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AP Top 25 college football poll reaction: What’s next for each ranked team



The AP Top 25 college football poll is out, and this should be the last week it does not include Big Ten teams. So before next week’s shake-up — which will also include the first weekend of SEC play — here’s what’s on tap for each ranked team, starting with No. 1 Clemson.

No. 1 Clemson (2-0)

There wasn’t much to learn from the Tigers’ easy win over The Citadel, a glorified scrimmage that featured 49 first-half points for Clemson before Trevor Lawrence was pulled from the game. That none of the Tigers’ stars got dinged up was a big plus, and if D-linemen Tyler Davis (knee) and Justin Foster (COVID-19 protocols) can get back on the field in two weeks against Virginia, everything should be clicking for Dabo Swinney’s crew. — David M. Hale

No. 2 Alabama (0-0)

Things are going smoothly in Tuscaloosa as the Crimson Tide have somehow avoided a single opt-out and coach Nick Saban reported on Wednesday that he expects no one to miss time because of COVID-19. The same can’t be said of their Week 1 opponent, as Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said that 12 players will be out for the season opener on Saturday, making an already daunting challenge that much more difficult. — Alex Scarborough

No. 3 Oklahoma (1-0)

After using Missouri State as a speed bump in a 48-0 win in Spencer Rattler’s debut, Oklahoma will begin its quest for a sixth straight Big 12 title on Saturday at home against Kansas State. The Wildcats are coming off a loss to Arkansas State, but Sooners coach Lincoln Riley can just point to last year’s 48-41 upset loss to K-State as a reminder of what’s possible. For OU’s defense, it’s a chance to measure progress in a year. — Dave Wilson

No. 4 Georgia (0-0)

The Bulldogs continue to play the waiting game at quarterback as former USC transfer J.T. Daniels still hasn’t been fully cleared from his previous ACL injury. But, as coach Kirby Smart put it, he wouldn’t be practicing if they didn’t expect him to be cleared soon. Smart called him a likely game-time decision. With that said, Daniels might not be a shoo-in. Ever since Jamie Newman opted out, the buzz around D’Wan Mathis has been building. Instead of the two transfers, Georgia might end up playing the QB they’ve had all along. — Scarborough

No. 5 Florida (0-0)

The SEC coaches last week voted redshirt senior Kyle Trask as the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback. Maybe that says something about the pool of quarterbacks this season in the SEC, but it also says something about Trask’s development under Dan Mullen. The Gators should be as balanced offensively as they’ve been under Mullen, and Trask’s ability to spread the ball around and make key throws is a big part of that. — Chris Low

No. 6 LSU (0-0)

Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin aren’t walking back through that door. The Tigers are still down 17 starters from last season, not to mention both coordinators. But coach Ed Orgeron got a bit of good news this past week when defensive lineman Neil Farrell opted back in, providing some much-needed experience and depth up front. There’s still plenty of talent in Baton Rouge, but there may be no bigger wild card in the SEC than LSU. — Scarborough

No. 7 Notre Dame (2-0)

There had been some questions around the offense before the season started and the unit got off to a slow start in its first week against Duke. It adjusted, though, and showed some of its potential this past week against USF in a route. The real test for Notre Dame is a few weeks ahead with a tough stretch that starts with Louisville on Oct. 17 and includes games against Clemson and North Carolina. If the offense continues to get better, Notre Dame should be right in the mix for the ACC championship game. — Tom VanHaaren

No. 8 (tie) Texas (1-0)

The Longhorns have to like what they see while getting ready for Saturday’s visit to Lubbock. Sam Ehlinger completed 24 passes to nine different receivers for 429 yards and five TDs in just a half in the Horns’ 59-3 win over UTEP. Texas Tech, meanwhile, gave up 572 passing yards to Houston Baptist in the Huskies’ first-ever game against a Power 5 school as the Red Raiders barely escaped with a 35-33 win. — Wilson

No. 8 (tie) Auburn (0-0)

By all accounts, Bo Nix had a terrific first season on the Plains, earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Not so fast. On a recent podcast, Nix said he lost his confidence and wasn’t the same player he was in high school. With a year under his belt, it appears that’s changed. Coach Gus Malzahn says he’s different now. “It feels different. His approach is different. He’s no longer a true freshman. I expect him to be a leader on this team. — Scarborough

No. 10 Texas A&M (0-0)

The Aggies are looking for a breakthrough season, and they get a favorable matchup at home against Vanderbilt to test a lot of new faces on offense. Confidence is high in the two-headed backfield of Isaiah Spiller and Ainas Smith behind fourth-year starter Kellen Mond. But leading receiver Jhamon Ausbon opted out last week, so the hunt for a new No. 1 is on. There’s not a lot of time for experimenting: Alabama and Florida await in the next two weeks. — Wilson

No. 11 North Carolina (1-0)

The Tar Heels had their nonconference game against Charlotte canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the 49ers team, so Week 3 was quiet in Chapel Hill. That wasn’t ideal for the Tar Heels, who will now scramble to find a new nonconference opponent, but it’s an extra week of prep for an offense that looked a bit out of sorts in its opener before finding footing in the fourth quarter. With an impressive-looking BC team on deck, the extra prep time might be a blessing. — David M. Hale

No. 12 Miami (2-0)

Miami unveiled its new turnover chain and got to wear it three times against Louisville, but there is no doubt Manny Diaz will want to see improvements out of the defense after it gave up over 500 yards of offense. One more area that absolutely needs work: penalties. Miami had 11 for 89 yards and that is something that has to change moving forward. Still, Miami showed vast potential, especially on offense. Its big win Saturday can only help going into rivalry week against Florida State, in another national primetime game. Miami is far from being back, but the Hurricanes appear to be a vastly improved team from a year ago. — Adelson

