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After Trevor Lawrence's positive COVID test, there's hope (and likely complications) in a return at Notre Dame

Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
·6-min read

Late Thursday night, Trevor Lawrence confirmed a Clemson news release that he had contracted COVID-19. He said his symptoms are “relatively minor.”

Here’s hoping it stays that way for college football’s biggest star.

Clemson’s quarterback is currently in an ACC-mandated 10/11-day quarantine stretch that will cause him to miss Clemson’s game this weekend against Boston College, where the Tigers are heavily favored even without him.

There has been no official word on his availability the following week for the top-ranked Tigers’ mega-matchup with No. 4 Notre Dame.

If everything goes well with his virus bout, then it’s fair to assume he’ll probably be in South Bend. ACC rules call for 10 days of isolation (which would take Lawrence to next Friday) and then one additional day (gameday) of being “fever-free.” The team medical staff would approve his return — “without interference from coaching staffs.”

(Insert laugh track.)

Even then, there are odd questions to answer. Could he travel with the team on Friday, or would he need to find his own way to Notre Dame on Saturday? And how would that work in compliance with both NCAA and commercial airline rules? Does he just drive himself up to Indiana? Can he stay in the team hotel, or does he book his own room off the Indiana Toll Road, grabbing a pregame meal at the breakfast buffet in the lobby?

If he can be there, he’ll be there, of course. Whatever it takes. But he’d still have to play after nearly two weeks of no practice, including, perhaps, even a walkthrough to prepare for what appears to be the toughest game on Clemson’s regular season schedule.

Essentially, this is all uncharted waters. In other words, 2020.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) waves to fans after an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Clemson, S.C., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) waves to fans after an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Clemson, S.C., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)

Every fan, even Notre Dame fans, should root for Lawrence’s quick return. Not only would it signal that he’ll almost assuredly be fine both in the short and long term, it would also give college football something it desperately needs — the big game.

This has been a rough-and-tumble year for the sport. Some seasons were canceled, then brought back. Almost all of them were shortened. Others were delayed. Non-conference games, even historic rivalries or long-eyed clashes, were scrapped. There was a lot of shouting and anger even before opening week kicked off.

Since then there have been postponements, cancellations, thin rosters and odd-ball results. We’ve been without coaches, players and competitiveness at times. We’ve seen a lot of South Alabama and Central Arkansas on national television (not a bad thing, per se, but still).

The entire season has been akin to trying to drive through a snowstorm. Every time you think you’ve found some cleared road, black ice appears. The possibility of a jack-knifed trailer is always around the bend. Skidding into a ditch is a forever possibility. All you can do is white-knuckle the wheel and stare through the latest whiteout.

It’s why Clemson-Notre Dame — with full rosters — is such an important moment. For the sake of normalcy.

While it’s a potential top-five clash, the impact on the College Football Playoff chase is fairly minimal. Clemson can lose (with or without Lawrence) and still make the playoffs. Notre Dame is an official member of the ACC this year (and this year only), so a rematch in the ACC title game would offer redemption for the Tigers. A Clemson team with one avenged loss would be in.

The game probably means more to Notre Dame, which won’t get the same benefit of the doubt Clemson has earned. Still, it could get its own second crack at the Tigers in the ACC title game. A one-loss Notre Dame with a victory over Clemson would get in.

So mainly this is just for the fun, for the competition, for the chance for a game that everyone has had circled all seasons to actually play out how it should.

There have been too many Saturdays lacking that monster matchup.Non-conference showdowns were an initial casualty. The flow of the season, including injuries, opt-outs and positive tests — not to mention losses — has affected others. This weekend was supposed to be all about Ohio State at Penn State, except the Nittany Lions will enter having lost one game and too many star players. It still might be great, but the buildup isn’t the same.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) makes a pass during an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Clemson, S.C., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) makes a pass during an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Clemson, S.C., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Ken Ruinard/Pool Photo via AP)

And, of course, no games have been played in the traditional cauldron of emotion and electricity that make on-campus games so uniquely spectacular.

Notre Dame Stadium will have limited capacity, but it is still hallowed ground for the sport. Getting a current national power and their Heisman favorite playing under Touchdown Jesus against a very good, but still unproven, Fighting Irish team trying to once again shake down the thunder is about as good as this regular season can get.

So here’s hoping we get it. Especially since Lawrence’s bout with COVID is probably a sign of what’s to come. Even more uncertainty, more surprises, more potential disappointments than we’ve already seen.

The Big Ten is back playing but there are no bye weeks built into the season to reschedule games — Wisconsin-Nebraska has already been lost forever due to an outbreak with the Badgers. The league’s current 21-day quarantine for players who test positive could conceivably shelve key players for up to three games.

This is a tightrope walk of an attempted season, one that may deliver winners or even champions that no one saw coming.

While other leagues, such as the ACC, Big 12 and SEC have done a better job building flexibility into their campaigns, that wiggle room is shrinking quickly. With each postponed game, another bye week here, or reshuffle there, is lost.

The schedule everywhere suddenly looks daunting, just as coronavirus cases soar across America.

Losing big games, or playing them without big players, could become a regular occurrence.

Here’s one with a pathway to still happening. Lawrence could be back and Clemson doesn’t think this is the start of a team-wide surge that could impact depth and talent over the next few weeks.

Here’s hoping that holds.

For a sport that could use some normalcy, Trevor and the Tigers in South Bend sure would be nice.

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