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O'Brien downplays national coach of the year talk

O'Brien downplays national coach of the year talk

He took control at Penn State in the midst of the bleakest days in its history. After four straight wins proved the Nittany Lions program could thrive in the face of scandal, coach Bill O'Brien has thrust himself into contention as an early frontrunner for national coach of the year.

Just don't tell O'Brien.

After a shaky start to his tenure - a 24-14 loss at home to Ohio - O'Brien has earned praise for the turnaround and the way he has handled the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Sandusky, maintaining his innocence, was sentenced Tuesday to at least 30 years in prison.

O'Brien was busy at work 11 miles down the road from the courtroom, far removed from Sandusky's sentence in Bellefonte, Pa., in the child sexual abuse scandal that brought shame to Penn State and led to former coach Joe Paterno's downfall.

O'Brien has led the Nittany Lions to a 4-2 record, including four straight victories and an upset over previously unbeaten Northwestern. The win was a huge confidence boost going into the off week and propelled O'Brien into the race for coach of the year honors. Only six games into the season, and with the brunt of conference play ahead, O'Brien refused to consider the idea that he'd be in the thick of the race with stalwarts like Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Alabama's Nick Saban and Kansas State's Bill Snyder, who have their teams nestled in the top 10.

``We have Murderer's Row coming up here, starting with Iowa,'' O'Brien said. ``There's a lot of great coaches in this country. I've only coached six games in my whole career. That's the farthest thing from my mind.''

O'Brien has tried to keep a ``business as usual'' approach for the Nittany Lions as they prepare for an Oct. 20 game at Iowa (3-2). Then comes the big one - Oct. 27 at Beaver Stadium - against the Buckeyes that could have voters ready to hand O'Brien the coaching award at midfield if Penn State pulls off the upset.

Either way, he's in the conversation because he quickly made Penn State competitive in a season many expected they'd be reeling following the scandal and sanctions that gutted the program. O'Brien had to face open season on his entire roster after the NCAA penalties were announced making his top priority not scouting reports or practice schedules, but simply keeping the Nittany Lions intact.

A reduction in scholarships and a four-year postseason ban are among the sanctions, so potentially crippling that some critics - some of the same ones pushing O'Brien for top coaching honors - have suggested they were worse than shutting down football entirely for at least a season.

O'Brien never believed it. He knew that playing a full slate was always a better alternative than sitting on the sidelines, even when they were 0-2.

So far, he's right, even as the pressure never lets up.

``It's kind of like drinking water from a fire hose,'' O'Brien said. ``Something happens new every day. You have to budget your time and do the best that you can. We have a great staff here, a veteran staff that has done an excellent job of coaching these kids, and that really helps when you're a brand new head coach.

``It helps to have a great staff.''

The sordid Sandusky case has caused such grief for the program over the last 11 months, that not even a winning record and victories over nationally ranked teams could begin to make a dent on the black cloud that hovers over campus. Don't forget, O'Brien might not even have a full roster until 2020.

But while tough times certainly loom in Happy Valley, for this week, for the now, there is every reason for the Nittany Lions to feel good about the season's first two months.

And as much he downplays his impact, O'Brien can take credit for the solid start.

``I knew that we had a really tough, resilient group of players and a good coaching staff,'' he said. ``It had nothing to do with me. It's about the players and coaching staff here doing a good job of coming together and playing well.''

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

There are only two series left in the first round that have yet to be decided. The Caps just so happen to be playing in one of those series.

After falling into a 0-2 hole to start, Washington has rattled off three straight wins and now sits just one away from putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets and advancing to the second round.

Should the Capitals advance, they will play the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive season.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

The Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in Game 6. Jake Guentzel scored four goals in the effort proving once and for all that yes, goaltending is important in the playoffs. Head coach Mike Sullivan has still yet to lose a playoff series as the head coach of Pittsburgh as he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons.

In the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning await the winner of the Boston Bruins - Toronto Maple Leafs series after dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games. After a strong regular season, the Maple Leafs looked poised to take the next step, but Auston Matthews has only two points in five games and Toronto faces elimination at the hands of the Bruins Monday in Game 5.

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All four series in the West, meanwhile, have already been decided. Both the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks managed four-game sweeps in the first round and will face one another in the second  The miraculous season of the Golden Knights continues and it would be hard to argue at this point that they are not legitimate Stanly Cup contenders considering all they have accomplished in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Wins by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets now sets up a second-round battle between the top two teams in the league from the regular season.

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The betting houses are bearish on the 2018 Redskins

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

The betting houses are bearish on the 2018 Redskins

With the NFL schedule dropped last week, many fans and media types went through and predicted wins and losses for the teams they follow, just for fun. But others predict the records of teams and it’s not for laughs, it’s for very high stakes.

The betting houses in Las Vegas and offshore have established their lines for over/under in wins. They then take this a step further and go through the playoffs to establish the odds of winning the Super Bowl. 

Over the weekend, BetOnline published one of each and let’s just say that they do not like what the Redskins have done this offseason. Or, more accurately, they think that the public perception is that the Redskins will not be a very good team this year. 

Their over/under for wins is 5.5. They won seven games last year so the under would represent a decline of at least two wins. This line seems to be low. The Redskins won seven games last year with the worst injury situation in the league, per the numbers crunchers at Football Outsiders. They also faced one of the toughest schedules in the league in terms of opponent winning percentages. 

Yes, they did lose Kirk Cousins to free agency but they replaced him with Alex Smith, who, like Cousins, is not elite or even in the top 10 but in the category of solid, reliable quarterbacks. The QB exchange was close to a wash. But despite the fact that the chances are they will suffer fewer injuries and face a schedule that isn’t as much of a meat grinder, this over/under has the Redskins producing double-digit losses. They have managed to stay out of 10-plus loss territory for three straight years. 

There are more reasons to think that they will win at least as many games as they did last year than there are to think that they will win fewer. If I’m betting, which I’m not, I’d be tempted to hit the over on that pretty hard. 

I would keep my money in my pocket when it comes to betting on the Redskins’ chances of winning the Super Bowl. I don’t think they’re close, but I think they’re much closer than the Browns but BetOnline has Cleveland and Washington with the same odds of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The Redskins, Browns, and Bucs are at +6600 to win it all. The Redskins odds are worse than all but six other teams. 

Again, I don’t think that the Redskins are going to win the Super Bowl. Winning a playoff game would be quite an accomplishment for them. But same could be said of the Colts, Giants, Chargers, and 49ers, but they all have considerably better odds than the Redskins. 

In fact, there may be some irrational exuberance with the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo. They have the seventh-best odds at +1600. Sure, Jimmy G was very good in five meaningless games at the end of last season. Let’s see how he does with some pressure on and after defensive coaches have had a chance to study how to take away his strengths. It just goes to show you how little real analysis goes into this. 

I get a little annoyed when teams play the disrespect card, especially when they have to look too hard to find it. But if the Redskins look at this, they certainly can embrace the underdog role if they want to. What they do with it, we will find out starting September 9. 

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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.