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Indiana brings the chaos, Justin Fields brings his A-game, and more from Week 8

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Quarterback Michael Penix is 6-foot-3, a seemingly insignificant fact from Indiana’s roster and the universe’s cruelest twist for Penn State.

Oh sure, that might seem like a conspiratorial view of the events that led to the eighth-ranked Nittany Lions losing their season-opener 36-35 in overtime. This was just college football after all. Does the universe really care who wins a Big Ten game?

The answer is yes. Yes it does.

If Penix is a centimeter shorter, Penn State is celebrating. Instead, Penix’s stretch for the pylon to convert a two-point try by the absolute slimmest of margins created the most dramatic replay review since the Zapruder film.

And yes, if Penn State doesn’t fumble at the goal line, miss three field goals or score too quickly on its final drive, it would’ve won, but those are all peripheral moments. This was fate. A loss this painful has to be due to larger, unseen forces of nature. The football gods were feeling frisky. And, on Saturday, they reminded the nation of just how much we had been missing Big Ten football these past two months.

Really, what’s more 2020 than the Big Ten, a league that has produced fringe medical theories (Jim Harbaugh doesn’t want players eating chicken because it’s a “nervous bird”), confounding miseries (hi, sad Michigan fans) and utter feelings of helplessness (Maryland, we’re looking in your direction) on an annual basis? This year was made for the Big Ten and, in its return, it offered us a perfect 2020-type ending when nothing felt certain and anything seemed possible.

It was a historic win for Indiana, which hadn’t beaten a top-10 team since before man landed on the moon. It was an ending Penn State fans will still talk about over cheap beers 50 years from now, shaking their heads and cursing a replay official whose name they’ve never known.

It was a heck of a moment in a game that, in the grand scheme of the season, probably doesn’t really matter all that much.

After all, Alabama decimated Tennessee in Knoxville with Nick Saban running his record to 23-0 against former assistants as the dad who keeps dunking on his kids in a driveway basketball game. The Tide can win it all, to be sure, but Saturday’s events offered a red flag, as star receiver Jaylen Waddle was lost for the season with an ankle injury. It was likely the end of a collegiate career for one of the sport’s most electric players, one that could have ripple effects months from now when Alabama is actually tested by a worthy adversary.

An inexplicable season nearly took an astounding turn as Clemson struggled to put away woeful Syracuse, despite being favored by nearly seven touchdowns. Trevor Lawrence threw a pick six, the Orange converted a handful of big plays, and the Tigers were up only six midway through the third quarter. How did it happen? A shaky performance by a reconstructed offensive line and lackluster day from a receiver corps still trying to find a weapon on the outside. Clemson can win it all; but, despite a lopsided final score, Saturday served notice that there are cracks in the impenetrable facade. (Just don’t ask coach Dabo Swinney about it.)

Ohio State made its case for joining college football’s elite tier by dominating Nebraska, thanks to a near-perfect performance from quarterback Justin Fields. The Huskers, meanwhile, might be dusting off that application they started in August for readmittance into the Big 12. But a close look at the Buckeyes does offer at least one potential concern. Trey Sermon and Master Teague combined for 23 carries and just 89 yards on the ground, and the Buckeyes clearly missed J.K. Dobbins in their 2020 debut.

And then, there’s the question of who will push for the fourth playoff spot, if our favorites all hold serve.

Is it Oklahoma State? It would be a fitting tribute to this bizarre year if coach Mike Gundy made the playoff on the back of his defense, but the Pokes shut down Brock Purdy and Iowa State for a critical win that kept them undefeated.

Is it Notre Dame? Ian Book finally connected on some big plays in the passing game as the Irish embarrassed Pitt. Or was that more about an utterly inept Panthers team that added to a particularly thin resume for Notre Dame?

Maybe Michigan has finally found its QB, and Harbaugh’s crew will roll into Columbus, Ohio, on Dec. 12 and pull off a historic … um, no. Even for 2020, that’s a bit wild.

But maybe all of this discussion a week into the Big Ten season, before the Pac-12 kicks off Nov. 7, is entirely premature. This is 2020, a year when the ground seems to continually shift beneath our feet and no assumption should be carved into stone.

