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Oklahoma goes down, and more must-see moments and Top 25 takeaways from Week 4

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It’s Week 4 and our little college football season is all grown up. There are three games featuring two Top 25 opponents! The SEC is playing conference games!

There are new faces: Mike Leach at Mississippi State, basically the entire LSU starting lineup (and a chunk of the coaching booth) and Lane Kiffin on the Ole Miss sideline.

There are subplots: Florida State, whose coach, Mike Norvell, tested positive for COVID-19, will be led by Chris Thomsen when the Seminoles visit hated Miami.

The Pac-12 and MAC are opting back in (and yes, we know it’ll be a bit, but at least Oregon State fans don’t have to wait four years for the Beavers — in a river no less — like this guy). We’re all grateful to see Rondale Moore returning to add some electricity to our Saturdays.

We’ve got all that and more this week. Plus lots of cool uniforms, as you’ll see below. But probably most importantly, there’s Gary Patterson extolling the greatness of college football in song.

Top 25 games

All times Eastern. Lines courtesy of Caesar’s Sportsbook.

  • Mississippi State at No. 6 LSU (-16.5), 3:30 p.m., CBS

  • No. 8 Texas (-17.5) at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m., FOX

  • No. 22 Army at No. 14 Cincinnati (-13), 3:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN app

  • West Virginia at No. 15 Oklahoma State (-6.5), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN app

  • No. 4 Georgia (-28) at Arkansas, 4 p.m., SEC Network/ESPN app

  • No. 2 Alabama (-28) at Missouri, 7 p.m., ESPN/ESPN app

  • Vanderbilt at No. 10 Texas A&M (-30.5), 7:30 p.m., SEC Network/ESPN app

  • Florida State at No. 12 Miami (-11), 7:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN app

  • No. 16 Tennessee (-3.5) at South Carolina, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network/ESPN app

  • North Carolina State at No. 20 Virginia Tech (-7), 8 p.m., ACC Network/ESPN app

  • Troy at No. 18 BYU (-15), 10:15 p.m., ESPN/ESPN app

No. 8 Auburn 29, No. 23 Kentucky 13

Bo Nix made some impressive throws on Saturday, and Auburn fans should be excited about this offense. Nix showed a great connection with Seth Williams, who showed he’s going to make SEC defensive backs lose sleep on Friday nights. Overall, there was some rust to knock off given the circumstances this offseason, but the Tigers are going to be fun to watch and a problem in the SEC West.

The Wildcats really looked like they were going to hang with Auburn for the duration of the game — and then the fourth quarter happened. The game got away quickly from Kentucky after a pair of turnovers led to two Auburn scores. However, this is going to be a team that nobody in the SEC will be able to ignore, and they have the potential to upset some teams if they’re able to put together four quarters of good football.– Harry Lyles Jr.

No. 19 Louisiana 20, Georgia Southern 18

Another week, another test passed for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Georgia Southern is almost never a slouch, and they challenged Louisiana the whole way. It appeared that Eagles QB Shai Werts‘ heroics on a go-ahead two-point conversion was going to give Georgia Southern the upset. But a 53-yard field goal by Nate Snyder saved their perfect season. Now, they prepare for the Sun Belt’s game of the year against App State. — Lyles Jr.

No. 5 Florida 51, Ole Miss 35

It would be easy to say it was like the good ol’ Fun ‘N’ Gun days for the Gators, but not even Steve Spurrier’s best offenses put up the numbers Florida did in a win over Ole Miss. The Gators had 642 total yards of offense, the most in a conference game in school history. Kyle Trask threw a career-high six touchdown passes, tied with Joe Burrow for the most in an SEC opener — five of those went 15 or more yards. Tight end Kyle Pitts caught four of those touchdowns, tied for the most in a game in school history. Trask finished with a career-high 416 yards passing. But it was not all rosy for the Gators in their opener. The defense looked shaky at best, giving up 35 points and 613 yards. There is plenty to fix before its home opener next week against South Carolina. — Andrea Adelson

No. 21 Pittsburgh 23, No. 24 Louisville 20

The defense was never in doubt, but the Pitt front sure made a statement Saturday against Louisville. While the offense continued to muddle its way through another up-and-down performance, the D-line was simply superb. They finished with seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss and, aside from a 75-yard run by Javian Hawkins, allowed just another 41 yards on the ground. While Kenny Pickett and the offense aren’t likely to wow anyone this season, this defense appears likely to keep the Panthers in every game.

It’s tough to move the football consistently when the offensive line simply can’t block anyone. Malik Cunningham was under pressure throughout, and he finished with just 107 passing yards and three picks. Javian Hawkins broke off a 75-yard touchdown run but had just three rush yards on his other 12 carries. It was just a miserable day for the Cards’ offense, which is likely to overshadow what was actually a surprisingly strong rebound by the defense. Eventually, the Cards will put it all together. It just didn’t happen Saturday. — David Hale

No. 13 UCF 51, East Carolina 28

UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel made some headlines this week for declaring UCF the best team in Florida, then backed it up with a second-straight offensive performance to prove it. Gabriel threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns, and set a school record with 18 straight completions in the decisive win over East Carolina. Gabriel is the first player in UCF’s FBS history (since 1996) to throw for 400 pass yards and four touchdowns in multiple games — he’s done it each of the last 2 weeks. UCF also had two receivers with over 100 yards receiving for the second straight game with Marlon Williams (114) and Jaylon Robinson (100) topping the mark. It certainly was not perfect, and that starts with the offensive line as UCF had seven false starts in the first quarter. In all, UCF had a jaw-dropping 19 penalties. — Adelson

Kansas State 38, No. 3 Oklahoma 35

For the second straight season, the Sooners got upset by Kansas State; this time, after holding a 21-point late-third quarter lead only to see it disappear. Despite an impressive start by Spencer Rattler and the Sooners, they struggled down the stretch. The offensive line protection was shoddy late and the defense allowed four plays of 20-plus yards in the last 22 minutes. Special teams had its own issues, too, allowing a fourth-quarter blocked punt. Rattler also threw three interceptions. All told, a complete collapse late for OU. — Sam Khan Jr.


