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A very COVID bowl season

If you are a fan of college football, you already know that this season has looked vastly different from those in the past.

Just like everything else in all of our lives this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame for many changes.

There’s the season itself. Some conferences decided in August that they and their schools would put protocols into place that would allow them to play what was pretty close to a regular schedule. Other conferences, like the Big 10, the PAC-12 and the Mid-American decided they would not have a fall season, only to reverse their decisions and cobble together shortened schedules. And some conferences and schools decided not to play at all this year.

It’s made for some interesting discussion, for sure. And, despite all of the schedule changes teams and their fans had to endure this year, about 87 percent of the games that had been scheduled were played.

It should come as no surprise then, that, just like the regular season, college football’s annual bowl season looks like none we have ever seen.

For starters, it is more condensed, with 17 bowls that had been scheduled having been canceled. Those games that happen will be played in front of crowds that are much smaller than we ever have seen in the past, as varying coronavirus protocols around the country have placed different limits, ranging from zero fans to several thousand.

Some programs, like those at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State, decided to opt out of playing in a bowl game this year, closing up shop at the end of the regular season. Others, like West Virginia, are moving ahead with plans to play in a bowl game.

And that means the Mountaineers will take a 5-4 record into Thursday’s 4 p.m. game against Army, 9-2, in the Liberty Bowl. The Cadets were named as a replacement for Tennessee, which was forced to withdraw from the game as a result of coronavirus cases.

How Army was left out of the original bowl schedule remains a mystery, but it likely speaks to the role money plays in college football. The Volunteers finished their regular season at 3-7, but because they play in the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA waived minimum win requirements for bowl participation this year, they were invited to Memphis at the expense of schools like Army.

The Cadets earned the right play, not only because of their record this year but because of the sacrifices they, like all of those who attend each of the service academies, are willing to make on behalf of the United States.

Ohio State, meanwhile, again has earned a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes, the third seed in the four-team field, will take a 6-0 record into Friday’s 8:45 p.m. semifinal game in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson, the second seed with a 10-1 record. That game will be a rematch of last season’s semifinal game which Clemson won 29-23.

The winner will face the winner of the other semifinal between top-seed Alabama, 11-0, and fourth-seed Notre Dame, 10-1. That game had been scheduled as the Rose Bowl, but because California’s restrictions prohibited fans from attending, the game has been moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and will begin at 5 p.m.

This year’s national title game will be played Jan. 11 in Miami.

While the schedule has been reduced, there is still plenty of football left to be played this bowl season, which means there are still opportunities to watch a game or two.

Bowl season always has been a special time, and this year will be no exception. We hope you’ll sit back and enjoy the games.

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