Perhaps that’s why Indiana’s stunner means so much on this late October Saturday. It’s a reminder that the really great moments can happen any time, the margin between joy and misery is razor thin, and it’s best to enjoy the moments we have rather than worry too much about what comes next.

Heisman Five

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1:08

Justin Fields tosses a pair of touchdowns and adds another on the ground as Ohio State cruises by Nebraska.

Welcome back, Justin Fields. You’ve been missed. Slip on your Heisman Five smoking jacket and allow us to show you to the members’ lounge. There’s a complimentary plate of warm cold cuts on the table next to the memorial photo of Geno Smith’s 2012 season.

1. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence

It could have been a game to pad the stats, but Lawrence generously let 46-point underdog Syracuse hang around with a pick six. Perhaps we shouldn’t be talking Heisman and instead push the Clemson QB for the Nobel Peace Prize.

2. Alabama QB Mac Jones

Saturday delivered a devastating blow to Jones’ Heisman campaign. He didn’t throw for a single TD. Just awful. Oh, he did complete 25 of 31 passes and averaged 12.5 per throw. But, let’s be honest — that still counts as a bad day for a guy who has been nearly perfect so far.

3. Ohio State QB Justin Fields

How do you force your way into a Heisman conversation a full month after everyone else got started? With 20-of-21 passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns.

4. BYU QB Zach Wilson

Whether BYU has a real shot at the playoff is a big question, but Wilson’s chances of becoming a Heisman finalist look more legitimate by the week.

5. UCF QB Dillon Gabriel

His numbers are insane. Through five games, Gabriel has 2,178 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. The last quarterback to have more passing yards at this stage of a season was Patrick Mahomes in 2016. No, UCF isn’t going to push for a playoff berth, but don’t let that keep you from appreciating what Gabriel is doing every week.

The champs bounce back

LSU looks like a real football team again, and all it took was an injured QB, a revamped defense and … getting to play South Carolina.

After starting 1-2, the Tigers were dominant in a 52-24 win, playing without starting QB Myles Brennan. They started freshman T.J. Finley, who was terrific — completing 17-for-21 passes for 265 yards and accounting for three touchdowns. LSU didn’t punt.

Nearly as impressive was the defense, which had been awful in its first three games under new coordinator Bo Pelini. Head coach Ed Orgeron offered his frustrations and promised changes following a loss against Missouri, saying the scheme needed to be simplified. We’ll assume Pelini read some Marie Kondo books and eliminated any schemes that didn’t kindle joy. The result was the best performance of the season.

Does this mean there will be a QB controversy moving forward? Will we see Finley again next week against Auburn in a warm-up for Alabama? Will Pelini leave the team for his own Netflix home design special?

The answer to all of those questions is, it will be worth watching.

Cincinnati stands tall

It’s not likely a Group of 5 team will make a run at the playoff, but Saturday’s showdown between Cincinnati and SMU was at least a battle for college football’s Miss Congeniality.

The Bearcats’ offense had struggled to find big plays, but it jumped out to a 14-0 lead on a quintessential Cincinnati 12-play drive. SMU could never scratch its way back, thanks to some mind-boggling decisions in and around the red zone that included a missed field goal, a confounding bit of clock management at the end of the half, a curious choice to kick a field goal on fourth-and-2 and two turnovers on downs.

Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder threw for just 126 yards, but he made up for the lack of an aerial attack with 179 yards and three touchdowns on the ground — all of which was enough to warrant throwing up on the field in the third quarter. (It might have been the third plate of Skyline Chili before the game — cinnamon doesn’t belong in chili.)

Ridder was fine, and the Bearcats won 42-13 and moved to 4-0 for the second time in four seasons under Luke Fickell. More importantly, ninth-ranked Cincinnati is in the driver’s seat for a New Year’s Six berth, with another huge game next week against Memphis.

They keep winning

The odds of a non-Power 5 school making the playoff have never been particularly good, but there are a few teams doing a nice job making their cases.

