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Yes, friends, even game officials can land on our Bottom 10 list

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[Editor’s note: The Big 10’s arrival for this fall college football season is imminent. But for now, the SEC owns college football (both good and bad), Clemson runs the ACC and the Big 12 is, well, the Big 12. As always, the Bottom 10 sorts it out.]

Inspirational Thought of the Week:

“I wonder what those Star Destroyers are waiting for?”

— Lando Calrissian from “Return of the Jedi”

Here at Bottom 10 Headquarters, located in a conference room at the cloning facility where they make all the Laura Rutledges to host 32 TV shows per week, we are really into apps. No, not little buttons on your phone that help you post pictures, find dates and then post pictures of those dates. We’re talking about appetizers. You know, like pizza shooters, shrimp poppers or extreme fajitas.

Our obsession with the food we eat before eating the real food is also, admittedly, clouding our normally pristine judgment when it comes to ranking the best worst teams of college football. The teams currently on our list deserve to be there; but while we keep one eye on the Southern teams currently playing, we can’t help but keep our other eye pointed toward the west. That’s where the Big Ten and In-A-Rut-gers are nearing kickoff; where the MAC and defending Bottom 10 champs Akron-monious started practice just this week; where the Pac-12 and Mountain West have told San No-se State and … wait … sorry …

Oh damn, I spent too much time with one eye pointed south and the other pointed west. I think they might be stuck.

With apologies to Squints Palledorous and Steve Harvey, here’s this week’s Bottom 10.

1. ULM (pronounced “uhlm”), 0-5

The theme of last week’s Bottom 10 was horror movies. We received some criticism for that decision from people saying we went there too early, because no truly terrifying horror films are released so early in the month of October. It is worth noting none of those comments came from the members of the ULM special-teams unit, who released their new terror flick on Oct. 10.

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UL Monroe punter Daniel Sparks gives up not one but two touchdowns on botched punts in the end zone versus Liberty.

2. North Texas Lean Green (1-3)

It’s been a while since our friends in Denton have been included in these rankings, but this week they jump — OK, they fall — from the Waiting List all the way to second. How? By getting housed in America’s most underrated college football stadium (seriously, Apogee Stadium is awesome) by the then-No. 9-Charlotte-then-0-and-2’ers, a loss that came only a week after falling to then-third-ranked Southern Missed, who were then-0-and-3.

UNT’s only win this season was against Houston Baptist, which is also a “then” team, as in “back then, it was still playing,” because HBU finished its four-game fall schedule last weekend with a 1-3 record. What we’re saying is, all of those “thens” add up to a very rough now. Speaking of “nows,” UNT’s next opponent is now-seventh-ranked Muddled Tennessee in the Pillow Fight of the Week. If UNT loses that now, then there will likely be no more wins later.

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

The Panthers also make a big jump/fall from the Waiting List into third after assisting in the first win of the season for then-second-ranked Muddled Tennessee. Now they will visit the Charlotte 1-and-2ers, which will be played only a few miles from my house. Quick question: If I get a mascot head, set up a VHS camcorder in the back of my pickup truck, drive that truck to this game and call it “Bottom 10 GameDay,” does that make me eligible for the Sports Emmys?

4. US(not C)F (1-3)

It was easy to ignore the Bulls when they were 1-2, seeing as how their two losses had come to ranked teams — like, the Top 25 rankings — in Notre Dame and Cincinnati. But they were then run out of their own building by EC-Yew, which came into the contest 0-2 and the third-ranked team — like, the Bottom 10 rankings. In related news, sources tell Bottom 10 JortsCenter that USF head coach Jeff Scott offered to trade one of his Clemson national championship rings if the ECU team plane would drop him off D.B. Cooper-style over Death Valley on its way home.

5. Too-Lengthy Rules Explanations (0-1)

I love college football officials. I am begat from one. I currently have a book out co-written with my father about his life as a college football official. It includes some amazing stories of his experiences with his colleagues in the SEC. It also includes multiple reminders that refs are, first and foremost, human beings and thus prone to mistakes. Our book is 264 pages long, which is roughly half the length of the official conference explanation of what happened at the end of the Auburn-Arkansas game. Writer’s tip: Next time, a simple explanation of “They shouldn’t have blown the play dead so quickly” will do.

6. Kansas Nayhawks (0-3)

Kansas spent last weekend failing to cover the spread against the Fightin’ Byes of Open Date U. Up next comes a trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, that kicks off a four-game gauntlet that includes Top 25 teams Kansas State and Iowa State, followed by a trip to Norman, Oklahoma. Oh, and coach Les Miles tested positive for COVID-19. Other than that, it’s been a lovely autumn in Lawrence.

7. Muddled Tennessee (1-4)

The good news? They won! The bad news? A win against FIU isn’t enough to move off this list.

8. Texas State Armadillos (1-4)

Same for a win over ULM.

9. Southern Missed (1-3)

Same for a win over North Texas.

10. Minute(men) Rice (0-0)

Speaking of good news, UMess got a game scheduled! This weekend, it will travel to the Erk Dome to face Georgia Southern Not State. Meanwhile, Rice will have to wait another weekend to finally kick off its fall, with an instant Pillow Fight of the Week visit from MTSU — the Owls’ fourth attempt at a season opener — followed by a Halloween trip to Southern Missed. It’s starting to feel like maybe the Owls were just sidestepping those first three games so they could jump straight to the real Bottom 10 business at hand — sorry, at talon.

The Waiting List: Needs More Cowbell (1-2), Western Can’t-ucky (1-3), EC-Yew (1-2), Vanderbilt Commode Doors (0-3), Charlotte 1-and-2’ers, Syra-cursed (1-3), Duke Bedevileds (1-4), FSU Semi-No’s (1-3), COVID-19.

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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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