Even though Phil Howard has been in college since 2016, he still acutely remembers the stress of waiting for his ACT results to arrive.
That's because the Gophers cornerback has a visceral reminder every day of that nervousness when he has to take a COVID-19 test and see if he's positive or negative.
"It's definitely nerve-racking. You're anxious. You kind of sit up in your chair a little bit," Howard said Wednesday. "And you're just like, 'Ugh, what time are they going to text me?' "
As if having a cotton swab jammed up his nose most days wasn't unpleasant enough, Howard has to watch as teammates' phones buzz with the all-clear message of, "Hey, you're good to go. Go home. Go get you some food," while he dreads receiving the "Come in the back real quick, I need to PCR you," message, referring to the confirmatory test.
The waiting game is just part of playing football in 2020 amid a global pandemic, where Big Ten policy mandates six-days-a-week antigen testing, and a positive result sits a player out for three weeks.
The Gophers have only recently come down from a 49-case outbreak that caused them to cancel games against Wisconsin and Northwestern and shut down the facility for about two weeks. And while they should make their return at Nebraska this Saturday, the testing tension won't go away until the season wraps. That could be as early as after the Dec. 19 game or as long as several weeks out if the team makes a bowl game.
"That's a real anxiety, especially with other people testing positive," quarterback Tanner Morgan said. "… I mean, if you test positive or whatever, and you miss 21 days, you could miss the whole rest of the season."
Ready to run
In Nebraska's most recent game, a 37-27 win against Purdue, the Cornhuskers held the Boilermakers to minus-2 rushing yards. Purdue was also the Gophers' most recent game, a 34-31 win on Nov. 20, and the Gophers allowed 125 yards on the ground.
That has Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim feeling Nebraska (2-4) is a threat, even to one of the top rushers in the country with his 817 yards on 155 carries and 13 touchdowns, all in just five games.
"They have a great run defense. They do a very good job," Ibrahim said. "... They're very improved. Don't let their record fool you. They're a very good team."
Back to December
The Gophers game at Nebraska on Saturday will be a first for both programs. For the Gophers, it's the first time in program history, dating to 1882, they have played a regular-season game in December. Nebraska played one back on Dec. 5, 1992 in Tokyo, but this will be the latest one in school history. The most recent time the Cornhuskers played a December game on one of the team's home fields was 1982.
December contests aren't totally foreign, as various conference championships and bowl games take place early or late in the month. But the Midwest location of this game makes weather an intriguing factor.
The Saturday forecast in Lincoln, Neb. — where the teams play at 11 a.m. — calls for a high of 36 degrees with morning snow showers, 15 mph winds and a 30% chance of precipitation.
Staff writer Joel Rippel contributed to this report