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Big Ten bowl lineup is thin; Gophers 5th qualifier

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Big Ten bowl lineup is thin; Gophers 5th qualifier

The turnaround at Minnesota has passed a significant milestone. The Gophers are going to a bowl game.

This won't have any bearing on the national championship, but it's still an important achievement. The Gophers will never be able to crack the conference elite if they don't become a middle-of-the-pack team first.

``It's a good thing for our kids. They've gone through a lot of transition,'' coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday. ``I'm very excited for them.''

The Gophers (6-4, 2-4) play at Nebraska on Saturday and host Michigan State to finish their schedule, and an upset in one of those games would give them a chance for eight victories, a feat unaccomplished since a 10-3 record in 2003.

``It was a long route, but we're finally there. In your senior year it feels great to do that,'' said cornerback Michael Carter, one of a handful of players who wept in the locker room after beating Illinois 17-3 last weekend.

Here's the most remarkable part about the Gophers, though: They became only the fifth Big Ten team to qualify for the 2012 postseason, and it's mid-November. Good for them, landing an opportunity to play in Arizona or Texas, but it's another bad sign of the conference's national standing.

Nebraska (8-2, 5-1), Michigan (7-3, 5-1), Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) and Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2) are the others who've secured an extra game; the Badgers have even clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship game. That's because Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) and Penn State (6-4, 4-2) aren't allowed to participate as punishment for the scandals revealed at their schools over the past two years. Illinois? Already eliminated.

Granted, the Big Ten would have seven qualifiers were it not for the Ohio State and Penn State sanctions, but the last time the league had only five bowl teams was 1998, when there were far fewer postseason contests than the 35 there are now. Big Ten teams filled 10 slots in 2011-12.

Those September struggles the Big Ten endured didn't just sully that proud reputation. Bowl-game bids were weakened, too.

The league went 2-8 against teams from the Southeastern, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences, plus Notre Dame. Excluding eight victories over FCS foes, two of which were narrow wins by Iowa and Wisconsin over Northern Iowa (4-6), the Big Ten had an unimpressive 26-14 nonconference record.

That included three losses to Mid-American Conference teams. That's two or three too many for the Big Ten, which finished 9-3 against the MAC.

Due to that defeat at home by Central Michigan, Iowa (4-6, 2-4) must beat two of the conference's best teams to make a bowl. And because of a loss at Ball State, Indiana (4-6, 2-4) has to win out with two straight road games.

Michigan State (5-5, 2-4) has arguably the Big Ten's strongest nonconference victory, over Boise State, but the Spartans have lost all four league games in their home state (including at Michigan) by a total of 10 points. They have two more chances to notch that elusive sixth win, but neither of them will be easy.

Purdue (1-5, 4-6) has the safest path to eligibility among the non-qualified, but the Boilermakers just got their first Big Ten victory last week, 27-24 at Iowa. Illinois has nothing to lose, plus the law of averages on its side. Indiana is the in-state rival, with a trophy at stake.

So it was no surprise, then, when coach Danny Hope said he's satisfied with the six-victory requirement for bowl eligibility as opposed to the seven that's been proposed from some corners of college football. As every one of his peers have noted, too, the additional practices allowed by the NCAA for bowl qualifiers are a valuable way to develop players for the following season.

``It's an opportunity to reward the young people for their efforts,'' Hope said.

Northwestern was the first team to qualify, and the Wildcats would be unbeaten had they not blown double-digit second-half leads to Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan. Coach Pat Fitzgerald insisted he's focusing solely on teaching his team, but he acknowledged that part of him roots for all of his competitors.

``Before I'm a Big Ten coach, I'm a Big Ten fan. I'm a Big Ten alum. I hope all of our guys get bowl eligible,'' Fitzgerald said, then pivoting to lobby for the Wildcats to any bowl representatives who might've been listening.

``They'll get a young exciting football team ... but we'll worry about that later,'' Fitzgerald said.

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Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Death Row D.C. and the Wizards are back

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Death Row D.C. and the Wizards are back

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller were joined by Julie Donaldson to break down the Wizards' wins in Games 3 and 4.

