Mike Leach

Mike Leach has made a habit of conducting some practices after his team’s spring games, as he did last season at Washington State. He had planned the same thing for his first spring in Starkville before all college athletics were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The return of college football players to campuses, just around the corner, is the surest sign yet that games will be played.

No one has yet put form to what that will look like. We’ve heard the scenarios ranging from a delayed start to the season to games with no fans to a season that starts in February.

This much is certain. Getting athletes back on campus for strength and conditioning is not a humanitarian effort.

There is an end game, and that is to play football and make money.

The COVID-19 data could change and blow up the plan, but for now, as society restarts around us, the keepers of college football have made peace with the data and believe they can pull this off.

So at some point the conversation shifts from will games be played to who will win them?

And the answer to that is Nick Saban.

Or at least what Saban represents, and that’s good coaching.

Texas coach Darrell Royal used to say, and many have repeated, “It’s not about the X’s and O’s but the Jimmys and Joes.”

Talent will always be important. It can cover a multitude of coaching sins, but in the college football world of COVID-19, Jimmy and Joe have been quarantined.

They’ve been at home and without access to state-of-the-art weight training facilities, without unlimited food and nutrition advice and without a medical staff to heal the hurts and help maximize performance.

These are the things Power Five conference athletes have access to every day when they’re on campus.

So the question is how did Jimmy and Joe handle their time away? Have they made mature decisions and, through limited resources, found some way to maintain some level of conditioning?

There is time for these guys to work into shape. You can get a lot done in the almost 90 days between June 8 and the current start of the regular season.

But these guys also lost spring practice. Those early enrollee freshmen who thought they would get a fast start, well, that didn’t happen either.

Many coaches – including Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss and Mike Leach at Mississippi State – are getting to know different players in new places. And some of those, like Kiffin and Leach, will have to choose a quarterback in an abbreviated competition using new offensive schemes.

And all of this re-start will happen amid change, different weight room habits, social distancing at meal times and new routines.

Athletes are coming back but not to what they once knew.

The Jimmys and Joes will make big catches, big defensive stops and score touchdowns. They will impact the games like they always do.

But in COVID College Football, winning and losing will be decided by the coaches, how they handle the change, how they get players to respond, and more than in virus-free years how they push buttons on Saturdays.

This time it’s less about the Jimmys and Joes and more about the Nicks and Dabos.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. Find more in the Facebook Group ‘Ole Miss Discussion w/Parrish Alford.’

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