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College football’s midseason-ish awards: Top players and unbelievable moments in a season like no other

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The word “midseason” is almost useless this year in college football. Of the 127 teams endeavoring to play FBS football this fall, only 12 have played half of their intended schedule (13 if you include UMass having played its only scheduled game to this point), while another 50 have yet to get started.

Still, we are indeed at a sort of midpoint: seven weeks down, eight to go to before conference championship games. As the Big Ten and other conferences get underway, we might forget some of the odder moments of this, the oddest first half of a season ever. So let’s commemorate what has happened thus far as we look toward what happens next.

Things that actually happened in the first seven weeks of the season

K.J. Costello, Heisman front-runner. In Mike Leach’s first game as Mississippi State coach, Costello utterly torched LSU for 623 yards and five touchdowns on 60 passes in a 44-34 upset win. In the three games since, all losses, Costello has thrown 136 times for 644 yards, MSU’s offense has scored a total of 21 points, and Costello has gotten benched in favor of freshman Will Rogers. Oh yeah, and LSU also got torched for 586 yards and 45 points in a loss to Missouri.

Coastal Carolina and Central Arkansas, ESPN darlings. A thinner schedule of early-season games offered brand-building opportunities for smaller schools who could take advantage (and were willing to put up with obvious risks). Central Arkansas crafted an “anyone, anywhere” brand by setting up a 10-game schedule that included three FBS opponents, plus the season opener against Austin Peay and the Trey Lance Showcase Game against North Dakota State.

Coastal, meanwhile, has won twice on ESPN in prime time — against Campbell on a Friday night in mid-September and against Louisiana last Wednesday. The Chanticleers also cleaned Kansas’ clock on Fox Sports 1 and whipped Arkansas State on ESPN2, and they are unbeaten and ranked for the first time ever.

Tennessee held the longest winning streak in the country. At halftime in Week 6, the Volunteers were winners of eight games in a row — they hadn’t lost in nearly a full calendar year — and held a 21-17 lead over Georgia in Athens. In the six quarters that followed, they got outscored 61-7. Georgia surged past them, then they lost at home to Kentucky for the first time in 36 years.

The opponentless Houston Cougars. When the season is over, Houston will have played a run-of-the-mill nine games or so, with maybe a bowl game of some sort at the end as well. But never forget the utter ridiculousness the Coogs endured while trying to get on the field for the first time. Rice, Memphis, Baylor and North Texas all canceled or postponed. Houston finally kicked off on Oct. 8 against Tulane and almost immediately gave up a pair of defensive touchdowns before settling down and winning by 18.

The best teams of the first seven weeks

Preseason projections are part of my SP+ ratings for a reason: It makes them far more predictive. Priors are your friend, and I use them. But if I were deriving SP+ rankings only from what has happened so far in 2020, with no preseason assumptions of any kind, here’s your top 10:

1. Clemson
2. Cincinnati
3. Alabama
4. BYU
5. Air Force
6. Oklahoma State
7. Marshall
8. SMU
9. North Carolina
10. Notre Dame

Your top five offenses: Florida, Alabama, Virginia Tech, Memphis, BYU.

Your top five defenses: Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Marshall, Tulsa.

Like I said, that list probably wouldn’t make for great predictions going forward. But it’s a good way to commemorate just how incredibly some of these units have played to date.

Midseason awards

Here’s whom I would vote for in all major college football awards if the ballots were due today, sprinkling in a few sleepers who deserve mentions.

Heisman/Maxwell/Walter Camp (best player)

1. QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)
2. QB Mac Jones (Alabama)
3. RB Travis Etienne (Clemson)
Late-arriving threats: QB Justin Fields (Ohio State), QB Kedon Slovis (USC)

Lawrence has done nothing to tamp down even an ounce of the “sure-fire No. 1 NFL draft pick” hype this fall. Meanwhile, all Jones has done is average nearly 400 passing yards per game with a nearly perfect Total QBR rating. It’s not too late for a player like Fields or Slovis to get involved in this race, but the bar is absurdly high.

