To suggest that success in college football is cyclical only understands half the picture. Yes, even the great programs such as Alabama and USC have endured their lean years. But getting back? That part isn’t guaranteed. For every Nick Saban (at Alabama) or Pete Carroll (USC) resurrecting a program from seemingly infinite mediocrity, there’s a Randy Shannon (Miami) and a Derek Dooley (Tennessee) who simply steered into the skid.
Which brings us to Saturday, when No. 7 Miami visits top-ranked Clemson and No. 14 Tennessee, winner of eight straight games, visits No. 3 Georgia. In both Coral Gables, Florida, and Knoxville, Tennessee, the phrase is well worn and, at this point, largely meaningless, but this weekend, we’ll dust it off once again.
Tennessee is back.
Miami is back.
“I hear the phrase constantly,” Miami athletic director Blake James said. “You heard people saying it quite a bit during our run in 2017 after we won some big games. … The question when we’re not doing well is, ‘When is Miami going to be back?’ The reality of it is, I don’t think we ever left. Have we had the success our program and our fans wanted? Not always. But there’s never been any less commitment to being at that level.”
Look around college football, and the list of blue bloods committed to scripting their own narrative arc, the long awaited return to glory, is a long one. Texas isn’t back. Nebraska could go to Uzbekistan but still not arrive at its 1990s glory days. Michigan, UCLA, Florida State — they’re all still somewhere on a curve that’s trending in the wrong direction.
But if F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested there are no second acts in American life, Saban proved there can be in college football, so here we get Miami and Tennessee — boats against the current, hopelessly drawn into the past.
“What we’re trying to do is get to a position where playing these games is not extraordinary for Miami anymore,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “This is how you build a program to be in these positions and have it feel natural and normal, as it does for Clemson.”
Indeed, these big games are the norm for ascendant programs like Clemson or consistent winners like Georgia.
For Tennessee and Miami, however, these moments in the spotlight represent a rare glimmer of a better time when these programs enjoyed a view from the mountaintop.
From 1980 through 2005, Miami won 82% of its games. It won 14 bowls. It finished in the AP top 10 in 15 different seasons.
Through roughly the same time frame, Tennessee won nearly 80% of its games. It went to 25 bowl games in 26 years. It enjoyed nine seasons in the AP top 10 and seven more in the top 25.
The last time both the Canes and Vols played in top-10 matchups on the same day was way back in 2004, when Tennessee played for an SEC title and Miami closed out its first season in the ACC with a loss to Virginia Tech. And the last time both programs were ranked in the top 15, as they are now, on the same weekend was Oct. 8, 2016. Both lost.
To suggest that is the likely scenario come Saturday would be reasonable. Miami has faced Clemson twice since 2015. The first game, in 2015, was a 58-0 embarrassment that resulted in Golden’s firing. The second was a 38-3 beating in the ACC championship game in 2017, a game that arguably represented Miami’s post-2005 high-water mark.
At Tennessee, what once was an annual heavyweight battle against Georgia has become a mismatch. The Dawgs have won each of the past three by a combined score of 122-26. And in games against top-10 opponents since the end of their respective halcyon days in the early 2000s, Tennessee and Miami have combined for a woeful 4-45 mark.
“We still have a ways to go to be the program we want to be,” Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer said. “Culture is a big part of it. … We’ve been at the heights and we like it better there than fighting from the middle of the pack. I know we’ve turned a corner culturally. We’ve still got a lot to do to play for championships, but I can see a real difference in the way we look, how we line up and how we practice.”
With both No. 3 Georgia and No. 14 Tennessee comfortable at quarterback, the TOL crew explains how the Vols still have the slight edge in that department.
Think where Tennessee was just a few years ago. The team carried a plastic garbage can on the sideline, earned the vaunted “Champions of Life” trophy and endured probably the most notoriously embarrassing coaching search in recent college football history before it hired Jeremy Pruitt.
The irony is that the road map so many SEC teams have followed is to hire a Saban protege and attempt to be an out-of-focus image of what has been built at Alabama. At Tennessee, Fulmer seems to have landed on the right mix of Saban-esque efficiency with Pruitt.
