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Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame earn CFP spots – TSN

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A college football season filled with uncertainty brought on by the pandemic will end with a perfectly predictable College Football Playoff.

Alabama vs. Notre Dame. Clemson vs. Ohio State. Four of the the bluest of blue bloods and the teams that have comprised the top four in all the relevant rankings for nearly two months. Notre Dame was picked Sunday over Texas A&M for the final spot, ending what little drama there had been.

The top four teams in the selection committee’s first rankings of the season were the same teams in a different order in the last. Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State have held the first four spots in the AP Top 25 since Oct. 25.

Only 11 schools have ever reached the playoff and all four of the 2020 participants have been there before.

The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide will meet Jan. 1 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, after a late pandemic-related relocation from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Tigers and Buckeyes are set to play the same day at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans — if all goes according to plan.

The national champion of this long and strange season is scheduled to be determined Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

The Fighting Irish (10-1) are back in the playoff for the second time in three seasons, becoming the first team to lose a conference title game and make the final four. It was a novelty made possible only because of the pandemic, which pushed the famously independent Irish into a conference for the first time in school history.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is the second league to have two teams in the playoff, joining the SEC in 2017.

After sitting second in the CFP rankings for a month, Notre Dame was blown out 34-10 by Clemson in the ACC championship. That opened the door for Texas A&M (8-1), which had been lurking in fifth, but was unable to become the third team in the playoff’s seven-year history to make the field without even winning its conference division.

Selection committee chairman Gary Barta, the Iowa athletic director, said Notre Dame’s extra victory against a ranked opponent pushed the Irish over the top.

Notre Dame beat Clemson and North Carolina, which had been 15th in the previous playoff rankings. Texas A&M’s only victory against a team that was in the committee’s ranking was Florida. The Aggies played Alabama in October and lost by 28 points.

The decision didn’t go over well in Aggieland: Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond tweeted: “JOKE” The Aggies can take out their frustrations on North Carolina in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2.

Barta said Ohio State’s six-game schedule wasn’t much of an issue for the committee, overcome by the Buckeyes going undefeated and winning the Big Ten.

Oklahoma surged to sixth in the final rankings after closing with seven straight victories and a Big 12 title and will face seventh-place Florida in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 30.

Unbeaten Cincinnati finished eighth, making the Bearcats the top-ranked team among Group of Five conference champions and guaranteeing them a spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowls. Cincinnati will meet Georgia in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Pac-12 champion Oregon will face Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.

Notre Dame’s reward will be a matchup with Alabama (11-0), the Southeastern Conference champion that is back in the playoff for the sixth time after missing out last year. The last time the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide played was the 2012 BCS championship game and the Tide won 42-14.

Clemson (10-1) is in for a sixth straight season, only missing out on the first playoff. Ohio State (6-0) is making its third appearance. The Tigers have won two playoff titles and the Buckeyes won the first after the 2014 season.

Clemson-Ohio State is a rematch of last season’s dramatic semifinal in Arizona, won 29-23 by the Tigers. The two teams also met at the Fiesta Bowl in the 2016 playoff and Clemson beat the Buckeyes 31-0.

One of the semifinals was scheduled to be played at the Rose Bowl, but a move was announced Saturday night. The change was made after coaches and school officials from playoff contenders complained about California’s COVID-19 restrictions that bans spectators from sporting events and would have made it impossible for players’ families to attend the game.

The Rose Bowl twice asked for a special exemption from the state and was denied.

Playing the game at the home of the Dallas Cowboys will allow 16,000 fans to attend. Because of that, Barta said, the committee placed top-seeded Alabama there to give it the possibility of more of a home-field advantage.

The Superdome is currently set to have 3,000 fans for the Sugar Bowl, but that number could go up.

This season has been filled with disruptions as teams navigated COVID-19 outbreaks, contact tracing that sent players into extended quarantine and daily uncertainty about whether games will be played.

Ohio State had three regular-season games cancelled and the Big Ten had to change a minimum games played rule earlier this month just so the unbeaten Buckeyes could play in the conference title game Saturday against Northwestern.

Still, 87% of the games scheduled were played.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock has said a team selected to a semifinal would not be replaced if it could not play on the scheduled date. The game would be postponed if necessary and a every effort would be made to make it up.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Andreescu's coach among positive COVID-19 cases forcing Australian Open players into quarantine – CTV News

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EDMONTON —
Bianca Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau, has tested positive for COVID-19, one of three confirmed cases that have forced 47 Australian Open players into quarantine ahead of the tournament.

The three positive cases, including Bruneau, were detected among charter flights carrying players, coaches and officials to the Australian city before Saturday’s tournament.

Despite following all of the safety protocols, including receiving a negative test result within 72 hours before his flight, Bruneau said he tested positive shortly after arriving in Melbourne.

“I am deeply sorry to share that I have just tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival here in Melbourne, after travelling from Abu Dubai on flight EY8004,” Bruneau said in a statement issued Saturday, noting he felt fine when he boarded the plane.

“I also respected and followed all COVID protocols and guidelines while in the Middle East. I have no idea how I might have contracted this virus.”