Davey O’Brien (best quarterback)

1. Lawrence (Clemson)
2. Jones (Alabama)
3. Grayson McCall (Coastal Carolina)
Late-arriving threats: Fields, Slovis

I want to call attention to what McCall has done so far. In a pretty run-heavy offense, he’s completed 68% of his passes at 15.8 yards per completion, with a 197.0 passer rating for the unbeaten Chants. Oh yeah, and he’s a redshirt freshman.

Doak Walker (best running back)

1. Etienne (Clemson)
2. Khalil Herbert (Virginia Tech)
3. Tyler Allgeier (BYU)
Late-arriving threats: Trey Sermon (Ohio State), Journey Brown (Penn State), CJ Verdell (Oregon), [insert Wisconsin running back here] (Wisconsin), Jaret Patterson (Buffalo)

Etienne’s versatility has been downright unfair this season, and Herbert has been an unforeseen catalyst in Blacksburg, but the competition is about to get a lot stiffer. The Big Ten does not lack for backs.

Biletnikoff (best receiver)

1. Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)
2. Elijah Moore (Ole Miss)
3. Reggie Roberson Jr. (SMU)
Late-arriving threats: Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Rondale Moore (Purdue), Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC), Chris Olave (Ohio State), Khalil Shakir (Boise State)

I love a good long ball, and no one has been hitting home runs like Waddle this season. Waddle, DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III have given Bama yet another otherworldly receiving corps.

Roberson’s inclusion, by the way, is a nod to another injury-shortened season. In his past 13 complete games, he’s caught 74 passes for 1,423 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he’s seen two consecutive seasons cut short.

Mackey (best tight end)

1. Kyle Pitts (Florida)
2. Sean Dykes (Memphis)
3. Kenny Yeboah (Ole Miss)
Late-arriving threats: Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)

The tight end position is becoming a bigger position for innovation as offenses further try to create mismatches and take advantage of smaller, faster college football defenses. Pitts, Dykes and Yeboah have all enjoyed breakout performances, averaging nearly 100 yards and two touchdowns per game among them.

Outland (best interior lineman)

1. Ben Cleveland (Georgia)
2. Nico Ezidore (Texas State)
3. Clark Barrington (BYU)
Late-arriving threats: Wyatt Davis (Ohio State), Cole Van Lanen (Wisconsin), Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC), Nolan Laufenberg (Air Force)

I used three different criteria to choose my three nominees so far: the guy most impressive to my eyes (Cleveland), the most disruptive defensive tackle in the country so far (Ezidore has eight tackles for loss) and a guy on a great line who, per Sports Info Solutions data, hasn’t missed a block so far this season (Barrington).

Lawrence Taylor (best defensive end)

Yes, I’m making this award up, but yes, a Best DE award should exist by this point.

1. Patrick Jones II (Pitt)
2. Quincy Roche (Miami)
3. Victor Dimukeje (Duke)
Late-arriving threats: Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan), Shaka Toney (Penn State), Kwity Paye (Michigan)

The ACC has owned the edge rusher category so far this season — Pitt has two who could have made the top three. But we’ll see if Thibodeaux or a phalanx of Big Ten pass-rushers can crack the list.

Butkus (best linebacker)

1. Azeez Ojulari (Georgia)
2. Zaven Collins (Tulsa)
3. Max Richardson (Boston College)
Late-arriving threats: Hamilcar Rashed Jr. (Oregon State), Paddy Fisher (Northwestern), Devin Lloyd (Utah), James Patterson (Buffalo)

Ojulari is a stick of dynamite on every third down Georgia opponents face, and it feels as though Collins was in the backfield on every play of both games Tulsa has played so far.

Thorpe (best defensive back)

1. Patrick Surtain II (Alabama)
2. Eric Stokes (Georgia)
3. Asante Samuel Jr. (Florida State)
Late-arriving threats: Elijah Molden (Washington), Tiawan Mullen (Indiana), Mykael Wright (Oregon), Jalen Walker (Boise State)

Whatever problems Alabama’s defense has, Surtain isn’t the cause of them. The bar is high here, but while Washington lost prime defensive talent to opt-outs, Molden’s return gives the Huskies heft in pass defense.