Think about the long road for Miami. The past 15 years are chock full of infamous characters and embarrassing defeats. In just the past six games, Miami has losses to Duke, Florida International and Louisiana Tech. Add a dose of new QB D’Eriq King and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, however, and now the Canes have themselves a contender.
Can these two teams placate needy fan bases?
That’s the problem with those dreams of being “back.” Peyton Manning isn’t walking through that door for Tennessee, and Ed Reed isn’t playing safety for Miami.
So no matter what happens Saturday, it’ll be just one game. For a week, perhaps Miami or Tennessee will be back. Or, once again, hopes will be dashed and teeth will be gnashed, all in pursuit of nostalgia. Then Sunday comes, and the work begins again.
“Statement games are only statement games until there’s another one,” Diaz said. “That goal post of whatever statement you’re trying to make always moves.”
Game Day Q&A
Brent Venables is arguably the best defensive coordinator in the country. D’Eriq King is arguably the most dynamic QB in the country. So, how will the Clemson coach scheme up a plan to slow down Miami’s offense this week? We caught up with Venables to find out a bit about his game plan.
D’Eriq King connects with Brevin Jordan for a 24-yard Miami touchdown.
ESPN: You coached against Lamar Jackson several times. How does King’s athleticism stack up, and is there anything you can take from game-planning for Jackson that could help against King?
Venables: They’re totally different systems, so that part’s hard. I know this, D’Eriq King can throw the ball really, really well, consistently, and he’s like a running back when he decides to run it. He’s got great poise, accuracy, electric running the ball, big arm. Those are the similarities. Very instinctual players, quick release, don’t get rattled. They’re very dynamic and difficult to defend.
ESPN: Do you like the challenge of figuring out how to slow down elite athletes like King or is it the type of thing that keeps you up at night?
Venables: You’re excited, absolutely. It’s a big challenge, make no mistake about it. Our biggest thing, I’ll be very honest, we’ve got to get better and improve so our schemes are as good as the players executing them. Yes, you have to have guys in the right spot and have answers for certain things, but really we’ve got to continue to improve in fundamentals, techniques, alignment, eyes, discipline, chemistry, cohesion.
But from a scheme standpoint, you have a big challenge. It starts with the run game and their ability to run the football really well — the guy receiving the snap and the guys he’s handing it off to and the RPO personnel behind them. It’s some of the most dynamic skill personnel in college football. It rivals anybody. That’s a challenge but one we’re incredibly excited about. They’re hungry, and they’re playing as well as anybody right now.
ESPN: Tight ends have had some memorably big games against Clemson — O.J. Howard in two national title games, Nick O’Leary in the Florida State blowout in 2013, Scott Orndoff in Pitt’s stunner in 2016. Miami has two pretty good ones, including Brevin Jordan. What has your defense done differently in the past couple of years to slow down elite tight ends?
Venables: We’ve made a lot of adjustments and just gotten better. We’ve put ourselves in better calls. I don’t know if it’s been a concerted adjustment. If they use them as a weapon, I think it’s important that you do things to help you defend them well and take them out of — if they’re one of the first options, you want to take them away for sure. There have been some tight ends that have had some excellent games against us in the past. We’ve been a little bit better, but I think that’s just improving defensively over time and probably a little bit cyclical. But we better be ready this week, I know that.
What to watch for
The Sun Belt’s battle of unbeatens: The Sun Belt matchup we weren’t anticipating was Coastal Carolina vs. Louisiana. Both had Week 1 upsets, against Kansas and Iowa State, respectively, and now will play a week early, with the winner being the last undefeated team in the conference.
Louisiana hasn’t played since Sept. 26, when it shocked Georgia Southern with a winning 53-yard field goal. The Ragin’ Cajuns were slated to play Appalachian State on Oct. 7, but the game was postponed due to coronavirus precautions. Coastal, meanwhile, comes into this one fresh off a 52-23 win over Arkansas State at home.
Florida State’s third starting QB of the season: Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell announced Monday that Jordan Travis would start for Florida State on Saturday against Notre Dame. Travis led Florida State’s comeback over Jacksonville State last week, completing 12 of 17 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. Since fall camp, the redshirt sophomore has been dealing with injuries that never gave him much of a chance to win the starting quarterback job.
