Greetings sports fans, it’s Chris Bengel back with you and we’ve made it to another Friday. I hope everyone in the Northeast has been able to stay safe after the insanity of Hurricane Ida.
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One great distraction for everyone is the return of college football. Over the next four days, we will have endless amounts of college football action and it all got underway on Thursday. I’m really looking forward to seeing crowds back on college campuses this fall. The COVID-19 pandemic forced institutions to not allow fans to attend games last year and the difference was evident. The energy in an electric college football stadium is like nothing in sports and I’m ready to hear the crowd roar again.
Let’s get into the news (spoiler alert: we aren’t done talking about college football.)
📰 What you need to know
1. No. 4 Ohio State starts off season with win over Minnesota 🏈
Week 0 wasn’t a bad appetizer for the start of the 2021 college football season, but this is the weekend where fans are going to get excited. Several of the nation’s top-ranked teams will be in action this weekend and it all began on Thursday with No. 4 Ohio State taking on Big Ten rival Minnesota.
The game ended up being a prizefight in the first half with each team throwing haymakers and the Golden Gophers even held a 14-10 lead at halftime. However, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes woke up in the second half as they outscored the Gophers 35-17 in final 30 minutes en route to a 45-31 win.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud ended up throwing four touchdown passes, including two to star wideout Chris Olave. One of the biggest reasons for Minnesota’s explosion in the first half was the hard-nosed running of Mohamed Ibrahim. Unfortunately for the Gophers, Ibrahim suffered a lower leg injury in the second half and was forced to depart the game.He finished with 163 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Our college football scribe Tom Fornelli (that’s right, he doesn’t just write the gambling newsletter!) provided his takeaways from Ohio State’s season-opening win.
- C.J. Stroud isn’t Justin Fields, and that’s fine: “Stroud (19) is extremely talented, but he isn’t where Fields was at the same age… Thursday night, we saw a kid making his first collegiate start on the road in front of a hostile crowd, and it showed early. He looked nervous, and it felt like he was trying to score a touchdown on every throw. Then the second half started, and Stroud appeared calmer and more trusting of the incredible weapons at his disposal… When you have guys capable of scoring from anywhere with the ball in their hands, your job is just to get the ball in their hands. Look at how well it worked out for Mac Jones at Alabama last season. There’s no reason why it can’t be the same story for Stroud.”
- Outstanding talent wins out: “Ohio State wasn’t great on Thursday night, yet it still scored 45 points and won by two touchdowns. That’s what happens when you have the collection of playmaking talent that the Buckeyes do. Most teams don’t have one Wilson or Olave at the receiver position, let alone both.”
- Minnesota losing Mohamed Ibrahim would be devastating: “It’s just awful. The Gophers were already without top receiver Chris Autman-Bell, but Ibrahim is the offense’s focal point. He’s the guy it’s all built around. He led the nation in rush attempts per game last season with 28.7 and was rushing the ball for the 30th time on Thursday night when he went down with a leg injury… I don’t think the season is lost or anything, but it’s going to be tough sledding without the workhorse.”
2. USMNT plays to draw against El Salvador in World Cup qualifier ⚽
College football wasn’t the only game in town on Thursday. The World Cup qualifiers began. The United States were one of several teams on the pitch as they faced El Salvador.
Unfortunately for the Americans, it wasn’t exactly the start to the qualifying campaign that they envisioned. The United States and El Salvador played to a 0-0 draw. The Americans definitely had their fair share of chances to break through, but were unable to overcome the loss of star forward Christian Pulisic. Pulisic recently tested positive for COVID-19 and is still working his way back to health.
CBS Sports soccer scribe Roger Gonzalez provided some analysis of how the night went for the United States:
- Coach Gregg Berhalter went with an ultra-attacking lineup, deploying Josh Sargent, Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson and Konrad de la Fuente, but the returns were minimal
- Miles Robinson, who started at centerback with Tim Ream, had the clearest chance in the first half off a set piece from Reyna, but his wide-open header went over the goal
- The hosts threatened very little, with Matt Turner looking sharp at goal when called upon, helping record yet another cleansheet after his stellar performances at the Gold Cup
As our Gonzalez put it, the U.S. didn’t have Pulisic and it showed.
