1, 7, 12, 17, 18, 20, 25).

Big 12 – 3 (Nos. 3, 9, 11).

American – 3 (Nos. 13, 14, 16).

Sun Belt – 2 (Nos. 19, 23t).

Independents – 2. (Nos. 21, 22).

RANKED VS. RANKED

Just one as the SEC still sits idle. BYU at Army would have qualified but for the postponement.

No. 17 Miami at No. 18 Louisville. Two of teams that benefited from solid openers against C-USA teams. Louisville’s Micale Cunningham and Miami’s D'Eriq King make for an exciting quarterback matchup.