Unless there are some unforeseen circumstances, Florida State isn’t winning this football game. Whether you’re a fan of the Seminoles or not, seeing how Travis does is going to be worth your time, just so we can gauge how difficult the rest of the season is going to be in Tallahassee. Going up against the No. 5 team in the country is difficult for a first start, but that’s just how bad things are right now for Norvell’s squad.
Ole Miss’ defense … and Alabama’s offense: Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin have their first matchup with Kiffin as Ole Miss’ head coach. And if the Rebels’ defense plays the way it has the first couple of weeks, Alabama’s offense might feast.
While diving into the history of Nick Saban facing his former assistants, the TOL crew explains how Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has the best chance to win.
Replacing Tua Tagovailoa is a tall task, and so far, Mac Jones has done better than some anticipated. Against Texas A&M, Jones threw for 435 yards and four touchdowns, and had one interception.
Saban is undefeated against his former assistants, which Kiffin is well aware of: “If you working for him gives you an advantage, you’re not a very good gambler because 20-0 is a pretty strong record,” Kiffin said.
Mays played every offensive line position for Georgia last season, and has been an important piece of Tennessee’s line this season. He’ll certainly have his hands full against Georgia’s daunting defense.
The other ranked ACC game: Miami vs. Clemson is in everybody’s viewing plans for Saturday, but there’s another ranked ACC battle going on between undefeated teams — No. 19 Virginia Tech vs. No. 8 North Carolina.
This game serves as the first real test for both teams. Up to this point, Carolina has faced Syracuse and Boston College, and Virginia Tech has participated in a couple of offense-heavy battles with NC State and Duke — going without 23 players and three coaches against the Blue Devils.
It has been hard to find a legitimate challenger to Clemson. We’re going to find out if Miami is one on Saturday, but another could appear from this game as well.
Long-awaited debuts: Houston and Temple are both finally playing their opening games. The Cougars have had five openers canceled — against Rice, Washington State, Memphis, Baylor, and North Texas. If all goes right, they’ll be playing Tulane on the road Saturday.
Temple was expected to play Sept. 26 against Navy, but head coach Rod Carey worked to move the game to this week, given restrictions that prevented the Owls from having proper practices that would have them feeling prepared to start the season.
That rust we’ve seen from teams having an inconsistent schedule this summer? It’s fair to give Houston and Temple the benefit of that doubt Saturday.
Players to watch
Khalil Herbert breaks free and races to the end zone for a 60-yard rushing touchdown, putting Virginia Tech on top of Duke 38-28.
The Hokies have had their fair share of absences because of COVID-19, as noted above. But Herbert has been a big part of the offense so far, and will need to be again this week against North Carolina, because the passing game hasn’t been one that Virginia Tech can lean on up to this point.
Hale: Alabama’s Mac Jones or Najee Harris (or maybe both)
In its opener, the Ole Miss defense gave up 400 yards and six passing TDs to Kyle Trask. In its second game, the Rebels gave up three 100-yard rushers against Kentucky. So, what treasure will Lane Kiffin’s D deliver to a Heisman hopeful this week? Jones is already looking like a potential winner, averaging nearly 14 yards per pass and putting up Tua Tagovailoa-type numbers through two weeks. But here’s betting Harris puts on a show of his own. He has scored five times on the ground but is also one of the most dynamic backs in the country, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him hook up with Jones for some big plays in the passing game this week. Apologies in advance for providing Alabama with so much rat poison this week.
Under-the-radar game of the week
This game is — at best — the third-most watchable game just in the ACC this week. But given what we’ve seen out of both teams, this matchup has the potential to be a good one. It’s fair to raise an eyebrow at Pitt this week after it lost to NC State last weekend, but Kenny Pickett had a great game, throwing for 411 yards and a touchdown. Plus, he added two rushing touchdowns. Boston College, meanwhile, was a failed late two-point conversion away from tying North Carolina last week.
On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett finds a wide-open Jordan Addison for an easy 75-yard score.
Hale: Coastal Carolina at Louisiana
Who doesn’t love an epic Sun Belt showdown? Seriously though, this game should be a ton of fun, with two 3-0 teams, both with wins over Power 5 competition and with emerging star QBs going toe-to-toe. Louisiana’s rise is not particularly surprising. The Ragin’ Cajuns have battled for the Sun Belt title each of the past two years. But how about Coastal Carolina? In just its fourth year as an FBS program, the Chanticleers have blossomed into a conference power, led by QB Grayson McCall, who is averaging nearly 12 yards per pass so far.
