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Alabama remains the SEC king, Trevor Lawrence remains unstoppable and more from Week 7

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You come at the king, you best not miss.

That’s a quote from “The Wire,” but there is a good chance the writers of that show stole it from Nick Saban.

Saturday was supposed to feature a wounded Alabama. It was a week of turmoil amid Saban’s COVID-19 test that, apparently, was a false positive. It was a week in which the defense was rightfully questioned following a dismal performance against Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss last weekend. It was a week in which the balance of power in the SEC appeared to teeter just a bit into Georgia‘s favor.

But we’ve been here before, right? Twenty-two times to be exact.

On Saturday night, Kirby Smart lost to his mentor once again, as Georgia fell 41-24 to Bama, the third crushing blow (see 2017, 2018 below) in the last few years, again in a storyline that felt familiar. Georgia lands a blow, then another and another. Alabama appears to be on the brink of despair. And then it all turns — a twist ending that doesn’t exactly inspire much surprise.

In the 2017 season’s title game, Georgia led 13-0 at the half. It lost.

In the 2018 SEC championship game, Georgia led 21-14 at the half. It lost.

Saturday, Georgia led 24-20 at the half. It lost.

And though we weren’t sure Saban would even coach in this game until Saturday afternoon, he has now run his record against former assistants to an astonishing 22-0.

That Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones had another terrific day, posting numbers through four weeks that rival his predecessor, Tua Tagovailoa, is another astounding feet of Alabama wizardry. There was a time when Saban won, year after year, with QB mediocrity. Now he churns out All-Americans like they’re Pez. Jones finished Saturday with a ridiculous 417 yards and four TDs to burnish his increasingly impressive Heisman Trophy résumé.

Jones’ success deserves platitudes, but he’s working with some of the best offensive players in the business. Darth Vader orchestrated a heck of an empire, but dominating the galaxy is easier with a Death Star.

Thing is, there has been more than a few reasons of late to wonder if perhaps Alabama has a weakness, too. Saturday marked the first time since 2006 that the Tide allowed 21 points or more in the first half of back-to-back games. It was only the second time since 2008 that Bama allowed 24 points or more in three straight games. It was the first time since 2011 that Saban went to the half without a lead in consecutive games.

And what did it all mean? Nada.

Sure, Alabama has faltered over the years. And yes, LSU offered lightning in a bottle in 2019, leaving Alabama in its dust. These were speed bumps. The power structure reshuffled momentarily, only for order to be quickly restored.

That’s what Saturday was all about.

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Mac Jones throws an interception on the first play of the game, then comes back to throw four touchdowns in Alabama’s 41-24 win over Georgia.

Think you’ve got Alabama figured out? Good luck stopping Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle and John Metchie III and — seriously, Georgia was arguably the best defense in the country coming into Saturday’s game, and still the Bulldogs crumbled under the weight of the Tide’s talented skill guys.

Is the defense still elite? There have been cracks in the armor. But look around college football. It’s all offense. Alabama is just representative of the times, a unit still rocking the denim jacket and listening to REO Speedwagon but suddenly not looking so cool. But hey, denim and REO Speedwagon are still pretty great, and the Crimson Tide showed in a dominant second half that they’re no pushover.

This wild season still has its share of twists and turns ahead, to be sure. But make no mistake about how the SEC’s power structure stacks up today. It’s Alabama, and then a bunch of teams still trying to find the secret to Saban’s magic.

Clemson drops 73(!) points on Georgia Tech

It was an embarrassingly poor performance from the vaunted Clemson offense.

Sure, sure, you might point to the first 55 minutes of action when Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers hung 73 on Georgia Tech, but that was all window dressing. Let’s focus on the most important thing: the final drive.

Clemson gained just 24 yards on seven plays and its quarterback — who, admittedly, was also its punter — completed only two of his three throws. The result? A punt. Was Will Spiers purposefully ruining the offense so he could get a chance to punt? We can’t rule that out.

OK, so maybe we’re digging a bit here. What else can you do to recap a 73-7 performance that was as dominant as Clemson has ever looked? It was the most points the Tigers scored since beating Furman 94-0 in 1915. Which begs the question: Why didn’t Dabo Swinney keep his foot on the gas? Surely if Lawrence had played another couple drives, Clemson could have hit 100.

The Tigers have now won 37 straight regular-season games, the third-longest streak in the AP Poll era, trailing only the 1953-57 Oklahoma Sooners, who won 45 straight, and 2000-03 Miami, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

Saturday’s victory had Lawrence throwing for 390 yards and five touchdowns — in the first half. It had defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney running for a touchdown. It had fourth-string QB Hunter Helms throwing two TDs of his own. At one point, Travis Etienne ran for a touchdown while drinking an Ocean Spray and lip-syncing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” (Note: We don’t really understand TikTok but we wanted to engage with the younger demographic.)