Coastal Carolina was without QB Grayson McCall on Saturday, but its defense was dominant in a 28-14 win against Georgia Southern. The Chanticleers are now 5-0 and made a strong case to remain within the Top 25 after cracking the poll for the first time in program history last week (at No. 25).

Using the transitive property of wins, Coastal is still in line for a Big 12 title.

Meanwhile, Marshall also moved to 5-0, though in less impressive fashion. The Thundering Herd struggled to pull away from Florida Atlantic, but Grant Wells’ two TDs proved the difference in a 20-9 win.

And then there’s Liberty, which is now 6-0 behind QB Malik Willis, who was electric on Saturday in a 56-35 win versus Southern Miss. Willis threw for six touchdowns and ran for a seventh, collecting nearly 450 yards in the process. Hugh Freeze’s team is among the most explosive in the country, and his QB — a transfer from Auburn — makes the Flames nearly impossible to defend.

And we get to welcome Boise State back into the conversation. While the Big Ten celebrated its return, the Mountain West kicked off, too, and the Broncos looked dominant in a 42-13 win against Utah State. It is nice to have blue turf back in our lives.

Still, ESPN’s FPI gives them all less than a 0.1% chance of making the playoff, so don’t get your hopes up. Then again, try telling that to Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are likely to finish you with a Stone Cold stunner.

Anderson’s triple leads Wake Forest

After Wake Forest’s stunning upset of Virginia Tech, teammates celebrated in the locker room by throwing defensive back Nick Anderson into the air and chanting, “Scholly! Scholly!” Head coach Dave Clawson said he’ll gladly oblige the request this spring.

The walk-on true freshman got his share of playing time for the banged-up Demon Deacons on Saturday and picked off three passes.

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1:14

Wake Forest true freshman walk-on safety Nick Andersen gets three interceptions to help the Demon Deacons upset Virginia Tech 23-16.

Anderson had a handful of FCS offers last year, but he wanted to play big-time football, so he rolled the dice as a preferred walk-on at Wake Forest this season.

It was a good choice.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Anderson is just the fourth player in Wake history to have three interceptions in the same game and the first ACC DB to do it since Louisville’s Gerod Holliman in 2014.

The huge win marked another turning point for the program. At No. 19, Virginia Tech was the highest-ranked opponent the Deacons have beaten since topping No. 16 Boston College in 2006 en route to an ACC title.

Out of its Rut

Don’t look now, but Rutgers is undefeated in Big Ten play.

OK, it’s one game, but let’s enjoy it while we can. We’ve spent plenty of time cracking jokes at Rutgers’ expense over the years (we’ll now turn our complete attention to Kansas), but Saturday’s 38-27 win against Michigan State warrants some real enthusiasm.

Rutgers scored more than one touchdown in a game just once in its previous 12 Big Ten games (against Ohio State, believe it or not). On Saturday, the Scarlett Knights found the end zone five times. Five! That’s just one fewer conference TDs than Rutgers managed in all of 2019.

Has head coach Greg Schiano successfully turned back the clock to 2006? We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but, considering those 21 points Rutgers scored against Ohio State last year, the trend line sure seems to be pointing to a Big Ten title.

Oh so close

Life isn’t fair, especially for QBs who deliver a perfect pass only to see a receiver flub the catch and have the ball end up in the hands of the defense. And, with that, we give you the misery of NC State freshman Ben Finley, who delivered what should’ve been the first touchdown pass of his career, if not for a rather unfortunate bounce off the hands of his receiver.

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0:24

NC State’s Ben Finley throws the ball into the end zone, but it is bobbled and picked off by a diving Don Chapman in the end zone.

We’re going to dub this a six-pick, reversing the INT-turned-TD designation to account for this brutal bit of luck.

Meanwhile, North Carolina cruised to an easy win, rebounding from last week’s shocking loss against Florida State. The Tar Heels also had a pair of running backs top 100 yards for the second time in three weeks, as Javonte Williams and Michael Carter combined for 266 yards and four touchdowns.