3. Will there be a surprise team that makes a playoff push? ⚾
We’re in the final full month of the MLB regular season and many of the playoff races are still tight. So tight that our baseball department dove into the races and attempted to forecast which teams could end up surprising the baseball world by making a run to the postseason.
The majority believe that no team will come as a huge surprise. The Wild Card races are fairly close with the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres within a half-game of each other for the final playoff spot in the National League. Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics are jockeying for position for the final Wild Card spot in the American League.
If I was a betting man, I’d probably say that there won’t really be a surprise team that comes out of nowhere and shocks the world. I’d like to say my Philadelphia Phillies, but I just don’t know that they have the pitching to stay in the race down the stretch.
Here are some of the teams that did get votes in the roundtable discussion from our MLB experts:
- Toronto Blue Jays: “I’m not sure any team will, but if I had to pick one then I would pick the Blue Jays to qualify. Their odds aren’t very good, of course, which is what would make them a surprise. They do have the seventh-best run differential in the majors as I write this, however, and while that doesn’t tell the whole story, it does suggest they’re better than their fourth-place designation.” –– R.J. Anderson
- San Diego Padres: “Do the Padres count? They’re 5-14 in their last 19 games and are barely keeping their head above water in the wild card race. Their remaining schedule is brutal too. Three games against the Astros, six games against the Dodgers, and 10 games against the Giants. Yikes. All that while the Reds, their primary competition for the second wild card spot, will play 16 games against the Cubs, Nationals, and Pirates. San Diego reaching the postseason may qualify as a surprise at this point.” — Mike Axisa
4. NBA issues COVID-19 protocols for 2021-22 season 🏀
The NBA is set to embark on its first full season since the pandemic began. The 2019-20 campaign finished in the bubble while the 2020-21 regular season was limited to 72 games. As the start of the 2021-22 season draws closer, the league has announced some changes to its COVID-19 protocols that players and officials alike will have to abide by.
Now, there are some details we already knew, like that referees and any team or arena personnel must be vaccinated. In addition, coaches and front office executives must be vaccinated in order to attend games.
Specific teams, such as the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, and New York Knicks, must obey COVID-19 guidelines that are put in place by local governments. Players for those teams are required to be vaccinated, but that doesn’t apply to visiting teams. On Thursday, the Athletic reported that vaccinated players will have more freedoms than those who aren’t vaccinated. Below are a few of the major guidelines:
- Fully vaccinated players and team personnel will likely not be required to undergo regular coronavirus testing during the 2021-22 season
- Fully vaccinated individuals won’t be required to quarantine if they come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, and won’t be restricted from team activities
- If all players on a team are fully vaccinated, there may not be any restrictions on “away-from-work activities,” such as attending indoor bars, clubs and lounges
📝 Odds & Ends
📺 What to watch this weekend
🏈 No. 10 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 6 p.m. | UNC -5.5 | TV: ESPN
⚾ Athletics at Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m. | TOR -130 | TV: MLB.TV
🏈 No. 19 Penn State vs. No. 12 Wisconsin, 12 p.m. | WIS -5.5 | TV: FOX
🏈 No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 14 Miami, 3:30 p.m. | MIA +19.5 | TV: ABC
🏈 No. 9 Notre Dame vs. Florida State, 7:30 p.m. | FSU +7 | TV: ABC
🏅 Best thing I saw on the internet
Stop if you’ve heard this before: Adam Sandler loves pickup basketball. Whenever there is a clip of him playing basketball, it goes viral. However, it’s a tad different this time around. The actor recently took part in a pickup basketball game in Philadelphia alongside Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Aaron Gordon, and Jordan Clarkson. Watch the video, because Sandler can actually hold his own on the hardwood with some of the NBA’s best.