No. 13 UCF (1-0)

It is hard to be nitpicky about a dominant 49-21 win over Georgia Tech, but there are a few areas the Knights can work on as they prepare for their first conference game of the season against East Carolina. The first: penalties. UCF had eight of them, including several that stymied drives during a stagnant third quarter. Another: turnovers. The Knights had two, both in Georgia Tech territory. The third: run D, after giving up 227 yards rushing on the ground. As big as the margin of victory was, it could have been bigger. Mistakes are to be expected in season openers. Now, UCF will get back to work as it pushes to gain just a little more consistency. — Adelson

No. 14 Cincinnati (1-0)

The Bearcats are on a mission to win the conference after losing to Memphis by five points in 2019. The defense is still pretty stocked with some key returning starters, including corner Ahmad Gardner. The offense is where more of the questions arise, but the team did not show any lag from the offseason in its first game against Austin Peay. That game was a nice warm-up to the season, but Army is next and eventually SMU and Memphis in October. Those games will be the real test for Cincinnati to see where it stacks up. — VanHaaren

No. 15 Oklahoma State (1-0)

The Cowboys had a difficult first game against Tulsa with Spencer Sanders’ first-quarter lower extremity injury. The offense was stagnant until third-string quarterback Shane Illingworth came in, but there’s still concern as Oklahoma State opens up Big 12 play against West Virginia. The Mountaineers aren’t a bad team to open up with given all of their uncertainties, but Oklahoma State can’t afford another week like the one they just had. — Harry Lyles Jr.

No. 16 Tennessee (0-0)

The offensive line was already going to be Tennessee’s strength this season, but Cade Mays getting a waiver from the NCAA last week to be eligible to play right away this season gives the Vols a chance to be dominant up front. Mays, a starter at Georgia, still has to be cleared by the SEC in order to transfer within the conference. But the idea of Mays and Trey Smith anchoring that Tennessee offensive line opens up a lot of possibilities for the Vols on offense. — Chris Low

No. 17 Memphis (1-0)

The Tigers are still looking to play their first game since Sept. 5, after their scheduled game this past week against Houston was postponed because a “significant number of individuals” inside the program were placed into quarantine because of coronavirus protocols. Saturday, it was reported that their game this Friday against UTSA was canceled. The next game on Memphis’ schedule is at SMU on Oct. 3, and hopefully conditions allow for it to happen safely. — Lyles

No. 18 BYU (1-0)

The Cougars will have gone 19 days in between games when they host Troy this week, following their 55-3 win to open the season against Navy on Sept. 7. Positive COVID-19 test results and the related contact tracing forced BYU to postpone the game it had scheduled with Army for Saturday. It’s unclear when, or if, that game will be replayed or what the roster availability for the Cougars will look like this week. — Low

No. 19 Louisiana (2-0)

Thanks primarily to Elijah Mitchell’s rushing, UL survived a serious trap-game situation at Georgia State and now heads back to Lafayette to prepare for its first home game of the season against Georgia Southern. The Eagles were shaky against Campbell a week ago but are tough to prepare for. Survive that hurdle, and it’s time for the Sun Belt game of the season: an October 7 visit to Appalachian State. — Connelly

No. 20 Virginia Tech (0-0)

As of this writing, Virginia Tech is finally in a position to play some football. After having games against NC State and Virginia canceled, the Hokies will play the Wolfpack on Sept. 26. They’re expected to contend in the Coastal Division, and they open up against an NC State team with a new offensive coordinator (Tim Beck) and a defense that has more potential than promise — Lyles

No. 21 Pittsburgh (2-0)

The Panthers’ vaunted defense did exactly what was expected against an overmatched Syracuse line. Pitt’s D utterly harassed Tommy DeVito throughout, with one deep ball (by backup QB Rex Culpepper) serving as the only real offense the Orange could muster. But does Pitt’s offense have enough to really challenge in the ACC? There were certainly some bright spots Saturday, including touchdowns from Jared Wayne and Jordan Addison, but the ground game continues to be a big concern. — Hale

No. 22 Army (2-0)

After starting the season as the nation’s only 2-0 team, Army saw its momentum slow with the cancellation of its game against BYU. The Black Knights looked long and hard for a replacement but ultimately came up empty. Now things get challenging. Jeff Monken’s squad travels to Cincinnati this weekend to face the Bearcats, who could be the best team in the Group of 5.

No. 23 Kentucky (0-0)

Don’t sleep on Kentucky in the race to win the SEC East. The dynamic Terry Wilson is back at quarterback after missing most of last season with an injury, and the defense is in good shape. But the biggest reason for optimism in Lexington has to be the offensive line. Known as “The Big Blue Wall,” the line returns four of the top seven highest-graded lineman in the SEC last season, according to Pro Football Focus. — Scarborough

No. 24 Louisville (1-1)

The Cardinals worked the entire offseason to make improvements on their defense, but they had little to show for it in a loss to Miami. Several coverage busts allowed Miami to score on quick, big plays, the type of mistakes that improving defenses generally do not make. Though Malik Cunningham threw for over 300 yards, he made several mistakes and turned the ball over multiple times. It won’t be any easier next weekend against Pitt, which has played well defensively the first two weeks. — Adelson

No. 25 Marshall (2-0)

With the Big Ten being eligible for AP Top 25 consideration starting next week, Marshall’s stay may be short-lived, but the Thundering Herd should enjoy it. Following an impressive 17-7 takedown of previous No. 23 — and defending Sun Belt champ — Appalachian State, Marshall won’t play again until Oct. 10 when it travels to Western Kentucky. Expect a heavy dose of RB Brenden Knox, who ran for 138 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Mountaineers.


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



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.”

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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.”



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



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



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.

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