The year 2020 has been unlike any other in many ways and that includes sports. The MLB, NBA and NHL have all tried to adapt. That continues this Saturday as the college football season begins in earnest. Yes, this is technically Week 2, but we have yet to see any ranked teams or teams from power conferences take the field. That will change starting on Thursday.
Whether you believe there should be a season at all, at this point it seems pretty clear that we are at least going to try. If the season is played, it is going to look very different than previous seasons for a lot of reasons and not just because the Big Ten and Pac-12 have decided to sit this one out...we think.
Here are some of the major changes to keep in mind when you are watching the games this weekend.
A lot of games will be postponed
Trying to play sports in a pandemic means you know there is a risk of games needing to be rescheduled. When the schedules were put together, a lot of them included open dates in anticipation of pushing games back and we have seen plenty of games postponed already.
Virginia Tech was scheduled to start the season on Saturday against NC State, but a spike in coronavirus cases among the Wolfpack forced the game to be pushed back to Sept. 26. Baylor/Louisiana Tech, ECU/Marshall, UCF/FIU and TCU/SMU have also been postponed already.
Teams could be missing a lot of players
The very first game of the college football season was Austin Peay vs. Central Arkansas on Aug. 29. Austin Peay had a number of key absences including all three of its long snappers. Long snapper is not a position you may think too much about, but if you have literally none of them, you can't not think about it. The result was that punt snaps were an issue and the team had to resort to using the quarterback in a run, pass, punt option on fourth down.
Because of the coronavirus and contact tracing, you could see a lot of players miss games unexpectedly. Since a lot of positions tend to live together, you may see entire positions wiped out for a game. It's quirky when it's an FCS matchup, but when LSU plays Alabama and suddenly the Tigers have no kickers available or when Oklahoma's receiving core is decimated for Bedlam, it matters a lot.
That, however, is just the cost of doing business when it comes to playing football in a pandemic. The fact is, pretty much every team is going to have to deal with his over the course of the season. No one will want to hear at the end of the year from that Georgia fan who swears the Bulldogs would have gone undefeated if not for all of its centers being declared out for that one game or that one Texas fan who knows the Longhorns would be national champions if they had not been missing half their secondary in that key matchup.
Traditional games will be played at different times
The Battle for the Commonwealth Cup won't close out the football season, it is how the season will begin for Virginia and Virginia Tech on Sept. 19. There won't be any Thursday night games in Blacksburg either. Oklahoma will still have to play West Virginia and Baylor after playing Oklahoma State on Nov. 21. Alabama will have to play Arkansas after the Iron Bowl while Auburn will have to play Texas A&M. That's just a handful of examples. Rivalry week essentially does not exist and even if it did, who knows if those games would even be played at that time? Plus, chances are more postponements will force more games to be tacked on to the end of the season anyway.
Notre Dame is in a conference
Notre Dame has prized its football independence, but trying to put together a full schedule without a conference would have been nearly impossible for a team with playoff aspirations. Army, another independent, managed to put together a 12-game schedule but with a strength of schedule that would make even Baylor blush including three games against FCS opponents. BYU, meanwhile, managed to get just eight teams on the schedule.
With most conferences placing limits on if or how many games teams can play out of conference, the only way for a team with playoff aspirations to put a decent schedule together was to join a conference. That means seeing Notre Dame play in the ACC Championship game is a real possibility, as if 2020 wasn't weird enough already.
The schedule may actually be better
Ten conference games in the SEC? Yes, please. With the SEC playing strictly a conference schedule, that means we won't have that traditional week in November where every big SEC team decides to play an FCS opponent and then complain about how fans didn't come out to watch. This also means that more teams from across divisions will meet.
Georgia at Alabama, Florida at Texas A&M, Texas A&M at Tennesse are just a number of the games that we will get to see this year. The ACC has done away with divisions entirely for the season so that means we get games like Clemson at Virginia Tech, Notre Dame at Clemson, Louisville at Miami, etc. It's almost as if they were in the same conference or something....
We are going to miss out on a number of great non-conference games like Ohio State at Oregon, but we are also losing out on a lot of the useless cupcake games we all hate watching anyway. We get to skip the glorified college preseason complete with team coaches and presidents wondering why ticket sales are down and lamenting that too many people are staying at home rather than paying money to see a national championship contender pound an FCS school by 60.
Personally, I will gladly give up Ohio State-Oregon for no FCS games in the SEC plus 10 conference games.