San Diego St, Boise St meet with title at stake


San Diego St, Boise St meet with title at stake

BOISE, Idaho (AP) San Diego State coach Rocky Long is taking a realistic approach to the fact his team heads into Boise State with a chance to take a big step toward the school's first conference title in 14 years.

Long is also being careful to play down the expectations building for Saturday's showdown with the No. 19 Broncos.

The second-year coach bluntly dismissed any speculation this week on where an upset of the heavily favored Broncos would rank among victories in school history, or what a win would mean to the future of a program facing a competitive upgrade next year as a member of the Big East.

``I don't want to talk about that,'' Long said. ``If we don't play our best this week, it could be embarrassing.''

He could be right.

Boise State (7-1, 4-0 Mountain West) is on a roll - again.

The Broncos have won seven straight since losing in the opener at Michigan State and own a one-game lead atop the conference ahead of the Aztecs (6-3, 4-1), Fresno State and Air Force. The Broncos, behind the development of quarterback Joe Southwick and a top-ranked defense, have also nudged their way back into the BCS bowl conversation.

Despite a weak strength of schedule, if the Broncos win their final four games they could get into the final top 16, be ranked higher than a champion from an automatic qualifying conference and in position to play in a BCS bowl. Boise State is No. 19 in the BCS standings, trailing Texas Tech, Southern California and Texas A&M.

In other words, there is plenty at stake for both teams in the Saturday night matchup.

``I think our team feels good about being in ... position this late in the year, that we still have a chance to play for a championship because that's the No. 1 goal in this program,'' said Long, whose team's last conference title came in 1998 when the Aztecs shared the crown as members of the Western Athletic Conference.

San Diego State also feels good about playing in big games on the road.

Confidence grew two weeks ago when the Aztecs rallied late in Nevada, coming back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter and ultimately winning 38-37 in overtime. That comeback and a victory last week over UNLV came with the Aztecs playing with backup quarterback Adam Dingwell.

Dingwell replaced starter Ryan Katz, who injured an ankle against Nevada, and is 29 of 55 passing for 436 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in the last two games.

But the redshirt sophomore is also getting help from the running game. Adam Muema and Walter Kazee each rushed for more than 100 yards last week, and this season the Aztecs are averaging 233 yards per game on the ground, 18th in the nation.

``On offense, they're a powerful football team, a very physical football team,'' said Boise State coach Chris Petersen.

Still, the Broncos may be the best defense San Diego State will face all season.

The Broncos rank in the top 10 nationally in points allowed, passing yards allowed and pass efficiency defense. Their 23 turnovers are tied for fourth most in the nation. Last week when Wyoming scored a touchdown early in the second quarter, it was the first points allowed by the defense in the first half in five games.

The Boise State defense will have to adjust to the loss of two key players in the secondary. Bryan Douglas, the No. 3 cornerback, is out for the year with a torn ACL, and sophomore safety Lee Hightower will miss his second straight game after being suspended for violating team rules.

But Long said it doesn't really matter who plays or sits for Boise State. Instead, he wants his young quarterback and offense to focus only on executing, limiting mistakes and taking advantage of every opportunity.

``You don't worry about Boise State. You worry about yourself,'' said Long, whose team is bowl eligible for the third straight season. ``You worry about your team being as prepared as they can be.''

While the defense accounted for much of Boise State's success early this season, the offense is starting to click and put up points in bigger bunches. The Broncos have outscored opponents 77-21 in the last two games as Southwick has grown more comfortable in the pocket and made better decisions.

In those two games, Southwick is 42 of 57 passing for 441 yards. While those aren't the kind of prolific numbers posted by his predecessor, Kellen Moore, Southwick knows his role at this point in his career is to be smart and to be effective on third downs and in the red zone.

He and the rest of the offense have done just that in the last two games. The Broncos have converted on 19 of 28 third downs and put up points on nine of 10 trips inside the red zone.

``I think he's got a really good command of what we're trying to get done,'' Petersen said of Southwick's growth as a first-year starter. ``He's got a firm grasp of what defenses are doing and what ... certain players need to do on our side.''

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division


Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner and there is still a lot to be decided.

The Metropolitan Division is going to come right down to the wire as each team seemingly continues to win and put the pressure on the first place Capitals.