Lyles: Kansas State over TCU
This is a matchup perhaps nobody anticipated being as intriguing as it is. The Wildcats opened up with a loss to Arkansas State, then with wins over then-No. 3 Oklahoma and Texas Tech. TCU on the other hand, has a narrow loss to Iowa State, and just upset Texas. My logic here is much less about the X’s and O’s on the field, and more of a gut feeling that maybe all the teams in the Big 12 are just going to beat up on one another in this strange season. Why not?
Consider this a rip-the-Band-Aid-off moment for Will Muschamp. The South Carolina coach has not been blessed with a manageable schedule to start the season, and at 0-2, the calls for his job have only become louder. It’s not hard to understand why. In his tenure, the Gamecocks are averaging just 24 points per game, 112th nationally in that span, and they’re just 15-19 in SEC play. Yes, this should be an entirely winnable game against another SEC foe with a coach on the hot seat, but with Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M up next, why delay the inevitable?
Hamilton questions FIA’s choice of Petrov as a steward
Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has questioned the FIA’s decision to employ Vitaly Petrov as a steward at this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix after the Russian recently made controversial remarks about Hamilton’s anti-racism stance.
Following the Tuscan Grand Prix, at which Hamilton wore a T-shirt saying “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor”, Petrov claimed the world champion had gone “too far” and likened it to “urging everyone to be gay” if a driver came out as homosexual.
Taylor, a Black woman, was fatally shot March 13 when police officers burst into her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. She was 26.
Hamilton’s shirt at the Tuscan Grand Prix read: “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” on the front and “say her name” alongside her picture on the back. He wore it at F1’s pre-race anti-racism demonstration and again on the podium after winning the race.
Speaking ahead of the following round of the championship in Petrov’s native Russia, the former Lotus and Caterham F1 driver was quoted as saying: “In Russia we have a different mentality, and we do not have the problems that Hamilton is talking about. There should be respect for everyone.”
He added: “For me, this t-shirt, on top of calling for everyone to kneel, was too much.
“It is a personal matter for every adult. You have the right to speak out on social media or give interviews, but I think the US government is well aware of these problems already.
“But to call on that in Formula One itself… I think half of the spectators didn’t even know what the shirt was about until it was explained to them.
“And let’s say a driver admits to being gay — will they come out with a rainbow flag and urge everyone to become gay as well? I think the FIA will no longer allow such behaviours.”
When Petrov’s comments were relayed to Hamilton during a press conference on Thursday in Portugal, the world champion questioned why the FIA had chosen Petrov as a steward over other former drivers who would also be suitable for the role.
“I mean, I’ve not seen all of the quotes, but obviously you’ve just recited some of them so yes of course I would say that’s a surprise that they would be hiring someone that has those beliefs and is so vocal about things that we’re trying to fight against,” Hamilton said. “So you should take it up with them [the FIA] really, there’s nothing that I can particularly do about it.
“But we should definitely be including people here who are with the times, who are understanding of the times that we are living in and sensitive to the matters that are surrounding us.
“So I don’t really understand what their goal is or why particularly he’s here because it’s not like they don’t have any other good options.”
Petrov, who competed in 58 grands prix during his F1 career, is one of four stewards who will officiate at this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
Champions League’s ultimate sleepers: RB Leipzig to win, Inter Milan to reach final, Sevilla to semis
The Champions League began on Tuesday and if we’re being honest, we know who’s probably going to win. Through one-sixth of the group stage, FiveThirtyEight gives defending champion Bayern Munich a 26 percent chance of repeating, followed by Manchester City (15 percent), Barcelona (9 percent), Liverpool (8 percent) and PSG (8 percent). PSG’s odds sank by three percentage points after an upset loss to Manchester United, though, and Real Madrid sank from 6 percent to 4 percent following a jarring 3-2 home loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Bayern more than looked the part of a favourite in Wednesday’s 4-0 destruction of Atletico Madrid, but with two of what were considered the “top six favourites” losing, there’s a lot of space for lower-tier contenders to advance pretty far in the draw. Besides, all but the chalkiest of tournaments produce surprises. Tottenham Hotspur made it to the final in 2019, while RB Leipzig, Lyon, Ajax, Roma and Monaco have all made somewhat unexpected runs to the semifinals in the past four years.