Florida, Ole Miss jointly kneel before kickoff

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Coaches and players from both Ole Miss and Florida take a knee prior to kickoff in a showing of unity.

Florida and Ole Miss agreed to jointly take a knee before kickoff Saturday to “acknowledge the unrest in our country surrounding the treatment of African-Americans.”

In a joint statement, the schools said, “We recognize the impact of our personal platforms and are choosing to amplify the issues that directly impact us. Together we have chosen to take the opening series of today’s competition to acknowledge the unrest in our country surrounding the treatment of African Americans. We will continue to support social justice efforts as members of the Southeastern Conference and members of our respective communities.”

Auburn pays homage

Auburn honored former coach Pat Dye, who died in June at 80, in a couple of notable ways today.

The team will wore helmet stickers with “PD” on them, and another one that says “Sixty Minutes,” referencing a classic Dye retort when a reporter asked him how long it would take to finally beat Alabama, which had won nine straight Iron Bowls.

Gus Malzahn is paid his own personalized tribute by wearing Dye-style sideline attire.

So money

Ole Miss cashed in on the turnover celebration trend with an interesting new one.

And the Panthers took their talents to the hardwood after an interception against No. 24 Louisville.

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Marquis Williams intercepts Louisville QB Malik Cunningham, then Williams joins his Pittsburgh teammates with a synchronized dunk celebration.

Sweet redemption

Louisiana’s Nate Snyder was previously 2-for-6 on field goal attempts this season, including a 34-yard miss earlier in the game before nailing this one to beat Georgia Southern.

Throwbacks

A few teams are breaking out classic jerseys this weekend.

Oklahoma State is inducting Thurman Thomas, who was a two-time first-team All-American at OSU, into its new Ring of Honor this weekend during its game against West Virginia. To celebrate, the Cowboys are going to dress just like Thurman did in 1987 when he ran for 157 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia in the Sun Bowl.

Ole Miss, meanwhile, broke out its powder blue jerseys for the first time since 1994. The Rebels originally wore the colors from 1948-77 and again from 1983-94. Fans had only seen them as an alternate helmet over the past few years.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State’s current running back is worthy of a little love as well.

Sing it, Coach

You think you’re ready for some football? TCU coach Gary Patterson wrote and sang a whole song about it.

“I keep telling people, creativity takes courage,” Patterson said last week. “Me singing a song like that takes courage. It’s all about getting back to college football. That was the inspiration.”

It’s the second song Patterson released this offseason, after “Take A Step Back,” which he posted in June.

It’s gotta be the shoes

The University of Florida dropped the Gators’ new cleats, retro Jordan 10s, for the opening week of the season.

If you think the players and alumni aren’t excited about them, just ask former Gator and current Pittsburgh Steeler, Joe Haden.

Milkmen

It certainly seems like Notre Dame long snapper Michael Vinson, or “Milk” as his teammates call him, has won over the team.

The Fighting Irish created “Milk Monday” this week and the junior was the talk of the locker room. Everything from Vinson’s ability as a long snapper to his skills on the golf course were covered and the Notre Dame players even got the chance to list their favorite milks.

Unfortunately, following Milk Monday, the team was forced to cancel its game on Saturday with Wake Forest because of coronavirus concerns.

The Fighting Irish might not be able to play this week but at least they’ll be able to kick back and watch some games with a tall glass of milk, be it whole, strawberry or chocolate.

Your educational uniform update

Pitt’s first alternate uniforms since 2016 honor the city’s steel history. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there are several nods to the school’s Gothic Revival skyscraper, the Cathedral of Learning.

The “H2P” logo (for “Hail To Pitt”) is meant to evoke the “USS” mark that United States Steel Corporation employees wore. A yellow badge on the front left features an icon of master blacksmith Samuel Yellin, who forged the Cathedral’s 18-foot ornamental gates, at work. And, the paper adds, “above a black and yellow panther logo, reminiscent of steel’s smelting process, is Yellin’s Cathedral gates design gracing the jersey’s neckline.”

If you prefer your uniform reveals with a little more ancient history, take a gander over at Troy. While the uniform combo is no doubt a good one, what’s the deal with the scene?

The Troy website explains: “The Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park is home to 200 permanently exhibited Terracotta Warriors made by Dr. Huo Bao Zhu, from Xi’an China. The Warriors were constructed upon careful inspection of the original Terracotta Army buried with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di to accompany him in his afterlife.”

Elsewhere, the school explains the significance: “The warriors celebrate Troy’s reputation as ‘Alabama’s International University,’ in particular the University’s long association with partner schools in China.”

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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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