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There will never be another Eddie Van Halen, but we push on in this week’s Bottom 10



[Editor’s note: The Big 10 and Mountain West conferences are finally returning for the 2020 college football season, but first, the ACC makes a major Bottom 10 statement.]

Inspirational thought of the week

You’ve got me captured, I’m under your spell
I guess I’ll never learn
I have your picture, yes, I know it well
Another page is turned

I’ll wait ’til your love comes down
I’m coming straight for your heart
No way you can stop me now
As fine as you are

— “I’ll Wait” by Van Halen

Here at Bottom 10 Headquarters, located in the beaker cleaning room of the laboratory where Nick Saban’s coronavirus tests are processed, we have spent October in mourning and waiting. Mourning, as we have had Eddie Van Halen guitar solos on repeat since his untimely death, and waiting for the calendar pages to turn like the one David Lee Roth is creepily leering at in “I’ll Wait.”

Waiting and mourning. And also waiting on morning, as in this Saturday morning, when the buses of the Big Ten and Mountain West start rolling toward actual football stadiums carrying actual football teams. We know they are only the latest wave of the convoy that will keep on coming all the way through mid-November, soon to be followed by the big rigs of the MAC and Pac-12.

But before we move into this brave, new … OK, actually … old world of traditional Bottom 10 contenders, arriving from Piscataway to Las Cruces, let’s pause and pay tribute to the teams that have volunteered as tribute, stepping up (or is it down?) to occupy these rankings here and now. Some will stay, but others will surely vanish as they are replaced by the returning weeknight and late-night creatures who have long been accustomed to this corner of the college football multiverse.

No matter what happens, these 10 teams were brave enough to step into the breach during this strangest of times. But, ultimately, we always knew they were doomed to be remembered as nothing more than placeholders until the first, better options finally got their acts together and returned to their rightful places. In other words, these are the 2020 Bottom 10 OGs, as in “Oh God, are we the Gary Cherones of the Bottom 10?!”

With apologies to Edward Lodewijk Van Halen and Steve Harvey, here’s this week’s Bottom 10.

1. ULM (pronounced “uhlm”) 0-5

The Warhawks lost via a late field goal against the Fightin’ Byes of Open Date U. They now travel to face the South Alabama Redundancies in a game many preseason college football magazines predicted would determine last place in the Sun Belt West. By many preseason magazines, I mean I wrote it on some Post-it Notes and stuck them inside those magazines. That did no editorial harm because, hey, most of the information in those magazines went into the shredder three months ago with the original 2020 schedule. Actually, U-S-A is in first place in the Sun Belt West right now, thanks to last week’s 30-20 win against Texas State. Sure, they’ve played only the one conference game, and everyone else in the division has played two or more, but uhlm, like, so what?

2. FI(not A)U (0-2)

As promised, I showed up for last weekend’s Pillow Fight of the Week: FIU playing at the near-my-house Charlotte 1-and-2ers. I was eager to broadcast “Bottom 10 GameDay” using my dad’s old VHS camcorder and a mascot head I stole from my daughter’s high school, which is, in fact, a Panther. Alas, the FIU Panthers never showed up, as this was their third pandemic-postponed game. It was also the third affected game for Charlotte after two postponements and a cancellation. This game will be rescheduled for a TBD December date, so my plan is to stay in my Charlotte parking spot until then. In related news, I have discovered that a mascot head turned upside down can hold so much chips and dip. You might think that’s gross, but have you ever worn a mascot head? It already smells like chips and dip in there.

3. Muddled Tennessee (1-5)

The Blue Raiders, or as my old Tennessee roommate used to pronounce it, “the MTSU Beraters,” made a big jump out of the bottom two into the top bottom half of these rankings after winning the last game FIU actually played. This week, they leapt back up/down into the top/bottom three after getting meanly greened by North Texas 52-35. Now, the Beraters travel to Planet Houston to face Rice, which will be making its fourth attempt at a season opener after postponements dating all the way back to an originally scheduled Week 1 contest on Sept. 3. Maybe the Owls are auditioning for the Big Ten?