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat are back and the Wizards are a different team because of it. Plus, how regaining their Death Row D.C. mentality has changed this series.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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O-line, D-line is the move for the Redskins at No. 13, according to Charles Davis

O-line, D-line is the move for the Redskins at No. 13, according to Charles Davis

We are nearing the start of the NFL Draft, less than three days to be exact, and right now there are a ton of names circling around whom the Washington Redskins should take at No. 13.

You’ve probably read countless mock drafts at this point (if you haven’t or need another here is ours), and there’s one thing that is consistent: nothing.

So let's concern ourselves less of ‘who’ and exactly what each player will bring to the Redskins.

There are very few evaluators of talent better than the NFL Network’s Charles Davis, so he got to talk with J.P. Finlay and Mitch Tischler on the latest edition of the Redskins Talk podcast.

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST WITH CHARLES DAVIS HERE

He broke down EVERYONE that Washington could be taking at No. 13 overall. If you don’t have time to listen (which we highly recommend that you do), here are some of the highlights:

“This could be a wild first night,” said Davis. “All of these different trade scenarios are out there right? My experience has been that most of that calms down as we get closer. There’s a lot of discussion and chatter about it, but we don’t usually have it.”

REDSKINS NEEDS:

“At 13, when you’re really down to it, Mitch I think you had said to me even before we began ‘O-line, D-line man, let’s talk O-line, D-line,’ and I think that is the perfect place for this Washington team.”

VITA VEA, DT, WASHINGTON

“If Vita Vea from Washington somehow is sitting there at 13, and the idea that you could go up there and put him a line and get Jonathan Allen back from last year, I think that’d be a great place to go. This is a top-10, top-5 talent in this draft that possibly could still be around at 13.”

“When we’re talking about the people that are in our business, the talking heads that people kind of go to and kind of get held accountable for their mock drafts… you don’t really see Vea in any consistency in the top ten.”

“Eleven is kind of the breakpoint for him.”

MAURICE HURST, DT, MICHIGAN

“I like him. I don’t know that I like him quite that high.”

DA’RON PAYNE, DT, ALABAMA

“I like Payne, better than Hurst, but again I don’t know about quite that high.”

“The medical, you can’t help it when you’re talking about a heart. You can’t help but be a little bit concerned. Now he has gotten clearance, that has come through, but we all know that each team is going to do it’s own research and got to decide how comfortable they are with that.”

QUENTON NELSON, OL, NOTRE DAME

“I doubt he is falling to 13, because if somehow he falls to eight to the Bears and if the Bears don’t run up to the podium and plug him in, I’d be stunned.”

ORLANDO BROWN JR., OT, OKLAHOMA

“Normally when you have a combine and you have some things that you have some questions marks on, normally you have some balancers. Orlando Brown had zero balancers. Everything was historically bad.”

WILL HERNANDEZ, G, UTEP

“Now Will Hernandez has had about as good a postseason as an offensive lineman can have.”

“This kid Hernandez has become a massive road grater, quicker than you would think, better pass protector and he did all of this on an 0-12 team last year. So he is another guy to keep an eye on, especially if as you said they are able to move back.”

DERRIUS GUICE, RB, LSU

“I’d be surprised at 13.”

“Get back to 19 and then I think Guice is in play at 19. If that indeed is the runner that they like. I think the running back renaissance is real.”

JOHN KELLY, RB, TENNESSEE

“I think this John Kelly kid from Tennessee is a really good runner. He had a little trouble off-field last year, missed a game because of all that, but this kid runs hard, plays hard, he’s not Alvin Kamara… but this kid is more of a pure running back than Kamara is, he’s just not a bulky guy.”

TRADING BACK

“They’re in a tough spot because of the number. We’ve got all of this stuff now.”

“That’s a tough one, because if I’m Dallas and I want to come up and get my guy [Calvin Ridley], I don’t need to come up as high as 13 anyway, if you really think about it.”

BILLY PRICE, OL, Ohio State

“He’s a really good player. The kid played guard, he played center. Price is a really good technician. 44 a possibility? Possibility. Before the injury he was going late-first, early second.”

This is only scratching the surface of what the expert talked about. Get the full experience and listen to the full podcast.

MORE DRAFT COVERAGE:

- SEVEN ROUND REDSKINS MOCK DRAFT

- ODDS ON FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS