SEC holds national bragging rights yet again


SEC holds national bragging rights yet again

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) With the majority of conference regular-season games in the books, the SEC again holds national bragging rights.

It appears that for the second year in a row the powerful SEC will be the only league in the country to send a team to the national title game.

The winner of next week's SEC title game will almost certainly face independent Notre Dame in the championship game, in search of the SEC's seventh consecutive national title.

But the SEC isn't the only team poised to make noise in the postseason.


BALANCED BIG 12: Though the Big 12 still has one week of games left, it already has qualified nine of its 10 members for bowl games.

Only woeful Kansas won't go to a bowl game this season - a sign that the league is as deep as it's ever been.

Kansas State can win the league on Saturday with a win over Texas, and Oklahoma can swoop in and steal the title with a win at TCU and a loss by K-State. Whoever wins the Big 12 will be joined by a ton of familiar faces in December and beyond.

The league has three six-win teams; Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia. Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech already have reached seven wins.

The Big 12's 90 percent success rate with bowl eligibility is by far the best in the country - and perhaps proof that 10 really is the perfect number of teams for the league.


PAC-12 IS BACK: The Pac-12 also had a strong season, perhaps stronger than many thought it could.

The league will send eight teams to the postseason, just one shy of what the SEC and Big 12 will provide during the bowl season. The Pac-12 also will likely get two teams into the BCS, with either Stanford or UCLA headed to the Rose Bowl and 11-win Oregon looking like a solid BCS at-large pick.

And the Pac-12 won't send any .500 teams to the postseason, as every bowl-eligible team has won at least seven games.


BIG TEN BUST: The Big Ten is lucky it added Nebraska before the 2011 season.

Without the Huskers, the league wouldn't be sending a single 10-win team to the postseason.

The bowl ban on undefeated Ohio State left Nebraska (10-2, 7-1) as the only squad with at least 10 victories and the opportunity to get a few more. Northwestern is next with nine wins, but the Huskers will have to play a 7-5 Wisconsin team that finished just .500 in the league in this weekend's title game.

How bad has the Big Ten been this season?

The league has just six bowl eligible teams - one less than the Mid-American Conference.

The SEC has six teams that have won at least 10 games.


AC-SEE YA: The ACC came into 2012 with a significant amount of buzz largely centered around the national title hopes of Florida State and the prowess of Clemson.

The Seminoles and Tigers each reached 10 wins, but each received a harsh dose of reality over the weekend from SEC rivals. Florida and South Carolina went on the road and beat the rival Seminoles and Tigers, respectively, by double digits on Saturday.

Florida State and Clemson both finished a league-best 10-2 overall. But thanks to sanctions at North Carolina and Miami, North Carolina State is currently the only other bowl-eligible team from the ACC with a winning record.


EXTRA POINTS: Utah and Colorado have each played two full seasons in the Pac-12, and neither has racked up a winning record in league play yet. ... A BCS buster from a smaller conference never quite materialized. The Mountain West, Conference USA and the Sun Belt don't currently have any 10-win teams. The MAC has two 11-win teams, Northern Illinois and Kent State, and they'll meet Friday night in the league title game. But the Huskies lost to a bad Iowa team and Kent State lost to a very bad Kentucky team. ... Southern Miss (0-12) finished as the only FBS team without a win in 2012. UMass, Akron, Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico State all won just once.

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What are Bradley Beal's chances of earning All-NBA?

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What are Bradley Beal's chances of earning All-NBA?

Bradley Beal has been indispensable for the Wizards this season with John Wall having missed 33 of their 70 games, or nearly half of their schedule so far. Beal's numbers are up in several categories from last season and he earned his first All-Star selection as a result.

Becoming an NBA All-Star is very difficult. Usually, about six guards per conference are picked each year. Being All-NBA is even more exclusive, as only six guards are selected from the entire league.

Wall has done it before and Beal may be in position to accomplish the feat himself this season. As of now, Beal could be considered on the bubble for third-team All-NBA.


It is an extremely competitive race and there are several locks to earn the honors. At this point, guys like James Harden and Russell Westbrook should get in easily. But after that, the next four spots are hard to sort out.

Based on his numbers, Damian Lillard of the Blazers should be a shoe-in. He is the best player on the third-place team in the Western Conference and is second among all NBA guards in points per game (26.6). He is also averaging 6.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds. He has already been All-NBA twice in his career and should get his third nod after this season.

DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors is probably the next-most likely to get in. He has led the top team in the Eastern Conference, was an All-Star starter in February and got his first All-NBA selection last year.

After those is where it gets interesting. The reason why is injuries. Stephen Curry in any other year would be a guarantee for All-NBA, but as of now he has played just 50 games. Consider that the NBA requires a player to appear in 58 games or more, or 70 percent of his team's games, to qualify for statistical leaderboards. 


Curry has returned to practice, but due to health and possibly rest down the stretch of the season, there is a chance he doesn't hit the 58-game threshold. That may present an interesting question for the voters.

Kyrie Irving of the Celtics is also hurt. He has played in 60 games with 11 left on Boston's schedule. The same goes for Jimmy Butler of the Timberwolves. He is rehabbing a torn meniscus and currently has only played 56 games. 

Chris Paul of the Rockets has appeared in 53 games due to injuries. Though his numbers could put him in the All-NBA conversation, Devin Booker of the Suns has played in just 54 games.

If injuries do preclude Curry in particular from getting in, then the door could be open the door for Beal. He would then have to beat out guys like Victor Oladipo of the Pacers, Irving, Butler and others.

Setting aside the most likely three to get All-NBA - Harden, Westbrook and Lillard - and Curry, let's take a look at how Beal stacks up statistically to the rest of the pack. 