4. US(not C)F (1-4)

The Bulls faced a different flock of Owls, losing to Temple 39-37 when they failed on a would-be game-tying 2-point conversion against a team that was finally playing its second game of the season. But even having played only one game, Temple has the same number of wins as USF, which has played five. Temple’s first game was against Navy, who used to battle pirates, and the second was against USF, who have a pirate ship in the stadium. Meanwhile, the East Carolina Pirates lost to Navy one week after winning in the shadow of that USF pirate ship, and Temple will play those Pirates in one month, too. Man, I really need to stop writing these rankings while I’m drinking Captain Morgan.

5. UNC Tore Heels (3-1)

Carolina was ranked in the AP top five for the first time since 1997 and was anointed by many as the best chance for an ACC team to make a dent against Clemson. Then the Heels lost as 13½-point favorites to a then-one-win Florida State team that has spent most of 2020 as a Bottom 10 team. Meanwhile, Virginia got stomped by then-one-win Wake Forest, Duke fell to an NC State team that lost its starting QB, and Georgia Tech lost a squeaker against Clemson 73-7. What we’re saying is that the ACC Coastal is still the ACC Coastal, even during a season in which there is no ACC Coastal.

6. Kansas Nayhawks (0-4)

Kansas’ regular-season finale trip to 1-3 Texas Tech on Dec. 5 is looking more and more like it could be the 2020 Bottom 10 Pillow Fight of the Week of the Year Mega Bowl. As a result, we have reset the giant countdown clock at our Bottom 10 offices for that game. We just duct-taped a big KU and TT over the permanently painted names of UTEP and Rice.

7. Texas State Armadillos (1-4)

You know stuff isn’t going your way when your upcoming schedule has BYU, Louisiana and Coastal Carolina during the one season in which all three of those teams not only have been ranked but also have received some quirky College Football Playoff love. Also, I just decided that “Some Quirky Playoff Love” will be the name of my new solo album.

8. Southern Missed (1-3)

The Golden Eagles travel to Liberty this weekend, which is great timing because, with a 1-3 record and two straight weekends of postponed games, they could use a little more faith healing.

9. Western Can’t-ucky (1-4)

When the FCS season was postponed to spring, Chattanooga Mocs head coach Rusty Wright went to Twitter and defiantly posted: “Wanted: Football games. In-Conf/Out of Conf/FCS/G5/P5 doesn’t matter. Have team, will travel. DM me. #GoMocs #myguyswanttoplay.” This weekend, the Mocs will play the only team that dared to slide into Wright’s DMs, Western Kentucky. Perhaps it seemed like a better idea in August, before WKU knew it would be 1-4 and favored by only 14 points against an FCS team that hasn’t played a game in 336 days.

10. UMess (0-1)

On Saturday, my daughter and I stood in the backyard and watched a bright, white dot silently moving across the night sky. It rose from behind our house, streaked through the stars and disappeared into the horizontal tree line, gone as quickly as it had appeared. My sweet child broke the silence of the moment, her tone electrified by wonderment. “Dad, was that the International Space Station?” I put my arm around her shoulder as I stared longingly toward the spot where the light had just vanished from view and wiped a tear from my eye. “No, sweetie, that was UMass. They just lost the only game they have scheduled this season 41-0.”

Waiting List: Needs More Cowbell (1-3), EC-Yew (1-3), Vanderbilt Commode Doors (0-3), UVA Cave-in-liers (1-3), Texas Wreck (1-3), Charlotte 1-and-2-ers, Syra-cursed (1-4), Lou-ugh-vile (1-4), Duke Bedevileds (1-5), COVID-19


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



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

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

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

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

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

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.”



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

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

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

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

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

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


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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


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