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Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee junior cornerback Bryce Thompson is wearing jersey No. 0 this season after wearing No. 20 as a sophomore.

Has the number zero ever been so celebrated as it has in 2020?

As in "zero positive COVID-19 tests." As in "zero incidents of looting or violence during the demonstration." As in "zero sightings of the murder hornet."

It's the same in college football, as the NCAA is allowing players to wear a "0" jersey for the first time. Eight of the 14 Southeastern Conference programs will have players wearing the unique single digit, with the list including Auburn sophomore linebacker Owen Pappoe, Georgia freshman tight end Darnell Washington and Tennessee junior cornerback Bryce Thompson.

Pappoe started every game last season for Gus Malzahn's Tigers and earned Freshman All-America recognition.

"I tried to get it in high school, but it was an ineligible number," Pappoe said on a recent Zoom call. "When I heard the NCAA was going to pass it, I said, 'Coach, I want to be one of the first guys to get this,' so he got that done for me.

"There had been rumors about it last December or in January, and he didn't know about it, but he said, 'I've got you,' and he kept his word on it."

The NCAA rules committee in late February announced that the "0" jersey would be allowed. In an April release, the governing body said it made the move "to respond to the popularity of single-digit numbers."

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Auburn photo / Auburn sophomore linebacker Owen Pappoe displays the No. 0 jersey he will be wearing this fall.

Pappoe wore No. 10 last season, while Tennessee's Thompson chose to ditch his No. 20 jersey to become the first "bagel" for the Volunteers. A 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior, Thompson has started 10 games in each of his first two seasons and obtained his new number based on seniority.

"He asked me, and there was really only one other player who asked, and he was a freshman, so Bryce got it," Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said.

Things went down differently at Georgia, however, with Washington being a coveted five-star talent out of Las Vegas. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart doesn't know all the details of how the deal was done between the 6-7, 260-pounder and second-year tight ends coach Todd Hartley.

"It may have been after he committed or after he signed," Smart said. "It does bring a smile to my face, because our offensive players call him 'the big O,' and he is big. He is very big. When they started saying, 'the big O,' I never really got it because his name doesn't have an 'O' in it, but he's 'the big O' for wearing zero.

"I assume he wanted a single digit, and we were all out, so 'the big O' is another single digit, even though it looks funny."

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina do not have players listed on their rosters wearing the "0" jersey. The two newest members of the league have multiple players with the number, with redshirt freshman receiver Cjay Boone and senior outside linebacker Tre Williams representing Missouri, and with sophomore running back Ainias Smith and senior cornerback Myles Jones representing Texas A&M.

Auburn has the league's most recognized combination of No. 1 jerseys with junior receiver Anthony Schwartz and senior defensive end Big Kat Bryant, but they're no longer listed first on the roster.

"I didn't think Owen was going to get zero," Bryant said. "I still love No. 1. Zero is just different."

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

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Georgia photo by Steven Colquitt / Georgia freshman tight end Darnell Washington, the first Bulldogs player with the No. 0 jersey, reaches for a reception during a practice earlier this month.
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