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Amid changes, No. 9 Ohio St, Penn St still rolling

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Amid changes, No. 9 Ohio St, Penn St still rolling

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) The Big Ten won't hand out a championship trophy to the winner of the Ohio State-Penn State game Saturday night, so bragging rights will have to do.

The ninth-ranked Buckeyes and surging Nittany Lions just might be the class of the conference at midseason, but neither team can win the league title or play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions.

Saturday's meeting then, has turned into a virtual midseason bowl game, complete with a national television audience and plenty of hype. About 107,000 rowdy fans are expected to pack Beaver Stadium, which would be the first sellout of the season.

Welcome to the ``Ineligi-Bowl.''

``We only get the chance to lay it on the line 12 times, 12 Saturdays. So every game for us is a very, very big game,'' Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. ``And we're playing probably the best team in the Big Ten this week, with a great head coach in Urban Meyer.''

Two coaches in their first years at their respective, well-known programs saddled with NCAA sanctions.

Yet there are the undefeated Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) and Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0), playing another high-stakes conference game like nothing's changed. First place in the Leaders Division is at stake.

``I assume it's going to be, because it's a night game, I'm sure the crowd will be nice,'' senior tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner said tongue-in-cheek.

And yet so much has changed since the last time these two teams met, a 20-14 win for Penn State in Columbus last Nov. 19.

The Buckeyes then were led by interim coach Luke Fickell, who is now back coordinating the defense under Meyer.

That win was the one and only victory for Penn State for interim coach Tom Bradley, who took over a week earlier after longtime coach Joe Paterno was fired in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Bradley, the longtime defensive coordinator under Paterno, wasn't retained when O'Brien was hired in January. Seven months later, a school already reeling from the aftereffects of the scandal was rocked again when the NCAA levied landmark penalties including a four-year bowl ban.

Ohio State has a one-year bowl ban for the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal during former coach Jim Tressel's tenure.

``I know there's going to be some tough sanctions against them. I don't really understand all of them,'' Meyer said before talking about what he has had to study up on all week.

``Penn State has great football players right now.''

Especially on defense, where the veteran linebacking crew of Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson will be charged with keeping an eye on Buckeyes dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller - sore neck and all.

Miller appeared to be seriously hurt in last week's 29-22 overtime win over Purdue, but returned to practice this week and seems to be fine. He's listed as the starter again, and Meyer said he had no reservations about playing his Heisman Trophy candidate.

``If you ask me if it surprises me, no, Braxton Miller is a competitive guy,'' Meyer said about his quarterback's return. ``Competitors fight through adversity.''

Penn State's defense gets better every week, in large part because the Nittany Lions have clamped down on third downs. The ``Linebacker U.'' schemes are more aggressive this year, and the new-look offense installed by O'Brien is piling up points.

But Miller might be the best opposing player Penn State will face all season. He's second in the league in total offense (292.9 yards per game) and fourth in rushing (119.9 yards).

``He's a tremendous athlete who can create with any play,'' Nittany Lions linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said. ``We have to defend him every single play.''

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin won't be confused with Miller for his running ability, though the senior remarkably leads his team in rushing touchdowns (five) because of four goal-line sneaks.

Actually, McGloin has become better known as the savvy leader of a new Penn State system off to a smashing debut. His development from walk-on (a term McGloin disdains) to the top passer in the Big Ten (255.4 yards per game) is testament to O'Brien's ability to tutor quarterbacks.

O'Brien, after all, did mentor Patriots quarterback Tom Brady while coordinating New England's high-octane attack last year.

Like other players on both Ohio State and Penn State, McGloin is eager to prove his team belongs in the postseason - even if there's no chance to get there because of the NCAA sanctions. Even if either team wins the Leaders Division, each school can't play in the Big Ten title game because it counts as a postseason game.

They'll have to make due with Saturday night.

``Ourselves, and Ohio State, we both deserve to get into a game like this,'' McGloin said. ``This is the reason you play college football.''

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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