The biggest stories of Saturday’s college football schedule might be the games that are not taking place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Seventh-ranked Notre Dame’s contest at Wake Forest was postponed because the Fighting Irish have 13 players in isolation with COVID-19 and 10 more in quarantine due to contact tracing. The game has been rescheduled for Dec. 12, and the Demon Deacons will fill a previously scheduled open date next Saturday against Campbell.
Then there is Houston, which saw its fourth attempt at playing its 2020 season opener thwarted when North Texas had to pull out after four positive COVID-19 tests, and subsequent contact tracing left it unable to field a team. The Cougars already had opening games against Rice, Memphis, and Baylor postponed or canceled over an opponent’s virus issues.
South Florida, Notre Dame’s opponent last week, decided to postpone its game against Florida Atlantic while its players underwent contact tracing following the Fighting Irish’s disclosure over their coronavirus outbreak.
Thus far, 21 games have been postponed, canceled, or rescheduled because of the pandemic.
The SEC begins its season at long last with the defending national champion at home, and much is different on both teams.
The Tigers, whose 16-game winning streak is the longest current run in the nation, had 14 players selected in the 2020 NFL draft, including Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. Myles Brennan, the backup for the last three seasons, is the new quarterback. Former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini takes over as defensive coordinator.
Mike Leach and his pass-happy “Air Raid” system arrived from Washington State to replace former head coach Joe Moorhead, once the Penn State offensive coordinator. He might decide to run it a little bit since senior Kylin Hill rushed for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
After missing out on the College Football Playoff for the first time in the six-year history of the competition, coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide begin the shortened season with some familiar faces.
You’ll see Najee Harris (2,377 career rushing yards) running behind a line that returns four starters and averages a svelte 334 pounds per man. You’ll see wide receiver DeVonta Smith (career numbers of 23 touchdown catches, 17.9-yard average) going deep for quarterback Mac Jones. You’ll see fifth-year senior linebacker Dylan Moses leading the defense.
The Tigers, with new head coach Eli Drinkwitz, formerly of Appalachian State, apparently will go with Shawn Robinson, a transfer from Texas Christian, at quarterback replacing the graduated Kelly Bryant.
Houston transfer D’Eriq King has been impressive for the Hurricanes, accounting for one rushing and four passing touchdowns in two games and having yet to throw an interception. Running back Cam’Ron Harris is third in the nation with 268 rushing yards and averages 10.3 yards per carry. The Seminoles, seeking to break a three-game losing streak against their intrastate rival, will be playing without first-year head coach Mike Norvell, who is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
Tigers quarterback Bo Nix had some great and some not-so-great moments last season as a freshman. He starts the season with a new offensive coordinator in Chad Morris and 191 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, the second-longest active streak behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. The Wildcats are ranked going into their opener for the first time since 1978 and are strong in the trenches on both sides of the football.
The Black Knights are looking for their first 3-0 start since 2016 and their first win over a ranked team on the road since 1958. Quarterback Christian Anderson runs their triple-option offense, which is averaging nearly 390 rushing yards per game. The Bearcats scheduled Army only last month after losing three nonconference games to Nebraska and two Mid-American Conference teams. They defeated Austin Peay, 55-20, in their only game to date.
Look for footballs to be sailing through the air early and often in this matchup of two of the nation’s most prolific quarterbacks. Longhorns senior Sam Ehlinger completed more than 75% of his passes for 426 yards in his only game, a lopsided victory over UTEP. Red Raiders sophomore Alan Bowman, son of former Penn State tight end Kyle Bowman, went 38-of-52 for 430 yards in a much-too-narrow-win over Houston Baptist.