There are twists and turns along the way, so with that in mind, let’s talk about some teams that could be responsible for some major twists to come.
The term “sleeper” can mean a lot of different things — sleeper to win the whole thing? sleeper to advance out of the group stage? — so let’s talk about teams that fit each possible definition. It might not be likely that these teams will win the title, but they’re more than capable of either knocking out your favourite team or becoming your favourite team in the months ahead.
Sleeper to win the whole thing
Title odds, per FiveThirtyEight: 4 percent
First match: beat Istanbul Basaksehir, 2-0
Next match: at Manchester United (Oct. 28)
Despite reaching the Champions League semis in August, Julian Nagelsmann’s squad were stuck in Pot 3, but thanks to United’s upset of PSG, FiveThirtyEight now gives the Red Bull-owned squad a better chance of advancing (63 percent) than PSG (62 percent). A win in Manchester next Wednesday would put them in perfect position to win their group.
The absence of former star Timo Werner, now with Chelsea, is likely hurting RBL’s odds, but they’ve shown no sign of slippage without him, beginning the Bundesliga season with 10 points from four matches. They controlled Basaksehir from the opening kick and got to ease off the throttle pretty quickly.
RBL is attacking from everywhere. In five league and cup matches, seven different players have scored and 16 have logged either a key pass or an assist. Midfielder Angelino (four goals) and forward Yussuf Poulsen (three) are thriving, and the team has only gotten 45 minutes out of injured winger and captain Marcel Sabitzer thus far. We’ll see if he’s ready for the trip to Manchester, but RBL are again proving themselves worthy of big-boy status.
Sleeper to reach the final
Odds of reaching the final, per FiveThirtyEight: 6 percent
First match: drew with Borussia Monchengladbach, 2-2
Next match: at Shakhtar Donetsk (Oct. 27)
Antonio Conte and Inter could not take full advantage of Real Madrid’s defeat, drawing with Gladbach despite creating a 3.5-1.5 xG advantage. It was unlucky, but it was also reaffirmation that this team is fun as hell.
Inter nearly won Serie A last year and have almost inarguably performed better than either Juventus or Barcelona — two teams with far stronger betting odds — since the coronavirus restart this summer. Their only losses in the last three months were to Sevilla in the Europa League final and to a torrid AC Milan this past Saturday.
They kept most of last year’s squad intact and added both full-back Achraf Hakimi and veteran midfielder/enforcer Arturo Vidal. They were really good last year, and they have more pieces this time around.
The Nerazzurri were, along with Atalanta and RB Leipzig, easily the most proven teams in Pot 3 of the draw, and they find themselves in a chaotic group — FiveThirtyEight gives Inter, Shakhtar and Real Madrid each between a 51-59 percent chance of advancing. A win at Shakhtar next week, however, could give them not only great odds of advancing but also a solid shot at winning their group and generating a favourable draw in the round of 16.
Sleeper to reach semifinals
Odds of reaching the semis, per FiveThirtyEight: 15 percent
First match: drew with Chelsea, 0-0
Next match: vs. Rennes (Oct. 28)
I know, I know: wrong tournament. Sevilla are kings of the Europa League, having won it six times since 2006, so it’s easy to simply assume they’ll finish third in their group, land in the Europa knockout round and make a run.
They have a real chance to make some noise in the UCL this time around, though. They’ve done so before, after all — they made the quarterfinals in 2018, barely falling to Bayern Munich, and they’ve now scored a road draw against their top Group E challenger in Chelsea. The Blues and Rennes both remain exciting teams, but the path to winning Group E is quite manageable.
Also… they’re pretty dang good. They brought in far more than they sent out in the transfer window, they gave Bayern fits in an eventual extra-time loss in the UEFA Super Cup, and while their goalscoring form has left them a bit in La Liga play — after scoring three goals in their league opener, they’ve scored just two since — their xG figures are solid, and their passing game is sublime. And in an offense-friendly group, they have the sturdiest defense led by centre-bacls Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde.