A second one for the record books

Fields made his return Saturday in fine fashion, completing his first 11 passes and finishing 20-of-21 passing in the game. It looked an awful lot like his fellow Big Ten QB Graham Mertz, who also completed 20-of-21 for Wisconsin in a win against Illinois on Friday night.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the two are now tied for the second-best completion percentage for any qualifying QB in the Big Ten’s history, trailing only Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan (21-of-22 against Purdue last year).

But who holds the Big Ten’s all-time best completion percentage? That’s a trivia answer that will win you a drink. Tate Martell, the Ohio State QB-turned-Miami receiver-turned-transfer aficionado, who was 10-for-10 against Rutgers in 2018. Martell has had just 11 more completions since.

Under-the-radar game of the week

This man is either celebrating a ridiculous college football win or protesting the “No Shirt, No Service” policy at a South Philly 7-Eleven.

Actually, it is Stephen F. Austin head coach Colby Carthel, whose Lumbrerjacks wrapped an overtime stunner Saturday. SFA trailed Abilene Christian 29-22 with 1:38 to play, but went 67 yards on three plays to tie the score and send the game to overtime. After Abilene settled for a field goal, Trae Self hit Chad Aune for a 16-yard winning TD. And off came the shirt.

It was Carthel’s first game back since testing positive for the coronavirus, forcing him to ask his father (and volunteer coach), Don, to stand in last Saturday.

Under-the-radar play of the week

Did you see the game that ended by the absolute slimmest of margins, sending the favorite to a loss in utterly painful fashion?

No, we’re not talking about Penn State-Indiana. What happened to Rice might be even worse.

The Owls had a shot to win late after scoring a touchdown with 34 seconds to play and connecting on a two-point try to go up 3. Instead, Middle Tennessee went 35 yards in 34 seconds and kicked a game-tying field goal to force overtime.

The Owls had another chance to win, but missed a 45-yard kick in the first OT … by the absolute slimmest of margins (Indiana’s Michael Penix aside).

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0:27

Rice lines up for a game-winning field goal against Middle Tennessee in overtime, but the ball hits both uprights and the crossbar twice before bouncing out.

Another missed kick and an MTSU TD in double OT sent Rice to a 40-34 loss in its season opener. Chalk it up to MTSU’s experience. The game was also historic for featuring two teams from the same conference, where one (MTSU) had played six games and the other played none (Rice).

Best bets and bad beats

  • Ole Miss backers can be forgiven for throwing remotes at their televisions as officials failed to go to replay on what appeared to be a critical Auburn mistake on a late punt. With the Rebels up a point, the ball appeared to tip off the finger of Tigers return man Shaun Shivers and roll into the end zone, where it was clearly recovered by Ole Miss. Instead, the play was ruled a touchback, Auburn marched down the field, and Seth Williams scored the game-winner with 1:11 to play. Auburn won 35-28, and the replay booth owes Ole Miss bettors a few bucks.

  • Ohio State head coach Ryan Day apologized for running up the score against Nebraska, but he should also apologize to bettors of the over. The total closed 69.5, and rather than take a knee, he had Jack Miller run for a 2-yard touchdown to bring the score to 51-17. Day said he had a young unit on the field and wanted to get them experience. It’s a reasonable explanation, but couldn’t he have gotten them a little more experience by going for two and covering the over? Instead, Ohio State kicked the PAT, putting the final total at 69 — a half-point shy of going over. On the upside, the Buckeyes covered as a 28-point favorite thanks to that TD; Ohio State is now an impressive 14-4 against the spread in season openers since 2000, the best by any team in FBS.

  • We’re not sure what Tom Herman had his staff read on Baylor message boards last week, but it sure wasn’t the point spread. Texas, an 11-point favorite, was up 27-9 with 9:51 to play when QB Sam Ehlinger, for inexplicable reasons, threw a pass that was picked off. It led to a Baylor TD to close the gap to — you guessed it — 11. Texas would surely find a way to score again, right? Yeah, the Longhorns had the ball at the Baylor 4 with 1:15 to go, but Herman simply ran out the clock for a push, which we believe deserves a horns down. Or, at least a horns sideways. Or maybe both horns pointing in opposite directions.

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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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2:00

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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