But, if you’re tired of watching all these Clemson blowouts, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Up next is the most recent team to beat the Tigers in the regular season: Syracuse. Just don’t do any research on how the Orange are doing now.

The Big Blue defense dominates

Kentucky did what seemed impossible on Saturday. It won in Knoxville. The Wildcats hadn’t gone on the road to beat Tennessee since “Ghostbusters” was in theaters, “where’s the beef?” became a catchphrase, and the last great Van Halen album was released (RIP Eddie).

It was clearly something to celebrate.

And if you didn’t know any better, you might assume Kentucky was rolling right along after winning its past two games by a combined score of 58-9. And if you were talking about the defense, you’d be right.

While the Wildcats have won two straight blowouts, they’ve totaled just 451 yards of offense in the two games. How strange is that? Only two teams in the past decade have had two wins by 20 points or more without topping 300 yards of offense in either game in a full season. Kentucky has now done it in back-to-back weeks.

Credit Mark Stoops’ tremendous defense, which has 10 takeaways in the past two games and has matched its own offense in touchdowns, each with three.

Welcome to the panic room

With the Big Ten and others on the brink of opening their seasons, a few teams around the country are already wondering if their 2020 campaigns have reached a breaking point, including an ugly Saturday for Syracuse, Auburn, Tennessee, Notre Dame and others.

So, is it time to panic?

Auburn: Panic!

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Seth Williams and Bo Nix look heated on Auburn’s sideline after a failed offensive play.

Step back in the time machine all the way to November 2013. Auburn won two miracle games — on a tipped pass against Georgia and the infamous Kick Six vs. Alabama — to advance to the SEC championship and, subsequently, the national title game. Those were high times on The Plains. Since then? A seemingly endless stretch of mediocrity. In fact, Gus Malzahn is now 33-30 vs. Power 5 opponents since the Kick Six, including Saturday’s latest flub to unranked South Carolina. The bigger concern is that supposed savior Bo Nix was again entirely middling, but that belies the real splits. Nix is 8-1 at home with 11 TDs and no interceptions (vs. admittedly below-average competition), and his numbers away from Jordan-Hare are downright brutal: 58.5% completions, 5.68 yards/pass, 10 touchdowns and 10 picks.

Tennessee QBs: Don’t panic.

Jarrett Guarantano threw two first-quarter pick-sixes in Tennessee’s loss to Kentucky, and Vols’ QBs are now just 27-of-49 for 203 yards and four picks in their last six quarters of action. But what are you going to do if you’re Tennessee? Dismissing Guarantano is like bad-mouthing your friend’s ex, knowing full well they’ll get back together again in a week or two. Such was the case for Tennessee fans. After pulling Guarantano following his second INT, Harrison Bailey came in and immediately threw a pick of his own. Truth is, this Tennessee team was never going to win the SEC East on the arm of its QB, but Guarantano still is the best option to win a few more games this year.

Notre Dame receivers: Panic!

Sure, the Irish came away with a 12-7 win over Louisville and remain undefeated, but let’s temper any enthusiasm by offering a reminder that its opponents are just 1-13 vs. other FBS foes. A bigger worry — particularly if the Irish hope to topple Clemson for an ACC title — is the absence of a downfield passing game. Ian Book was just 11-of-19 for 107 yards against Louisville, and through three games, the Irish wide receivers have just two TDs and three completions of 20 yards or more. Without finding some sort of threat on the outside, Clemson’s defense will be licking its chops.

Mike Leach’s offense: Don’t panic.

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No. 11 Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher commends the defense on their big turnover and blocked punt in a win against Mississippi State.

After a slow start against Texas A&M, Mike Leach set a new mark in his long career — his longest stretch without a touchdown. From late in the third quarter against Arkansas two weeks ago to early in the third quarter against the Aggies in Saturday’s loss, Mississippi State totaled two points — coming from a Kentucky safety. Even still, in the three games after a record-setting opener vs. LSU, Leach’s crew has managed just 30 points total. That’s pretty bad, but it’s not exactly out of character for a Leach rebuild. In his first season at Texas Tech, he had five games when scoring less than 20, and his team averaged just 25 points per game. The rest of the way with the Red Raiders, he averaged 38 points per game. At Washington State, he had six games of 20 or less points his first season, and the team finished 3-9, averaging just 20 points per game. The rest of his career, he averaged 29. Leach’s system is a simple one, but it still doesn’t typically change a team overnight.

Not-quite-Heisman Five

Justin Fields hits the field next week. Trevor Lawrence offered a five-touchdown exclamation point on his Heisman resumé Saturday. The SEC’s top QBs remain in contention.

