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Gophers cancel games with North Carolina for $800K

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Gophers cancel games with North Carolina for $800K

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota coach Jerry Kill's plan for strengthening his long-lagging program is to keep the nonconference schedules as nonthreatening as possible.

The university confirmed Tuesday the cancellation of two games against North Carolina, on the road in 2013 and at home in 2014. The Gophers will instead pay an $800,000 buyout fee to not play the Tar Heels.

``We're going to make some decisions that don't really look good on paper at times because of where we are,'' athletic director Norwood Teague said, adding: ``I can understand why it can look kind of goofy, but when you get down below it and ... you start talking to coach Kill and you start thinking of our future and our vision of where we want to go you've got to make these. And I know it doesn't always sit all right with our fans, but it's what's got to happen now.''

Kill's first game with Minnesota was at USC last year, and he expressed his unhappiness about having to take a young team to open the season on the road in a big-time stadium.

The Gophers played well, losing 19-17 after a legitimate chance to win at the end. They also beat Syracuse last month, the only non-Big Ten foe from one of the five other Bowl Championship Series conferences they faced this season.

But Kill has told Teague his belief is that playing lower-level nonconference opponents is the best way to build confidence in the players and success for the team. He's been pushing for a while to get out of the North Carolina games, even though the Tar Heels have usually been a middle-of-the-pack team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They're 4-2 this year. They're also on probation until 2015, down 15 scholarships.

``As an athletic director you tell coaches no all the time. ... But I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He's won everywhere he's been, and he's won in situations that weren't easy so I trust where he was coming from and after a while I saw the light of what he was talking about,'' Teague said.

Kill hasn't coached in a BCS league before, though, and there's a question about whether playing teams from the Mid-American Conference or the Football Championship Subdivision can properly prepare the Gophers for the grind of the Big Ten. They didn't look ready this year, getting beat up at the line of scrimmage by run-first Iowa after facing a bunch of smaller offenses in September that ran no-huddle, spread systems. Then they lost last week at home to Northwestern.

Teague said he spoke to Kill about that issue but reiterated his trust in the coach's philosophy. Teague also said the buyout money won't take from other sports, can be paid over time and potentially recouped with budget creativity.

For now, at least, a home-and-road series with Oregon State in 2017 and 2018 remains on tap.

``Certainly we're going to look for quality and see how the program grows and evolves and make decisions there,'' Teague said.

Minnesota has also finalized home games with Kent State in 2015 and South Dakota State in 2019. The next nonconference road game the Gophers have scheduled is in 2015, at Colorado State, which plays in the Mountain West Conference. Next year, Minnesota will host UNLV, Western Illinois, San Jose State and a to-be-determined team to fill North Carolina's spot.

``Right now we've got to concentrate on Wisconsin,'' Kill said at his regular news conference Tuesday. ``I haven't spent much time on that.''

North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said the school was ``disappointed'' to lose the game against Minnesota. As a result, the Tar Heels moved their 2013 game against East Carolina to Chapel Hill and agreed to play in Greenville in 2014 and 2016 or 2018. North Carolina also added a game against Old Dominion for 2013 but still has one nonconference opening.

East Carolina then announced it was restarting its series with Virginia Tech and will play the Hokies every year from 2013-20, with meetings in even-numbered years being played in Greenville and odd-numbered years in Blacksburg, Va.

College football scheduling can be quite the balancing act. But despite the interest by fans in seeing the best teams play, that doesn't always mean the coaches and players themselves see this the same way.

``We just come ready to play. To me, I'm excited for Saturdays regardless of who you're facing. So you just do your best,'' Gophers wide receiver A.J. Barker said.

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

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO  -- Mac Williamson hit a two-run homer in the sixth to lead the Giants past the Washington Nationals 4-2 on Monday night.

Chris Stratton (2-1) struck out five over 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

Williamson, playing his first home game at AT&T Park this season after being called up during the recent road trip, connected with a deep drive to right-center off Shawn Kelley after he relieved starter Gio Gonzalez (2-2). Gonzalez walked Brandon Belt to end his day before Williamson crushed the first pitch he saw from Kelley.

The 464-foot shot by Williamson is the furthest homer by the Giants this year, topping his previous 434-foot homer Friday after he was promoted to face the Angels in Anaheim. Earlier Monday, Williamson drove in his team's initial run on a fielder's choice in the fourth.

Only three home runs have travelled further in 2018, according to MLB StatCast: Franchy Cordero (489), Avisail Garcia (481) and Marcell Ozuna (479)

San Francisco kicked off a 10-game homestand by winning back-to-back games for only the second time this season and first since April 4-7. The Giants were coming off their first series victory of the season against the Angels.

The Nationals' runs came on a pair of sacrifice flies, by Howie Kendrick in the third and pinch-hitter Andrew Stevenson in the seventh.

Gonzalez allowed three runs and four hits, struck out four and walked three in five innings.

In his only other start against Washington, Stratton threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts last Aug. 13.

Hunter Strickland, who brawled with Bryce Harper during Washington's last visit to AT&T Park in late May 2017, finished for his fourth save in six chances. Harper didn't bat in the ninth.

NATS TRADE COLE

Washington traded right-hander A.J. Cole to the New York Yankees for cash. The 26-year-old Cole was 1-1 with a 13.06 ERA in four games for the Nationals and was designated for assignment last week.

BAKER REUNION

Ex-Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who guided Washington to back-to-back NL East titles before his firing after last season, visited the ballpark to see his former club.

Did he plan the visit in advance?

"Maybe," Baker said, grinning.

Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg hustled out to give Baker a big hug behind the batting cage.

"What's up Dusty, how you doing?" Strasburg said.

Baker also visited with third base coach Bob Henley, the loan holdover from his coaching staff.

Baker is now working in an advisory role to Giants CEO Larry Baer while getting to watch son, Darren, play his freshman college season at California in Berkeley.

"I am good," Baker said. "How bad can it be between Cal, San Francisco and Sacramento?"

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Adam Eaton, on the disabled list retroactive to April 9 with a bone bruise in his left ankle, won't be rushed back until he is completely pain-free. "When you see him in the lineup he'll be ready," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's coming along. When we get him back this time we don't want any issues." ... OF Brian Goodwin remains in Florida with pain in his bruised left wrist.

Giants: LHP Will Smith is eagerly anticipating his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of last season, and he could come off the DL as soon as Tuesday. He pitched twice for Class-A San Jose and three times so far for Triple-A Sacramento. He is scheduled to throw consecutive days for Sacramento on Wednesday and Thursday then another short outing Sunday. "We're close. We're getting there," Smith said, noting it will be "awesome. I'm ready to go." ... RHP closer Mark Melancon (flexor strain in pitching elbow) is scheduled to play catch during Thursday's off day. There is no timetable for his return, manager Bruce Bochy said. ... LF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) did some hitting and is scheduled for early batting practice Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Giants lefty Ty Blach (1-3, 4.10 ERA) will face the Nationals for the first time in his career when he pitches the middle game of the series opposite right-hander Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.24).