College football insider Matt Hayes hits the hottest topics ahead of this weekend’s college football slate:

COVID spotlight is back on B1G

Before we go any further, blame COVID. The pandemic is the reason the uncertainty of the college football season will get worse over the final 2 months of the season.

Postponed and moved games. Canceled games. Player quarantines and missed games. No one is immune.

But understand this: Wisconsin’s mini outbreak after the first game of the season (and subsequent game cancelation vs. Nebraska) puts the spotlight back on Big Ten leadership.

University presidents and commissioner Kevin Warren blew the initial evaluation of trying to play during a pandemic – then compounded the problem by trying to shoehorn a 9-game season with no bye weeks and no off week into a scramble to return.

“This is what we tried to explain over and over,” a Big Ten coach told me. “The longer you wait to return, the harder it will be to pull it off. Now here we are.”

Think about this: Had Big Ten officials moved on returning to fall football a week earlier, there could be a bye week built into the schedule.

On Sept. 3, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced that new rapid testing was a “game-changer” in the return to play this fall.

Nearly 2 weeks later on Sept. 16, the Big Ten announced it would return to play because, in part, of rapid testing and their medical advisors’ comfort level of the tests.

It took the Big Ten nearly 2 weeks to conclude that rapid testing was the path to playing. A conference that was allegedly game-planning protocols to play “spring” football since it announced in early August that fall football wouldn’t happen, took 2 weeks to decide on a game-changer in COVID testing.

Losing Wisconsin vs. Nebraska is a blow. Wait and see what happens when Ohio State or Michigan lose a game – and when the path to winning a division/conference championship and a potential spot in the CFP gets murky.

No matter what happens this season in the Big Ten, no matter how many games are lost and how many student-athletes miss games, the chaotic leadership of university presidents and Warren handcuffed a season that already was tough to pull off.

That will be hammered home with every game cancelation through every week of the season.

More on the way

Kylin Hill isn’t an anomaly. He’s just the beginning.

Mississippi State’s star tailback opted out of the season after the first month to begin training for the NFL Draft and won’t be the last big-name player to do so.

Months ago, while schools still were learning how to deal with the pandemic and how to play a season, two problems stuck out for coaches no matter the protocols.

— Young men being young men, and leaving the “bubble” environment and bringing COVID back to the football facility (see: the human condition).

— Once there is clearly nothing left to play for, how many players will opt out midseason to train for the NFL?

While not mathematically out of contention in the SEC West, Mississippi State isn’t going to win it and play in the SEC Championship Game. In fact, the Bulldogs may not play in the postseason.

“It’s an easy decision, a no-brainer,” an NFL agent told me Wednesday. “I tell these guys all the time – saving your body is like saving money. Over the next few weeks, you’ll be shocked at how many players begin to (opt out). It’s the fiscally smart thing to do.”

This is different than Christian McCaffrey or Leonard Fournette opting out of meaningless bowl games. This is a star player opting out a month into the season to protect his future. While this is a unique situation because of the pandemic, once a door opens, it typically stays open.

Translation: midseason opt-outs could be the norm moving forward.

Stay or go?

Trevor Lawrence left some wiggle room in his future at Clemson, but don’t think that means he won’t be playing in the NFL in 2021.

No, it has nothing to do with his positive COVID test. Lawrence said Thursday night that he couldn’t wait to rejoin the Tigers.

Earlier in the week, Clemson’s junior quarterback said that “there’s a lot of things that could happen” to influence his decision to leave early for the NFL.

At the end of last season, multiple NFL scouts told me Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, and since then, 2 of those same scouts say it now looks like the best prospect in decades.

How long, you ask?

“Since (John) Elway, maybe,” one NFL scout said.

That was 1983.

Where Lawrence potentially goes could also influence his decision. Both New York franchises – Jets are winless; Giants have 1 win – could be a landing spot for Lawrence, who grew up in small Cartersville, Ga. So could Jacksonville, one of the smallest markets in the NFL — but arguably the worst franchise in the league.

“I’ve seen guys who don’t want to play for a specific franchise threaten to go back to school,” a scout told me. “As far as (Lawrence) specifically, he has nothing to prove at that level. You can’t get higher than No. 1 (pick in the draft).”

A jumbled mess

Just when you think it’s safe to talk football in the Pac-12, the conference unveils its division tiebreaker formula.

Instead of simply using winning percentage in case head-to-head doesn’t break the tie, the Pac-12 decided to make things more difficult.

Two-team tie with no head-to-head:

  • 1. Record in games played within the division.
  • 2. Record against the next highest placed team in the division (based on record of all games played within conference).
  • 3. Record in common conference games.
  • 4. Team with the highest CFP ranking.
  • 5. Winning percentage of conference opponents.

You don’t want to know where it goes after that (ever hear of SportSource Analytics?), but it finally includes a coin and a flip. If you know what I mean.

The process to determine a champion could have easily been flipped, with the first determination winning percentage of conference opponents, and the second-highest CFP ranking.

A tiebreak would go no further, and likely wouldn’t get past the first tiebreaker – which is the fairest way to determine the champion, anyway.