Pac-12 races starting to heat up


Pac-12 races starting to heat up

PHOENIX (AP) Oregon State is off to its best start since before World War I, undefeated and up to No. 7 in the BCS standings after winning eight combined games the previous two seasons.

In the Pac-12, all that's done is keep the seventh-ranked Beavers even with second-ranked Oregon for the North Division lead.

It's been a fun ride so far, but now's not the time for the Beavers to get caught up in how far they've come and where they might end up. There are still too many games left and too much at stake.

``Sometimes it's a disconnect, kind of a funny feeling,'' Oregon State coach Mike Riley said Tuesday. ``I sometimes see it on TV or something, the rankings, but I've always in good or bad seasons felt like we've lived in a bubble, where our focus immediately turns to the next game.''

Oregon State isn't the only team that needs to stay sharp.

The division races are heating up in the Pac-12 as teams jockey for spots in the conference championship game on Nov. 30 and the best bowl game possible.

In the North, Oregon and Oregon State are tied at 4-0 for the division lead and No. 9 Stanford is just a game back at 3-1.

No. 10 Southern California leads the South at 4-1, a half-game ahead of 3-1 Arizona State, and UCLA is still in the division picture at 2-2, but really can't afford any slipups over the final five games of the season.

None of the teams still in the division races has an easy schedule.

Oregon State (6-0) has a road game against Washington this week, followed by Arizona State, Stanford, California and its annual Civil War with Oregon in Corvallis on Nov. 24. The Beavers have a quirk in the schedule thanks to a postponement due to a hurricane, facing Nicholls State on Dec. 1, but that won't have any impact on the conference race.

Oregon (7-0) has been unstoppable so far this season, its closest game a 17-point win over Fresno State. The Ducks have the nation's second-best scoring offense at 51 points and are eighth in total offense at 529.14 yards after rolling over Arizona State 43-21 last Thursday.

Oregon shouldn't have any problem against Colorado at home on Saturday - the Ducks are more than six-touchdown favorites - but still has games against USC, California and Stanford before its rivalry game against Oregon State.

Fourth in the BCS standings, the Ducks have aspirations of reaching the BCS title game for the second time in three years, but can't afford a letdown now.

``What's going to go on in December or if we have an opportunity to play in January means nothing if we don't go focus on our next game, so that's all I can really talk about, just the next one up,'' Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. ``The teams that get sidetracked, start talking about we want to play in this game, we want to play in that game, don't take care of business in the present. For us, we're always going to be in the present.''

In the South, USC seems to be in control, on a roll since losing to Stanford 21-14 in its conference opener with four straight wins, including a 50-6 home rout of Colorado last Saturday.

USC still has some tough games left, starting with what should be an offensive shootout against Arizona on Saturday. USC has games against Oregon, Arizona State and rival UCLA after that before closing the season with a nonconference game against Notre Dame.

Stanford still has a shot at the North title despite following up its big win over USC with a loss to Washington the next week.

The Cardinal outlasted Arizona in overtime three weeks ago and followed a nonconference loss to Notre Dame with a spirit-infusing, 21-3 win over rival California on Saturday in the Big Game.

Stanford needs to avoid a letdown against Washington State and Colorado over the next two weeks before closing out the season with games against Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA.

``We've talked on our team about the fact that we've let a couple of games get away from us and that we can't afford to have highs and lows anymore,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said. ``We've got to start playing our best football and play our best football for weeks, and not for a series, not for a quarter, not for half a game.''

Arizona State (5-2) has been one of the surprises in college football its first six weeks under new coach Todd Graham, taking the South lead after winning its first three conference games and USC's loss to Stanford.

The Sun Devils got a big punch to the gut in their last game, though, overwhelmed by Oregon at home to fall behind the Trojans for the division title. Arizona State has a tough road toward making up the small gap, with a backloaded schedule that starts with UCLA at home on Saturday and includes Oregon State, USC and a closer against rival Arizona in Tucson.

``Coming off a game that we didn't play well, we go to the next game,'' Graham said. ``This is a big, important game. Our guys have a lot to play for and this is the time. This is the end of October and November, and this is when you decide your fate.''


Follow John Marshall at www.Twitter.com/jmarshallap

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.