Bradley Beal - 23.3 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.2 spg, 46.3 FG%, 37.4 3PT%

DeMar DeRozan - 23.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.0 rpg, 1.1 spg, 46.1 FG%, 32.4 3PT%

Victor Oladipo - 23.3 ppg, 4.2 apg, 5.2 rpg, 2.3 spg, 47.1 FG%, 36.6 3PT%

Kyrie Irving - 24.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, 3.8 rpg, 1.8 spg, 49.1 FG%, 40.8 3PT%

Jimmy Butler - 22.2 ppg, 5.0 apg, 5.4 rpg, 1.9 spg, 47.3 FG%, 35.6 3PT%

Devin Booker - 24.9 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 43.2 FG%, 38.3 3PT%

Chris Paul - 18.8 ppg, 7.9 apg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 spg, 45.9 FG%, 38.5 3PT%


As you see, not a whole lot is separating those guys. It may come down to team performance and other factors.

Working in Beal's favor is that he's been the most durable of the bunch. He has played in every one of the Wizards' games this season.

Beal has also helped keep his team in contention despite Wall's absence. The Wizards are on pace for 47 wins, not far off their 49 victories last year, and Beal has been the biggest reason.

But Irving's case is helped similarly by all the injuries in Boston, including to Gordan Hayward. He has been the best player on the second-best team in the Eastern Conference.

Oladipo has led the Pacers to an impressive season despite not having another All-Star in the lineup. DeRozan, Beal, Irving and Butler have better supporting casts.


Say injuries do work against Curry, Paul, Irving and Booker. And assume DeRozan is safely in as the fourth guy behind Harden, Westbrook and Lillard. That could mean Beal gets in alongside Oladipo.

If Curry, Paul or Irving get in despite missing double-digit games, that would probably bump Beal out of the mix. Oladipo has slightly better numbers and has drawn lots of acclaim for being the best player on a surprise Pacers team and he's no guarantee himself.

Beal has 12 games left to prove his case and clearly a lot of factors are in play, but the idea of him making All-NBA for the first time is not out of the question.

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Redskins Draft Countdown: Could Da'Ron Payne be the final piece to the D-line puzzle?

Redskins Draft Countdown: Could Da'Ron Payne be the final piece to the D-line puzzle?

Redskins draft countdown

Da’Ron Payne

Defensive tackle

Stuff the run in the middle of the line? Check. Get outside to stop stretch plays? Check. Get after the passer? Check. Yes, Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne checks all the boxes the Redskins are looking for on the D-line.

He can be the immovable object, taking on double and triple teams, and he also can chase down the quarterback. At 311 pounds he could be the Redskins’ nose tackle in base and move outside in nickel.

Height: 6-2
Weight: 311
40-yard dash: 4.95

Projected draft round: 1

What they’re saying

Payne possesses one of the most impressive combinations of strength and athleticism that we've seen from an interior lineman. He will be the premier run-stuffer in this draft, but he may have enough in the pass rushing toolbox to project as a better pro than college pass rusher. Payne is a game-ready starter who immediately upgrades a defense's ability to slow the run.

Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

How he fits the Redskins: This just in—the Redskins need a nose tackle. Of course, if you’re reading this you know that, and you’ve known it has been the case ever since the Redskins went to the 3-4 defense in 2010.

In very closely related news, they need to play better against the run, too. You probably noticed that they were dead last in the league in rushing defense last year. And that the NFC East has two very strong rushing teams in the Eagles and Cowboys and a Giants team that could well take Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the draft. If they don’t fix their rushing defense they could literally get run over.

Payne could help them a lot. He can take on double and triple teams and clog up running lanes in the middle. If they try to go around him, he has the quickness to penetrate and disrupt outside runs.

And a defensive lineman taken in the top half of the first round should be able to provide some pass rush pressure. As noted by Zierlein, Payne has the potential to do that. He’ll never be a double-digit sack guy, but if he can kick in four to six per year and get some pressure up the middle, that would be fine.

Film review: vs. Tennessee, vs Georgia (national title game)

Like most players, Payne can’t get much in the way of a pass rush when he is double and triple teamed. But when they tried to block him one on one he consistently got pressure. Payne didn’t get many sacks, but he did make a difference. Against Georgia, one pressure resulted in an interception and another forced a third-down incompletion.

Payne is very difficult to move off the spot in the running game, even when the offense tries to do it with two or even three players. Running backs did not get by him on a regular basis. In the second half in particular, Georgia tried to move the ball with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, both of whom are likely to get selected in the top 100 in the draft next month. But they kept running into a mass of humanity in the middle of the line with Payne in the middle of it.

He played well during the Tennessee game during the regular season, but he didn’t have a lot of impact. The only time his name was called was when he was hit with a roughing the passer call.

Potential issues: At 311 pounds, Payne may not be the ideal size to fill the chronic hole at nose tackle. It should be noted, however, that defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has said that the Redskins aren’t necessarily looking for the 350-pound nose tackle and that a relatively smaller player can get the job done. Ziggy Hood played the nose at 305 pounds last year. The Redskins finished last against the run, although that’s not necessarily cause and effect.

Bottom line: The Redskins went 20 years without taking an interior defensive lineman in the first round before taking Jonathan Allen last year. Nobody could legitimately complain if they doubled up on first-round D-linemen after so many years of neglect.

Payne should be there when the 13th pick goes on the clock. Unless the Redskins address the nose tackle spot in free agency Payne will be under strong consideration. The defensive line improved last year with the additions of Allen in the draft, Stacy McGee as a free agent and the second-year emergence of Matt Ioannidis. Payne could be the final piece of what could be a dominant defensive line.

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.