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Is it happening again? The COVID-19 variant Omicron is beginning to wreak havoc on the end of the 2020-21 college football season.
Just as Texas A&M was announcing on Wednesday afternoon that it was backing out of the Gator Bowl on Dec. 31 against Wake Forest because of a rash of COVID-19 cases, Alabama released that offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and offensive line coach Doug Marrone have tested positive for COVID-19. No. 1 Alabama is scheduled to play No. 4 Cincinnati on Dec. 31 in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
“They have very mild symptoms and are home isolating while following all appropriate guidelines,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a release. “We anticipate both being able to coach in the College Football Playoff semifinal.”
All four playoff teams may be asked not to arrive at the game sites until only a day or two before the game because of the spread of Omicron. No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Georgia play in the other semifinal on Dec. 31 in the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Texas A&M halted bowl practices the previous three days because of the spread of the virus on its team.
“It is unfortunate, but we just don’t have enough scholarship players available to field a team,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said.
“It is heartbreaking for our players, coaches, staff and fans tht we are not able to play in the Gator Bowl,” Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said. “Post-season football is the pinnacle of the season, and when the opportunity is lost, it hurts on many levels.”
Texas A&M starting quarterback Zach Calzada did not see the Gator Bowl as any sort of pinnacle. He entered the NCAA transfer portal last week, leaving the Aggies with a major quarterback issue, though LSU starting quarterback Max Johnson did just transfer to Texas A&M.
“Our players poured their heart and soul into this season, and we appreciate their dedication as Aggies,” Bjork said.
LSU, which is scheduled to play Kansas State in the Texas Bowl in Houston on Jan. 4, is also seeing its roster diminish even more than it was during the regular season. In additon to Johnson leaving the program, starting senior defensive tackle Neil Farrell and starting senior linebacker Damone Clark have opted out of the bowl this week to prepare for the NFL Draft.
New LSU head coach Brian Kelly has also opted out of the bowl to focus on recruiting and hiring a staff with offensive line coach Brad Davis filling in for him. But Davis said LSU will need many more opt-outs or COVID cases for the Tigers not to play in the bowl.
“We only need 11,” he said. “And we’ve got that many for sure.”