With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, the playoff matchups for the first round of the NHL playoffs are still up in the air with only five points separating the top four teams in the Metro. Washington is in good position with a four-point cushion between themselves and the second place Pittsburgh Penguins. With both teams meeting on April 1, however, the Caps are still a long way off from clinching the division and earning home ice in the first round.


Metropolitan Division
1. Washington (93 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
W1. Philadelphia (88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

2. Pittsburgh (89 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
3. Columbus (89 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

Atlantic Division
1. Tampa Bay (106 points, 74 GP, 45 ROW)
W2. New Jersey (82 points, 73 GP, 32 ROW)

2. Boston (100 points, 72 GP, 42 ROW)
3. Toronto (95 points, 74 GP, 37 ROW)

Still in the hunt:
Florida (81points, 72 GP, 34 ROW)


Washington has won only one out of four games against the Philadelphia Flyers this season. That's not an ideal first-round matchup for Washington, but there is still time for the Flyers to climb and overtake Columbus or Pittsburgh in the standings..

What seems unlikely to happen is for New Jersey or Florida to pass Philadelphia. While things remain close near the top of the standings, there seems to be a growing divide between the top-four teams in the Metropolitan Division and the two teams battling for the final remaining spot in the playoffs.

The Flyers may be in fourth place in the division, but they still boast a healthy six-point lead over the Devils who sit in the second wild card.

If we assume New Jersey and Florida will not be able to climb to any postseason position, but the second wild card, that makes the three most likely candidates to face Washington in the first round Pittsburgh, Columbus and Philadelphia.

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Need to Know: Redskins likely to return at least 16 of their 22 starters from last year

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Need to Know: Redskins likely to return at least 16 of their 22 starters from last year

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, March 23, 34 days before the NFL draft.  

Stability at the top of the depth chart

A Redskins defense that ranked 27th in total defense and was dead last against the run is likely to return nine or 10 of the players who were the primary starters in 2017. The Washington defense, which was 16th overall and 27th running the ball, will certainly return seven starters and could have eight the same as last year.

I’m sure that this will alarm many Redskins fans, but it shouldn’t. Before getting into that, let’s look at the changes.

On defense, the nine starters who are assured of returning are DE Stacy McGee, DL Jonathan Allen, OLB Preston Smith, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Zach Brown, ILB Mason Foster, CB Josh Norman, S Montae Nicholson, and S D.J. Swearinger.

As of right now, a tenth returning starter has to be penciled in at nose tackle. Yes, if the season started today it would be Ziggy Hood at nose tackle again. More on that in a minute.

The only starting spot that is certain to turn over is the cornerback opposite Norman. Even though Bashaud Breeland’s contract agreement with the Panthers fell through due to a failed physical, he is much more likely to land on another NFL team than he is to return to the Redskins.

It is impossible to think that the Redskins will not do something to address the nose tackle position, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. Then again, it’s impossible to believe they have run the 3-4 defense since 2010 without coming up with a long-term solution at the nose.

On offense, the seven starters certain to return are WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses, and TE Jordan Reed. RB Samaje Perine could be an eighth returning starter depending on if the Redskins take a running back early in the draft.

The new starters will be QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, and someone at left guard.

Having between 16 and 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-9 in 2017 may not be enough turnover for some fans. That’s not a completely unreasonable point of view. However, there is such thing as having too much churn in your starting lineup and some stability for the Redskins may be a good thing this year.

They had five new starters on defense last year and a new defensive coordinator. They also had a new coordinator on offense along with two new wide receivers and, by midseason, changes in the starters at running back and center. This is not counting all of the on-the-fly changes that had to be made due to injuries.

Continuing to make changes in the starting lineup is not always a recipe for success. Sometimes you just need to pick a group of players and, to the extent that you can in the free agency-salary cap world of the NFL, stick with them. Sure, you have to address weakness like nose tackle and possibly running back and fill holes created by free agency departures. However, it is often better to give a player time to acclimate to a system and, especially with a rookie, time to learn the fine points of the game.

Tearing things down and starting over again after a mediocre season is a recipe for, well, more mediocre seasons.

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

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In response to a tweet about this article that said that the Redskins led the league in losing important players in injuries:


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 25
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 127
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 171

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