But look outside the big names, and there are plenty of players having big seasons who probably won’t need to make room for a Heisman in their trophy cases. We figured this was a good time to give them a little love, too. These are our top five under-the-radar, probably-not-gonna-happen candidates.

1. Virginia Tech RB Khalil Herbert

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Virginia Tech’s Khalil Herbert hauls in a short pass from Hendon Hooker and takes it to the house to extend the Hokies’ lead over Boston College.

He had only played three games before this weekend, but the Virginia Tech tailback entered Saturday leading the nation in all-purpose yards with 739. Against BC, he added a whole lot more to those totals. Herbert ran for 143 yards in the Hokies’ 40-14 win, becoming the first ACC back to do that since Matt Dayes in 2015. For the game, Herbert finished with 223 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

2. Coastal Carolina QB Grayson McCall

Raise your hand if you had Coastal Carolina at 4-0 to start the season. The Chanticleers are now well positioned to win the Sun Belt after upsetting Louisiana on Wednesday, and McCall is a huge reason why. The freshman QB is averaging nearly 11 yards per pass and has accounted for 14 touchdowns and just one pick so far.

3. Arkansas State QBs Layne Hatcher and Logan Bonner

Can we slice the Heisman in half and give a part to each of these guys? (Note: The Heisman is filled with chocolate.) In the last decade, only Texas Tech has had two different QBs throw for three touchdowns in the same game multiple times, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Arkansas State has now done it in each of the last two weeks. The Red Wolves two-QB system is producing big results, with Bonner and Hatcher combining for 1,834 passing yards and 21 TDs through five games.

4. UCF QB Dillon Gabriel

With the Knights riding a two-game losing streak, it might be easy to overlook their QB, but that would be a mistake. Gabriel was brilliant Saturday against Memphis, throwing for 601 yards and five TDs without a pick, while running for another score. For the season, he’s averaging 9.3 yards-per-pass with 14 TDs and 2 interceptions.

5. Arkansas S Jalen Catalon

All due respect to Grant Morgan, the senior linebacker who had 19 tackles, three tackles for loss and a pick Saturday, but there’s a good case to be made that the biggest difference in the Razorbacks’ defense in 2020 is the addition of the redshirt freshman safety. Catalon had nine tackles, a pick and a fumble recovery in Saturday’s win, and his 45 tackles puts him near the top of the SEC leaderboard. A year ago, Arkansas’ secondary allowed more than 8 yards per pass. So far this year, they’re allowing just 5.5.

Travis leads the Noles

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Jordan Travis scrambles out of the pocket toward the sideline and connects with Camren McDonald for a 12-yard touchdown.

Even in a win, Florida State doesn’t make it easy. But two North Carolina drops on the final two throws of the game gave the Seminoles their biggest win in years, 31-28 over North Carolina, and a huge moment for coach Mike Norvell.

Truth is, Florida State hung on. The defense struggled in the second half. The offense shot itself in the foot. And if you’re a pessimist, it would be easy enough to find reasons to diminish the celebration. But don’t be that person. This is FSU, a team desperate for some good news, and on Saturday, it came.

The difference for FSU was the quarterback, and Jordan Travis has offered a spark that the program has desperately needed. He led a comeback win over Jacksonville State three weeks ago. He gave Notre Dame fits last week. And on Saturday, he was the guy still making plays even when the rest of the team seemed to be crumbling around him.

How good has Travis been?

Since the start of last season, Florida State has averaged 5.42 yards per play, 7.45 yards per pass and 3.27 yards per rush when Travis was on the sideline. When he is been on the field, the Seminoles average 7 yards per play, 9.3 yards per pass and 6.1 yards per rush — nearly twice their average without him.

Syracuse: It’s almost basketball season.

Getting crushed by Liberty at home is bad. Having the Flames taunt you on social media is even worse. Can Jim Boeheim fix this somehow? There’s no chance the 2-3 zone would have allowed Liberty to run for 338 yards at home.

Best bets and bad beats

  • West Virginia backers likely weren’t feeling too good about their bets when Kansas jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but of course, this is still Kansas we’re talking about. The Jayhawks seemed pleased to call it a day after the early lead, and the Mountaineers quickly reeled off 38 straight points. It should have been an easy cover as West Virginia kicked off with 1:45 to play, but Pooka Williams Jr. returned the kick 92 yards to the end zone, leaving all parties disappointed with a push. But hey, at least it was a nice moment for anyone who had the over. The TD pushed the total to 55, covering the over by 5.

