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Can BCS title game challenge TV ratings record?

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Can BCS title game challenge TV ratings record?

NEW YORK (AP) Two undefeated teams, three Heisman Trophy finalists, five lead changes and 19 seconds left when the winning touchdown was scored.

No other BCS title game has come close to matching that perfect formula for broad appeal. The 2006 tilt between Texas and Southern California was on in nearly 22 percent of American homes with televisions; the second-best number is under 18 percent.

Now, seven years later, a matchup may finally challenge that Rose Bowl's TV ratings record.

No. 1 Notre Dame, so popular it can stay independent and negotiate its own television contract, is competing for its first championship since the 1988 season. Notre Dame's opponent, No. 2 Alabama, is a big name in its own right, made bigger by two titles in the last three years and the Southeastern Conference's run of six straight crowns.

``It sets up really remarkable possibilities,'' said Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior vice president for college sports programming.

Just as fans and media break down position-by-position battles for the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide, a look at how this year's matchup stacks up against the record-holders from 2006:

- NAME RECOGNITION. Texas and USC are hardly slouches in the tradition and popularity departments, but Notre Dame is in its own category. Plus there's the added intrigue of the Irish's title drought.

``It definitely raises the bar of the hype and the buzz of this national championship compared to any of the other games I've had the good fortune to call,'' ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said.

Even if much of the interest sprouts from fans rooting against one of the teams.

``Notre Dame is the Yankees, is the Celtics, the Lakers and so on, the Dallas Cowboys. They're polarizing, which helps,'' Magnus said. ``Actually, both of them are right now because of the SEC factor, and Alabama has been the standard bearer for that.''

Herbstreit chuckled at the thought of some fans vowing not to watch because they detest both teams.

``Anybody who takes the time to make a comment like that clearly will be watching the game,'' he said. ``They'll in fact watch the four hours of pregame we have before the game and be blogging and tweeting about how wrong everybody is on those shows.''

- STAR POWER. Texas-USC sparkled far brighter here. The three Heisman finalists that season were from those two teams: Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart (who won the previous year) and running back Reggie Bush (who won this time, before later returning the trophy because of NCAA violations) and Longhorns quarterback Vince Young. All were skill position players believed at the time to have promising NFL futures.

Notre Dame's Heisman finalist is a defensive guy, linebacker Manti Te'o. Alabama's four first-team All-Americans are offensive linemen or defenders.

- ANTICIPATION. Texas and USC were the undisputed top teams in college football - the only undefeated squads in the country who led the rankings all season. Alabama has one loss, and while there has been almost no controversy as to whether the Tide deserves to play in the title game, the late-season rankings scramble that led to this game doesn't carry quite the same buzz.

- MARKET SIZE. In the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, postseason viewership often varies significantly based on whether the teams involved hail from cities big or small. In college football, that's less of a factor, though it didn't hurt the 2006 title game that a school from Los Angeles, the country's second-largest market, was involved.

The program from South Bend, Ind., of course is a classic example of national appeal.

``(Alabama is) the franchise right now and another mega brand,'' Magnus said. ``It doesn't matter that it's Tuscaloosa - the TV markets don't matter when it comes to teams like that.''

- ON-FIELD THEATER. One of the biggest factors in the final rating won't be known until the game kicks off. If the score stays close, more viewers will stick around to the end - and more will join in. Magnus believes the rise of social media will increase the audience of tight games even more than in the past, as casual fans learn through Twitter or Facebook that they can catch a tense finish if they tune in.

The Longhorns' 41-38 win featured 10 touchdowns, and the teams combined to score five times in the fourth quarter. Neither school ever led by more than 12 points.

Notre Dame has had a penchant for close games all season and Alabama also has lately. But the other half of the entertainment equation - high scoring - may be less likely with these two programs. Each allows fewer than 11 points a game.

- RAW NUMBERS. The Texas-USC title game set the record with a 21.7 rating - 22 percent higher than the next best BCS championship. No. 2 all-time was the 2001 Oklahoma-Florida State final with a 17.8. The best ratings since 2006 were a 17.4 for both the 2007 Florida-Ohio State and 2008 LSU-Ohio State matchups.

The 2006 championship was on ABC, but the BCS games have since moved to cable. ESPN is in about 14 percent fewer homes than the traditional broadcast networks, though executives note that college football fans are more likely than the general population to have cable. Ratings since the switch have seemingly been more affected by the matchups and competitiveness of games than by their availability.

Regular-season viewership, while still strong, was down for college football this year. On ESPN's networks, the average audience decreased more than 10 percent on ABC, almost 4 percent on ESPN, and nearly 13 percent on ESPN2 from 2011. SEC games on CBS also dropped 10 percent.