Sleeper to reach quarterfinals
Odds of reaching the quarters, per FiveThirtyEight: 18 percent
First match: beat Marseille, 1-0
Next match: at Porto (Oct. 27)
The top of the Greek Super League features quite a few teams capable of doing minor damage in Europe, but Pedro Martins’ Olympiacos have lost just a combined three league matches over the past two seasons.They took points from Tottenham Hotspur in last year’s Champions League, then beat Arsenal in the Europa League knockouts before falling narrowly to Wolves. In this year’s Champions League play-off round, they beat Cyprus’ Omonia to qualify, and while the scoring margin (2-0) wasn’t dramatically impressive, all the other stats were: they outshot Omonia 45-12, generated 4.2 xG to 0.7, etc. And now they’ve got three points from one match in group play.
Olympiacos are a fun mix of leathery old veterans — former Marseille attacking midfielder Mathieu Valbuena (36), former Bayern full-back Rafinha (35), former Watford full-back Jose Holebas (36) and former Granada striker Youssef El-Arabi (33) all started against Marseille — and peak-age talent like attacking midfielder Kostas Fortounis (28) and Wednesday’s goal scorer, Ahmed Hassan (27).
This is a tough, physical and unintimidated team. Even if they can’t steal points from Manchester City in Group C, they’ve got more than talent and identity to work their way into the knockout rounds.
Sleeper to reach the round of 16
Odds of advancing to the knockout round, per FiveThirtyEight: 21 percent
First match: drew with Krasnodar, 1-1
Next match: at Sevilla (Oct. 28)
Rennes missed a prime opportunity by only drawing with the weakest team in Group E, Krasnodar. They took the lead in the second half and then immediately gave it back. But hey, that kept their odds of advancing low enough to call them sleepers!
After finishing third in last year’s abbreviated Ligue 1 campaign and therefore qualifying for the Champions League for the first time ever, Rennes began this season with 13 points in their first five matches before losing stars Edouard Mendy (Chelsea) and Raphinha (Leeds United) to the Premier League. The next batch of stars is already in place, however, and as they gel, they could improve as the group stages move along.
Julien Stephan’s squad brought in Juventus defender Daniele Rugani and Inter Milan full-back Dalbert on loan, and new acquisition Serhou Guirassy has already scored three goals in Ligue 1 play. And they still have 17-year old phenom Eduardo Camavinga, whose presence — and uncanny ability to do this — makes them a must-watch team.
Whether or not they advance, their two group matches against Chelsea — Nov. 4 in London, Nov. 24 in Rennes — will be an absolute blessing if you enjoy things like “goals” and “fun, attacking soccer.”
Sleeper to reach the round of 16
Odds of advancing to the knockout round, per FiveThirtyEight: 32 percent
First match: drew with Lokomotiv Moscow, 2-2
Next match: at Atletico Madrid (Oct. 27)
The No. 2 team on the Red Bull totem pole held a 1.1-0.7 xG advantage over Lokomotiv on Wednesday but suffered a disappointing draw… and their odds of advancing still went up thanks to Atletico’s massive loss to Bayern.
The spreadsheets love Salzburg: they’re 19th in FiveThirtyEight’s club rankings and 22nd at EloFootball.com. They lost Hwang Hee-chan to Leipzig — and, of course, Takumi Minamino to Liverpool and Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund last January — but the next generation of stars is ready for the UEFA spotlight. Patson Daka, 22, has scored 11 goals in just nine matches this year and generated more than half of Salzburg’s xG on Wednesday. Hungarian starlet Dominik Szoboszlai (19) scored the goals of the day against Lokomotiv, and Sekou Koita (20) is excellent. And now American midfielder Brenden Aaronson (19) is coming aboard as well.
It’s safe to say that your favourite club’s scouting team is and has been watching Salzburg for a while, and while getting paired with Bayern and Atletico makes advancing difficult, they have the ball-control game to make things dicey for the favourites. a win next week would put them in a strong position to advance.