  • The line closed at 11.5, but with the availability of Pitt QB Kenny Pickett in doubt throughout the week, Miami had been favored by as much as 14 at times. Depending on when you grabbed it, the final two minutes might have proved awfully frustrating. Miami led by 12, drove to the Pitt 15 with 1:48 to play, then ran out the clock by taking a knee the rest of the way. If you bought in at kickoff, there was no stress. But if you had Miami -12 or more from earlier in the week, you were likely begging Manny Diaz to just kick a field goal and run up the score a tick more.

  • It is not typically a wise decision to give 27 points backing a road team, but Clemson offers more confidence than most teams. It’s far less often you can flip the channel at halftime when you’re giving 27 on the road. But again, Clemson is a little different. The Tigers hung 52 on Georgia Tech in the first half and cruised to a 73-7 win that was just the latest easy cover for the Tigers. Dabo Swinney has made a habit of taking the first few weeks of each season as a chance to play nutty professor with personnel and the playbook, but when the calendar hits October, there’s no stopping Clemson. In games after the first Saturday in October, the Tigers are now 17-3 in the past three seasons, including covering 13 of their last 14 — the lone exception coming against LSU in last year’s national championship game.

  • Eastern Kentucky was oh-so-close to pulling off a shocker at Troy. EKU had already been dealt blowout losses to Marshall and West Virginia in games against FBS foes, and it was a 27-point underdog on the road against a solid Trojans team. But a 4-yard TD pass with 21 seconds to go Saturday gave the Colonels a 29-28 lead that would’ve paid out at +1600, according to the Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. But no such luck for what was certainly a huge club of EKU backers. Troy returned the ensuing kickoff to its 40, completed back-to-back passes of 15 yards, and then booted a 47-yard field goal to win it, 31-29. Even better? The total for the game was 60, and the field goal resulted in a push.

Overreaction of the week

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Trevor Lawrence gets picked off by Zamari Walton in the first quarter as Lawrence would fall 14 passes short of an ACC record for most consecutive throws without an interception.

Trevor Lawrence threw an interception, his first in nearly a year. Georgia Tech’s Zamari Walton intercepted a Lawrence throw late in the first quarter Saturday, ending a streak of 366 throws without a pick. That left Lawrence just 12 shy of matching Russell Wilson’s ACC record. But despite this egregious performance, we’re going to predict the Clemson QB is going to move past the interception and still will be pretty good moving forward.

Under-reaction of the week

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Matt Corral’s pass gets picked off again for another defensive touchdown to extend the Razorbacks’ lead again.

Sam Pittman is the coach of the year and it doesn’t matter what happens from here. Sure, it’d be tough to vote for a guy who could still finish 2-8, but we’d do it anyway. Arkansas beat Ole Miss 33-21 on Saturday, winning its second SEC game of the season, something that hasn’t happened since 2016. In fact, from 2017 through 2019, the Razorbacks won just two games total in SEC play. And had it not been for a controversial call a week ago against Auburn, Pittman’s team would be 3-1 right now. Short of UTEP making a late playoff push, there’s no chance anyone is writing a better comeback story than Pittman is at Arkansas.

Under-the-radar game of the week

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Brady White tallies 486 yards and six touchdowns through the air, and adds another 30 yards and a score on the ground as Memphis beats UCF 50-49 in comeback fashion.

Is there ever a bad UCF-Memphis game? In 2017, the American was settled with a raucous 62-55 UCF win in double overtime, when Memphis erased a 48-34 fourth-quarter deficit and McKenzie Milton accounted for more than 550 yards and six TDs. In 2018, they played twice. The first was a game where UCF trailed 30-14 late in the third quarter but won 31-30. Then in that year’s AAC title game, UCF used a 21-point fourth quarter to win 56-41, too. So, could the Knights rip the heart out of Memphis again Saturday? It sured looked that way as UCF led 35-14 in the second half, but it all fell apart as Memphis QB Brady White engineered a ridiculous comeback, taking a 50-49 lead with 1:08 to play, only to see Dillon Gabriel march the Knights downfield into field-goal range … but miss from 39 yards out. It marks the first time UCF has lost consecutive games since November, 2016.

Under-the-radar (re)play of the week

Louisville had just scored to take a 7-6 lead against Notre Dame. Scott Satterfield called for the on-side kick, and the Cardinals appeared to execute it beautifully, recovering the kick poised to deliver a dagger to the Irish. Instead, a replay caught Louisville blocking a Notre Dame player before the ball went 10 yards, and officials threw a post-replay flag, forcing the Cardinals to kick again. This time, they booted it deep, Notre Dame drove 66 yards on eight plays and scored on an eye-popping Ian Book run. That proved to be the difference in the game. So, kudos to the officials for getting the play right — even if it took replay to get there. On the other hand, they also moved the chains after an 8-yard run on first down on the next drive, so perhaps keep the pats on the back to a minimum.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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