Andreescu has yet to comment on her coach’s diagnosis but has tested negative for the virus.

Three coronavirus cases have now been detected among flights carrying tennis players, coaches and officials ahead of the Australian Open.

A total of 47 players from two affected flights – one arriving from Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi – are now in a strictly enforced 14-day quarantine without the ability to leave their hotel rooms, even to practice.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley issued a statement saying the 24 players who were on the flight from Los Angeles would not be able to leave their hotels rooms for 14 days and until they are medically cleared.

“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation,” Tiley said.

It’s unclear how serious Bruneau’s case is.

“I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone’s shoulders sharing my flight,” he said. “The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum.”

The Australian Open is scheduled to start Feb. 8.

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SENATORS AFTERTHOUGHTS: A closer look at the Senators' 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs Friday – Ottawa Sun

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Game One: Senators 5, Maple Leafs 3

WHY THEY WON: The young and rebuilding Senators sent a loud message to a veteran-laden Maple Leafs squad that should have known better.

The Maple Leafs were flashing their considerable talent and had the Senators on their heels throughout the first half of the second period, breaking a 1-1 tie on Alexander Kerfoot’s goal.

Apparently, they thought they could coast to victory from there.

Guess again. Led by Brady Tkachuk, the Senators came off the ropes, rallying for three goals in a 4:35 span to close out the second period.

Maple Leafs goaltender Fredrik Andersen certainly didn’t have his best night, swimming around his crease for much of the game, but he didn’t have much help when the Senators cranked up the pressure.

In the final period, the Senators effectively shut down a Maple Leafs squad that couldn’t regain its edge and was guilty of backing up and coughing up the puck against the Senators pressure.

It’s only one game, of course, but the Senators set an example that they will battle their way to the end.

Goaltender Matt Murray was solid in his Senators debut, not panicking when the Maple Leafs were threatening to run away with the contest.

THEY SAID IT:

Senators winger Brady Tkachuk: “We want to win games, we want to be a playoff team and we want to keep learning from the mistakes we made. We want the two points every night. That’s our goal and I think the pace of play and the physicality is going to determine that.”

Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe: “When you score a goal like that (Kerfoot) and you have control over the period the way that we did, for us, if we want to be a team that is going to accomplish anything, the game should be over from there. We should be able to take care of the lead and build on the lead. Obviously, it showed that we are not there yet.”

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Bianca Andreescu's coach announces positive test – TSN

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Sylvain Bruneau, the coach of Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu, said Saturday that he tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open.

In a four-paragraph statement, Bruneau said he followed all safety protocols and procedures, tested negative within 72 hours of departure, and felt “perfectly fine” when boarding the plane in Abu Dhabi.

“I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone’s shoulders sharing my flight,” he said. “The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum.”

Andreescu will now begin a 14-day hard quarantine at her hotel, her agent, Jonathan Dasnieres de Veigy, told The Canadian Press in a text message.

Australian health authorities said two positive COVID-19 cases emerged from another charter flight to Melbourne from Los Angeles earlier Saturday. Those cases involved an aircrew member and a passenger who was not a player.

A total of 47 players from the two affected flights will not be allowed to practise until they’re medically cleared after the two-week period, Tennis Australia said. Original plans allowed for on-court training sessions in a bubble setting during the quarantine period.

Andreescu was planning to return at the Jan. 31-Feb. 6 Melbourne Summer Series, a warmup event ahead of the Australian Open. It will be her first competitive tournament in about 15 months.

In his statement, Bruneau said he respected and followed all COVID protocols and guidelines while in the Middle East.

“I have no idea how I might have contracted this virus,” he said.

Bruneau, a longtime national coach with Tennis Canada’s women’s program, helped guide Andreescu during her breakout 2019 season.

Just 18 at the time, she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in March of that year for her first career WTA Tour title. Andreescu won the Rogers Cup and US Open titles later that season, topping American legend Serena Williams in both finals.

Injuries, however, were a problem throughout the campaign and hampered her return plans in 2020. She eventually decided to take last season off and focus on coming back for the 2021 Australian swing.

A pair of WTA Tour 500 events — the Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic — will run as part of the Melbourne Summer Series, with players being divided into the two events.

Given the short turnaround from the end of quarantine, it wasn’t immediately clear if Andreescu would still play that event or instead return at the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., hasn’t played a competitive match since a left knee injury forced her to retire from a match at the WTA Finals in October 2019.

She started the 2019 season ranked No. 152 in the world and closed the year at No. 5. The 20-year-old now holds the No. 7 position.

“The positive thing is that she is obviously extremely motivated,” Bruneau told The Canadian Press in a recent interview. “She’s always motivated, so it’s not a change. But when you’re forced (off the court) and that’s your life, you want that back badly.”

Andreescu has shown in the past that she can quickly get back to a high level of play after a break.

She played just one match in a four-month span leading up to the Rogers Cup in 2019. Andreescu was pushed from the start that year in Toronto, needing three sets in each of her first four victories en route to the title.

Bruneau, who served as Canada’s Fed Cup team captain from 2010-19, received the Jack Donohue coach of the year award from the Coaching Association of Canada in 2019.

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