The ultimate sleeper
Odds of advancing to the knockout round, per FiveThirtyEight: 3 percent
First match: lost to Atalanta, 4-0
Next match: at Liverpool (Oct. 27)
Okay, no, Midtjylland probably aren’t going to advance. FiveThirtyEight ranks them 136th overall, and their odds of advancing are better than only Basaksehir’s. They’re stuck in maybe the most aesthetically pleasing possible group with Liverpool, Atalanta and Ajax. Their goal differential is already -4. But it’s a story that they’re here. Call them a sleeper in our hearts.
Owned by former professional gambler and analytics lover Matthew Benham (who also owns Brentford FC), Midtjylland won its first Danish Superliga title in 2015 and lost to Manchester United in the 2016 Europa League knockout rounds. After years of knocking on the door, they finally qualified for the Champions League group stage by upsetting a solid Slavia Prague with a thrilling late surge of three goals in seven minutes.
Like Salzburg and Rennes, Midtjylland is developing a reputation as a top-notch scouting-and-development club — which is to say, bigger clubs are ready to pounce when a younger player looks good, and the foursome of Anders Dreyer, Sory Kaba, Awer Mabil and Frank Onyeka (four shots, 0.6 xG against Atalanta) is awfully fun to watch.
Utah erred in athlete’s death, settles for $13.5M
The University of Utah announced a $13.5 million settlement with the family of slain track and field athlete Lauren McCluskey on Thursday, saying for the first time that her death had been preventable.
Lauren McCluskey, a 21-year-old heptathlete at Utah, was shot and killed Oct. 22, 2018, by a man she had dated briefly, Melvin Shawn Rowland. Rowland killed himself later that night when cornered by police.
In a news conference Thursday on the school’s Salt Lake City campus, university president Ruth Watkins read a statement expressing the school’s regret after McCluskey, her mother and friends reached out for help numerous times before she was killed.
“The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren’s situation,” Watkins said. “As a result, we failed Lauren and her family.”
McCluskey’s parents, Jill and Matt, filed a federal Title IX lawsuit in January 2019 after Watkins said publicly, following a school investigation, that nothing could have prevented Lauren’s death.
Jill McCluskey, fighting back tears as she read her statement, said the school had made progress in addressing campus safety issues over the past two years.
“We acknowledge and applaud the many positive changes that have occurred at the University of Utah since her death and we hope they continue,” she said. “This settlement is important for many reasons: It addresses how Lauren died, but also honors how she lived.”
When McCluskey — who was raised in Pullman, Washington, where her parents are professors at Washington State — first met Rowland in late summer 2018, he said he was a 28-year-old community college student named Shawn Fields.
In early October, however, she discovered his real identity, that he was actually a 37-year-old convicted sex offender on parole. She immediately broke off the relationship. Over the following two weeks, Rowland sent her text messages posing as friends saying he had been killed in an accident, stalked her at her dormitory, extorted $1,000 from her by threatening to release a compromising photo of her, came to her dorm with a pistol that he showed to other students, and sent a text to McCluskey claiming to be a police officer in what she took to be an attempt to lure her out in public.
In the two weeks before she died, McCluskey and her mother called campus police more than a dozen times seeking help. A December 2018 university investigation determined that police did not check Rowland’s parole status. Had police been aware, it’s possible Rowland could have been found in violation of his parole and returned to prison.
Also, two of McCluskey’s friends told the resident assistant in her dormitory that they believed Rowland might be a threat to McCluskey’s safety, and the resident assistant forwarded those concerns to her superiors. The resident assistant and the McCluskeys have said no subsequent action was taken.
In the statement read by Watkins on Thursday, the school said, “If these employees had more complete training and protocols to guide the responses, the university believes they would’ve been better equipped to protect Lauren.”
The statement did not specify or refer to campus police and housing officials, but employees from both departments had been named in the lawsuit.
Jill McCluskey told ESPN in January 2019 that Watkins’ previous statement that Lauren’s killing could not have been prevented sparked her and her husband to file their lawsuit.
The McCluskeys have said the goal of the lawsuit was to set off a chain reaction to improve campus safety nationwide and that a settlement could force insurance companies to push for safety reforms. The McCluskeys have said all money from the settlement will go to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, which contributes to causes associated with “campus safety, amateur athletics and animal welfare.”
ESPN investigative producer Nicole Noren contributed to this report.
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