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Tennessee photo by Austin Perryman / Marquez Callaway had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown during Tennessee's 14-3 dumping of Charlotte in 2018, but this season's opening matchup between the Volunteers and 49ers on Sept. 5 may not be played.

It has become the official slogan for the 2020 college football season.

"I've got my fingers crossed," second-year Charlotte coach Will Healy said Monday.

Healy's 49ers produced a multitude of memories last year, rebounding from a 2-5 start with five consecutive victories to clinch the first bowl game in program history. The Conference USA school failed to earn a sixth straight win, falling to Buffalo out of the Mid-American Conference, but the outcome was secondary given the experiences the 49ers enjoyed at the sixth annual Bahamas Bowl.

Charlotte is scheduled to open Healy's second season at Tennessee on Sept. 5, which would be plenty memorable for the former Boyd-Buchanan quarterback, but that game would be canceled if the Southeastern Conference opted for a conference-only format due to coronavirus concerns. Two Power Five conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, announced late last week that they would be playing only league games this season.

Two of Charlotte's first three games this season are against Power Five foes, with the 49ers scheduled to visit Duke out of the Atlantic Coast Conference on Thursday, Sept. 17. Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill is hopeful of traveling to Tennessee and receiving a $1.3 million paycheck, but he is also a realist residing in North Carolina, a state where masks have been mandatory since June 26.

"Our conversations have been positive with Tennessee, and we're looking forward to opening the season against them," Hill told ESPN Radio on Sunday, "but I'm also not naive enough to believe that there's not a chance something could change based on what we've seen now from the Big Ten and the Pac-12. We're just going to continue to control what we can control here on our campus."

Said a hopeful Healy: "It sounds like the SEC might be more interested in playing nonconference games than most of the others."

SEC athletic directors were to convene in Birmingham, Alabama, on Monday in a meeting that had been scheduled before the recent decisions by the Big Ten and Pac-12. Monday was supposed to be the start of the SEC's annual media days event, which was to be held at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta but was a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

The league announced it will conduct media days virtually but has not announced a date.

Hill told ESPN that Charlotte is keeping its options open should Tennessee or Duke or both disappear from its schedule.

"I've actually had some conversations already with some programs that if we needed to fill some slots," Hill said. "That's to be prepared as much as anything else. It's not easy, for sure, because unlike the NFL, where there is a consistent scheduling model, that's not the case at the FBS level in college football. I think the best we can do right now is to be having conversations behind the scenes to be prepared if that were to happen.

"We would certainly rely on our conference opponents, of course, and right now we play an eight-game conference schedule, much as the SEC and the ACC do."

Tennessee has yet to announce the first football player to test positive for COVID-19, and it appears that things are going well for Charlotte on that front, too.

"If you go survey our football team right now, it's driving them crazy having to wear masks and having to social distance," Hill said, "but I will say this, so far we've been fortunate. We've not seen an outbreak the way we've seen at some other schools. We've been able to manage things well, knock on wood, so far.

"It's impossible to provide a 100% foolproof environment, because obviously we know the world that we're living in right now, but it's our job to try to minimize the risk as much as we can."

 

Testing expenses

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Tennessee spent $59,390 on coronavirus testing from early June through last Wednesday, with $45,990 on 511 nasal swab tests and $13,400 on 268 anitbody blood tests. The tests have been administered to football, men's basketball, women's basketball and volleyball players.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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