For the four BCS games so far, preliminary ratings are up 1 percent on ESPN from last season.

But Notre Dame and Alabama have already shown their ability to lure big audiences. The rating for the Tide's SEC title game against Georgia - essentially a national semifinal - was up 34 percent from the previous year's LSU-Georgia matchup. With an average of 16.2 million viewers, it was the season's most-watched college football game before the bowls.

No. 2 was Notre Dame's win over USC to clinch a berth in the BCS title game with 16.1 million viewers. That was the highest-rated Saturday night regular-season game on ABC since at least 1991.

Herbstreit is one of those sports fans who watch golf only when Tiger Woods is in contention on a Sunday. He considers Notre Dame-Alabama to be the college football equivalent of that.

``Without a doubt,'' he said, ``if you're a college football fan, or even if you're a fringe college football fan, you're going to watch.''

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Another test

The Wizards continue their difficult stretch coming out of the All-Star break against a very dangerous Sixers team. Philly has proven to be very streaky this season, but right now they are rolling. They come to Washington having won their last seven games dating back to Feb. 6 when they beat the Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. The Wizards are also playing well, having won eight of their last 11, despite their loss to the Hornets on Friday.

The Sixers are currently seventh in the East and appear on track to make the playoffs. If they keep rising the standings, they could meet the Wizards, who are currently fourth, in the first round. 

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Season series

Speaking of the playoffs, this game could end up looming large for postseason seeding. The Sixers have won two of the three matchups between these teams this year. If they win on Sunday, they will take the season series and own the tiebreaker over Washington.

If the two teams tie head-to-head and end up with the same record at the end of the season, it will then come down to conference record. The Sixers currently have a better record against East teams than the Wizards. But if they can beat Philly this time, the Wizards will have a chance to secure the conference tiebreaker down the stretch of this season.

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Sixers are tough to guard

The Wizards have found out the hard way this season just how difficult it can be to match up with the Sixers, who are led by two emerging stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid is 7-foot-1 with rare abilities to stretch the floor and beat opponents off the dribble. Simmons is 6-foot-10, yet can lead the fastbreak with rare speed and vision to find his teammates with crisp passes.

The mobility for their size is almost unmatched and it has not been easy for the Wizards to answer. In their last meeting earlier this month, Simmons had 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Embiid had 27 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The Wizards have to try to limit those guys while also dealing with other challenges like Robert Covington, Dario Saric and J.J. Reddick.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKING

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Need to Know: Five Redskins who must step up in 2018

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Need to Know: Five Redskins who must step up in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 25, 17 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

Five Redskins who will have to step up in 2018

Originally published 12/26/17

WR Josh Doctson—This list is in no particular order but if it was, Doctson would be right here at the top. The watchword for Doctson is consistency. He makes some incredible catches and then there are throws that he drops or doesn’t quite seem to make enough of an effort to catch. There is promise there. The first-round pick has shown his ability and his teammates say he has a chance to be elite. But the potential must translate into production on the field, week in and week out.  

RB Samaje Perine—There is plenty of chatter about the Redskins’ need to sign or draft a top running back. But a look at this team’s recent history tells us that they are unlikely to invest major assets in the position. That means that Perine, a fourth-round pick in 2017, will have to become a more consistent runner. It’s not all his fault that he hasn’t done much since he had back-to-back 100-yard games in Weeks 11-12; tough defense, offensive line issues, and game score situations have slowed his production. But he needs to be consistently productive in 2018 no matter who he lines up against.

CB Josh Norman—Unless he gets a pick against the Giants, he will go through the year without any interceptions. Sure, they don’t throw his way all that often and INT’s don’t give you the complete picture of his play. But a CB taking up $20 million in cap room needs to get a couple of picks almost by sheer accident. Norman battled some injury problems and if he wants to justify the final two years and $23 million of salary remaining on his contract, his age 30 2018 season needs to be more impactful.

OLB Preston Smith—The third-year player started strong, with at least half a sack in the first five games. And he’s finishing strong, with three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble in the last two games. But in between, he had a total of just half a sack in eight games. This follows the pattern he displayed his first two years in the league of being dominant in some games and invisible in others. If he can develop some consistency in his 2018 contract year, he could cash in huge in free agency the following year.

Head coach Jay Gruden—Normally I only include players on lists like this one but if Gruden doesn’t do something to get the Redskins out of their near-.500 rut then nothing else will matter. He needs to change up something, whether it’s pushing the players hard in training camp or perhaps fine tuning his friendly approach to the players. Sure, better luck regarding injuries and a schedule that right now appears to be a bit less challenging will help. But Gruden needs to look at what he can change, too.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 4
—NFL Draft (4/26) 60
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 196