Extra Points: The big fear? COVID spike wrecks the College Football Playoff
Three Power 5 sources told me told me this week the major conferences in college football have been looking into possibly adjusting their current COVID policy with the College Football Playoff and New Year’s 6 bowls less than 10 days away.
The sport’s 7 marquee postseason games are at risk with the national COVID spike due to the Omicron variant.
To avoid game cancelations or teams with severely impaired rosters, the Power 5 conferences could adopt the NFL’s recent rules change that makes it easier for players who are vaccinated and asymptomatic to return to practice and games at a faster rate.
To do that, however, Power 5 schools would have to secure testing models currently used by NFL teams.
There are varying but mostly similar COVID protocols among the Power 5 conferences, but all protocols are dependent upon players self-reporting symptoms.
If an infected player doesn’t report symptoms and the virus spreads among the team, there’s a possibility that a compromised roster would have to play in the biggest game(s) of the season.
Texas A&M on Wednesday pulled out of the Gator Bowl because of COVID outbreaks. Miami has postponed bowl practice because of its COVID issues.
“The testing is much greater now, more sophistication,” a Power 5 source told me. “There are specific ways now to test the degree of infection and a player’s ability to transmit it.”
The NFL is using a cycle threshold test, a value that can measure if a vaccinated player is contagious after a positive test. A specific value is given, and if a threshold is reached, the player can participate without fear of spreading the virus.
Those tests can allow a player back on the field as soon as 24 hours after the first positive test.
Michigan, which plays Georgia in the Orange Bowl Playoff semifinal, gave its entire team a booster vaccination. Alabama coach Nick Saban said more than 90% of the No. 1-ranked Tide, which plays No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl Playoff semifinal, have the booster vaccination.
According to UGASports.com, Georgia backup QB JT Daniels has tested positive for COVID. Georgia, like all SEC schools, tests athletes if they are symptomatic or unvaccinated.
More than anything, college football’s marquee postseason games can’t afford a team with a limited roster because of COVID, or postponement of a game.
“We’re in a tough spot right now,” another Power 5 source told me. “If a player is vaccinated and he’s positive but not contagious, there has to be an opportunity to quickly return to play.”
Patience at USC
Don’t think Lincoln Riley will move into Heritage Hall and everything will run smoothly, and USC will again be on top in the Pac-12 in 2022.
This is a process, one that will take time – and more than anything, will take players. The same players who left Los Angeles and Orange Counties for so many years after Pete Carroll left for the NFL more than a decade ago.
So when you see USC land 7 players in Riley’s first recruiting class, don’t panic. He’s not adding numbers to pad a roster.
He knows from his 5 successful seasons at Oklahoma that quality beats quantity every time.
“It’s about getting the right names,” Riley said.
Translation, anyone could’ve taken the job, rolled into town and signed 20 guys and acted like they pulled a signing day coup. In fact, there were a couple who did.
Riley could add players through the transfer portal, and there are still a few difference makers that will wait to sign closer to National Signing Day. But he could also begin his first season at USC well under the 85 scholarship limit.
There will be USC players who leave for the transfer portal, and Riley may not land another high school player in this class. Heck, he may not land as many portal transfers as he’d like.
None of that matters. What’s important is he knows how to build a roster that can compete for a championship – and he did it at Oklahoma without the benefit of a geographic footprint that places him directly in the middle of 1 of the top 3 areas in the nation for high school talent.
“There’s been a lot of interest in people wanting to come here,” Riley said. “Our priorities are going to be creating a championship roster here. We’re not going to stray from that, even though it’s tempting.”
It’s clear that Steve Sarkisian has put his chances of turning around Texas on the arm QB Quinn Ewers.
It will be the defining moment of his coaching tenure.
The consensus No. 1 recruit in the class of 2021, Ewers left Ohio State after not playing this season and transferred back home to Texas – where he was a high school legend at Southlake Carroll in suburban Dallas.
His arrival at Texas led to Casey Thompson’s departure to the transfer portal. It took less than a week for Thompson to figure out where Texas was headed in 2022.
Thompson had a TD/INT ratio of 24/9 this season and had 28 total touchdowns. You don’t walk away from a season like that – and specifically, competition in the spring with Ewers – unless it’s clear the staff is heading in another direction.
Sarkisian said at the end of this season that he would “tear this thing all the way down and start at square one” in relation to the quarterback position and competition. The teardown apparently includes Ewers — who couldn’t get on the field at Ohio State because of the play of CJ Stroud – getting a clear path to the starting job.
In a perfect world, Sarkisian would’ve kept Thompson to push Ewers. The goal now is to keep Hudson Card, who won the job and started the season opener, before being replaced by Thompson in Week 2. If for no other reason, as a guy who can push Ewers — who still hasn’t thrown a pass in college football.
If it doesn’t work with Ewers, there will be a clear demarcation of when it went bad for Sarkisian in Austin. And it will begin with running off – intended or not – an experienced quarterback who had 28 total touchdowns in his first season as a starter.
The Ducks and Bo
New Oregon coach Dan Lanning saw something in Bo Nix at Auburn that led him to sign the one-time, can’t-miss 5-star who never got it right with the Tigers.
But it couldn’t have been based on what Nix did to Lanning’s defenses at Georgia.
In 3 games against Georgia, Nix completed 72 of 128 passes (56.2%), for 639 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. He averaged a measly 4.9 yards per attempt, and his QB rating in those games was 97.6 (the Power 5 leader in 2021 was CJ Stroud at 182.2).
While Nix won’t face defenses in the Pac-12 like Georgia – or like those in the SEC, for that matter – he was still wildly inconsistent in 3 seasons at Auburn and never really improved from his freshman season.
“He still makes the same mistakes he made as a freshman,” an NFL scout told me. “He wasn’t well-coached in his first 2 years. Kind of a misfit in that (former Auburn coach Gus) Malzahn offense. Then he goes to a more traditional offense in his third year, and the transition just didn’t work. He’s a huge work in progress.”