Bednarik/Bronko Nagurski (best defensive player)

1. Ojulari
2. Surtain
3. Jones
Late-arriving threats: Thibodeaux, Hutchinson, Molden

Despite what Alabama did to Georgia’s defense, the Dawgs likely have the top D in the country. Therefore a Dawg gets to lead the way.

Meanwhile, I’m realizing that I didn’t list a single Clemson defender above even though the Tigers probably have by far the second-best D. That says a little bit about the by-committee approach they’ve gotten to employ in blowouts this season and a little about their utterly absurd depth. They are terrifying, and I couldn’t pick out their top defender if you made me.

Groza (best place-kicker)

1. Jose Borregales (Miami)
2. Evan McPherson (Florida)
3. Jake Oldroyd (BYU)
Late-arriving threats: Brandon Talton (Nevada), Jet Toner (Stanford), Blake Mazza (Washington State)

We live in boom times for kickers, friends. Amid all the special-teams disasters, we’ve already seen five field goals of 54-plus yards sail through the uprights, including one each from the three I listed above.

Ray Guy (best punter)

1. Jake Camarda (Georgia)
2. Pressley Harvin III (Georgia Tech)
3. Max Duffy (Kentucky)
Late-arriving threats: Drue Chrisman (Ohio State), Adam Korsak (Rutgers)

We must be in boom times for punters, too, because two guys have outpaced Kentucky’s cannon-legged Duffy so far. Camarda is averaging an unreal 50.7 yards per kick.

Paul Hornung (most versatile player)

1. Etienne
2. Ainias Smith (Texas A&M)
3. Deuce Vaughn (Kansas State)
Late-arriving threats: Ronnie Rivers (Fresno State), Demetric Felton (UCLA), Max Borghi (Washington State)

You might as well call this the Kenny Gainwell Award because I leaned on a very specific player type for this one: running backs who are scary as hell catching the ball. Along with tight ends, these types of players are a bit of a matchups cheat code at the moment.

Coach of the year

1. Kalani Sitake (BYU)
2. Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech)
3. Luke Fickell (Cincinnati)

After a disappointing 7-6 record last season, Sitake’s Cougars have been on an outright rampage in 2020, while Fuente’s Hokies are 3-1 despite massive issues with positive coronavirus tests that have hit even the quarterback position.

Broyles (best assistant coach)

1. Barry Odom (Arkansas)
2. Steve Sarkisian (Alabama)
3. Marcus Freeman (Cincinnati)

As I referenced on Sunday, SP+ isn’t as high on Arkansas as one might have expected so far — it’s hard to thrive long term on forcing perfectly timed turnovers and making fourth-down stops. But after averaging a defensive SP+ ranking of 73rd over the past five years, Odom’s Hogs are nearly in the top 50 already. That says something, as does the extreme buy-in you see from every player on that Arkansas two-deep. He deserves all the praise he’s gotten so far.

Closing thoughts on Alabama-Georgia

After writing what felt like one million words on it last week, I figured I should circle back and share some postgame thoughts on what was, rankingswise, the biggest game of the season to date: Alabama’s 41-24 victory over Georgia on Saturday.

1. Mac rediscovered his footwork

Sixty minutes is a long time, and not only because a 60-minute college football game commonly lasts 3½ hours or more. It offers good coaches plenty of times to make adjustments, and it gives important players plenty of time to either find, or lose, the plot.

Stetson Bennett‘s last touchdown pass of the evening, a 5-yard strike to Jermaine Burton with 23 seconds left in the first half to give Georgia a 24-17 lead, came with some red flags. He had already sailed three poor passes on the drive, but he had made up for it with a huge third-and-7 completion to George Pickens and the third-and-goal strike to Burton. He had begun to falter in the moment, but it appeared he had gathered himself.

At the moment Burton came down with the ball, Georgia led, and Bennett’s stat line was quite comparable to that of Alabama’s Mac Jones.

Passing stats, first 29:37 of the game:

  • Bennett: 12-for-20 for 165 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one sack

  • Jones: 13-for-17 for 184 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and two sacks

  • Adjusted net yards per pass (ANY/A, which includes sacks, plus a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns and a 45-yard penalty for interceptions): Bennett 7.0, Jones 7.0

Then came the rest of the game.

