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LINCOLN — First downs and second guesses:

Merry Christmas morning. It’s July 30 and Nebraska is practicing football.

So we’re already ahead of last year at this time.

But what will that mean in two weeks? Or four weeks from Saturday, when NU opens the 2021 season at Illinois?

The COVID-19 pandemic is lasting longer than an NBA fourth quarter. Now there’s a delta variant. Some companies are requiring masks indoors again.

And as we get pumped up for a “normal” college football season, we’re still wondering: How many players have been vaccinated? And will there be interruptions based on COVID cases?

It’s frustrating. But here we are.

On the eve of fall camp, Nebraska football coach Scott Frost was asked what percentage of his team had been vaccinated. Frost wouldn’t say, but added that he did not feel comfortable with the number of Huskers who had the vaccine.


The coach said he and his staff would continue to educate players about the vaccine.

Frost isn’t requiring the Huskers to get it. The school isn’t doing that with students, either. It’s their choice. They know the risks.

But what exactly is the risk in football?

Both the SEC and Big 12 — there’s a pair for you — came out and said teams that were not able to play a game would forfeit.

The Big Ten, which ruled with a heavy hand last fall, has suddenly begged off. No word from the Big Ten about forfeits.

So we enter this season wondering: If a Big Ten team has several COVID cases and can’t play a game, is it a win for the opponent? Or just no contest?

As Adrian Martinez said Thursday, it’s a tricky issue. As a team leader, one might think Martinez might be encouraging teammates to take care of vaccine business and make sure NU is all good in all 12 games.

But the senior quarterback would not confirm whether he had taken the vaccine, saying, “I don’t want to put it out there.”

“It’s such a tricky topic,” he added. “I think it’s going to play a critical role this year.

“It’s been talked about (among the Huskers), but this is one of the few places where it’s presented as an option. That’s really cool. I have friends all over the country that are being forced to get it.”


As for risking games, Martinez said, “I think they have to weigh what matters most to them. I wouldn’t want to push anyone in a corner based on their beliefs.”

Junior tight end Travis Vokolek said he had been vaccinated.

“I personally am and I encourage people to get it,” Vokolek said.

“I want to have a season this year, as back to normal as it can be. It’s a little bit of a private deal. I don’t go out of my way to ask, but if someone asks me I will say I’ve been vaccinated. I just want to play football this year.”

Nebraska said that last summer, too. We didn’t have a vaccine then. Now, we do.


» I love that Nebraska’s opener is a Big Ten West game. It puts a little extra urgency into August and adds some spice to the season. The Big Ten needs all the spice it can get.

» As I walked into the Hendricks Center on Tuesday, the first thing I saw was Trev Alberts chatting with a couple of the lobby workers. Don’t recall ever seeing Bill Moos doing that. Or Shawn Eichorst.

» The new A.D. has come out of the blocks fast. Loved his comments from Big Ten media days about focusing on the present and mastering fundamentals, not obsessing about the past. Lots of fans liked that one. Action, no talk.

» Also Alberts made some friends last week by allowing for paper tickets this season. There’s no reason not to ease into that change.

» So how many fans are now rooting for Iowa State to win the Big 12 this year?


» What a brutal deal for Cyclone fans. This should be a magical time for them, with a team that looks like their best, poised to make a league title and playoff run.

Now they’ve got something else on their minds.

» You think the Iowa State-Oklahoma and Texas games might be a little emotional this year? Heck, any of the OU and Texas games.

Me, I’m wondering if the Sooners or Longhorns will have 17 penalties rung up in one game by Big 12 officials.

» Who knows what fun Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has in store for this season after what he did to the league on Wednesday.

By declaring war on ESPN, Bowlsby seemed to take any future deal with the mega TV partner out of the works. Now the American Athletic Conference has the leverage — and apparently ESPN’s backing.

» Wichita State and Kansas in the same league? Believe it when I see it.

» Much as I’d like to make annual trips back to Allen Field House, I don’t see the Big Ten adding KU or any Big 12 teams. Realignment is always about football and TV and of course, money. How much value do the Big 12 teams bring?

Hold on. Let me ask ESPN.


» Texas is always an easy villain. But don’t forget Oklahoma’s role in this drama. And don’t be surprised.

The roots to realignment go back to 1984, when Georgia — and Oklahoma — took the NCAA to court over limits on TV appearances and revenue. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of OU and Georgia and opened the floodgates for TV to be the ruler of college football.

So the Sooners have a long history of looking out for themselves.

» College football was a lot simpler — and more fun — when there were only two or three games on TV every Saturday. I’m old enough to remember when the only thing that kicked off at 11 a.m. were tailgate parties.

» One more and I’m outta here: I’m not going to the SEC, but First Downs and Second Guesses is moving to Wednesday. Starting next week. See you mid-week.