Passing stats, last 30:23:

  • Bennett: 6-for-20 for 104 yards, two interceptions and a sack

  • Jones: 9-for-13 for 206 yards, two touchdowns and a sack

  • ANY/A: Jones 17.1, Bennett 0.6

Jones was spooked and harried by Georgia’s pass rush early in the game. Anytime the pocket began to crumble a bit around him, he lost his footwork and rushed throws. He was still able to complete passes because he’s got a very good arm and even better receivers, but he wasn’t stepping confidently into passes, especially on third down. But he completed a couple of passes to get Alabama into field goal range at the end of the first half, then ignited in the second, just as Bennett was falling out of sorts on the other side of the ball. You could say that after a bit of a delay, Jones met the moment, while the moment met Bennett.

2. Kirby Smart has one hell of a decision to make now

Bennett was never supposed to be Georgia’s starting quarterback this season. First, it appeared it would be Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, who ended up opting out for the season instead. Then we assumed it would be USC transfer JT Daniels, but he wasn’t cleared to play right away after a knee injury. In their absence, the job went to redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis, who was a deer in headlights in the first half against Arkansas. Bennett, the walk-on turned junior college prospect turned starter, came in for Mathis and did what was asked of him with minimal mistakes.

In the marquee game of the young season, however, the mistakes came. He threw three picks and took two sacks, and while this obviously wasn’t all Bennett’s fault, Georgia was shut out in the second half of the game.

Bulldogs coach Smart now has to deal with the ultimate “ceiling vs. floor” debate. Against teams worse than Alabama, Bennett was able to come in and play pretty straightforward ball and, with help from an awesome special-teams unit, make sure to give an awesome defense good field position. He could continue to do that the rest of the season — Florida is the only remaining opponent in the SP+ top 20, and he could easily lead Georgia to a 9-1 record. But Bama would likely await in the SEC championship game, and there’s no real reason to think that Bennett will fare any better the second time. We might be just about done with the days of game-manager level quarterbacks leading teams to a national title, and Smart might have to take a risk on a higher-ceiling, lower-floor player, be it Daniels or Mathis (probably Daniels), if he wants to get from 9-1 to 10-1 and reach the College Football Playoff.

Projecting the Mountain West

My 2020 college football series will finally come to an end this week with previews of the Big Ten East and West divisions, but that’s not the only conference making its season debut this weekend. Out West, the Mountain West also gets rolling with six games on Saturday evening: three kicking off between 7 and 8 p.m. ET and another three between 9 and 10:30. I wrote a pair of MWC previews a decade ago in April — West division, Mountain division — and while obviously the information in there is a bit outdated (among other things, there won’t be divisional champions, and the conference title game will pit the two teams with the best conference records), I wanted to at least share updated SP+ projections before things got started.

A quick note: While each team has eight games scheduled, not every team has eight conference games. Boise State and San Diego State both play BYU, while Air Force has already played Navy and will also play Army. It’s weird, I know. But you can get a pretty clear idea of the pecking order from simply using average projected wins, and that’s what I’m going to do.

  • SP+ No. 35 Boise State: 6.0 average wins (34% chance of finishing with 0-1 losses)

  • No. 59 Air Force: 5.3 (15%)

  • No. 75 San Diego State: 4.7 (7%)

  • No. 83 Colorado State: 4.3 (4%)

  • No. 103 Fresno State: 4.2 (5%)

  • No. 90 Wyoming: 4.2 (4%)

  • No. 98 Hawai’i: 4.1 (3%)

  • No. 107 Nevada: 3.9 (3%)

  • No. 106 San Jose State: 3.6 (1%)

  • No. 104 Utah State: 3.4 (1%)

  • No. 122 New Mexico: 2.2 (0%)

  • No. 123 UNLV: 1.9 (0%)

Boise State is a clear favorite to reach the title game, while Air Force appears to have a leg up on the field for the second spot. But if either team slips, there’s a humongous crowd of teams waiting to pounce.

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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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