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Spartans, not Gophers, still not bowl eligible

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Spartans, not Gophers, still not bowl eligible

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Michigan State's season hasn't played out the way the Spartans, or any of their opponents, expected.

The last reminder of this not-so-awesome autumn will occur Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, where already-bowl-eligible Minnesota will greet them.

Yes, one of the conference's two worst teams of the last two years reached six wins two weeks ago, while one of the Big Ten's best two squads over the last two seasons arrived at the final game on the schedule still unsure whether there'll be another one.

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio, for his part, sounded sure. He issued the victory guarantee that college football coaches so rarely utter in this hyper-competitive, heavily scrutinized environment.

``The glass is half full. It's not half empty,'' Dantonio said, in response to a reporter's question about moral support he's received from basketball coach Tom Izzo. ``When we win Saturday - I'll say `when' - we'll be a 6-6 football team. We're not climbing out of the cellar 2-10. I think everybody needs to understand that.''

There is still a scenario in which the Spartans (5-6, 2-5) could land in a bowl game if they lose, since the NCAA has guidelines for considering five-win teams if there aren't enough with six to fill all 70 slots. Entering this week, there were 61 qualifiers and 16 candidates left. But a guessing game is one they'd rather not play. So they're behind their determined coach.

``It means a lot that he has that kind of confidence in us. We have that kind of confidence in ourselves,'' quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. ``We do realize it's the inches and the details that have put us in the position that we're in. We're in a playoff right now. It's win or go home. I think now is the week we need to find the inches, find the details, truly pay attention to them. I think everybody is buying in.''

The Spartans had several key players from their last two teams that won 11 games apiece use up their eligibility, with Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham and Jerel Worthy among the notably departed. They began the season 13th in the Associated Press rankings and showed some grit with an opening win against then-No. 24 Boise State, and though the post-Cousins passing attack has sputtered often, their level of competitiveness hasn't slipped at all.

That finishing touch they've had the last two years has been missing, though, in too many of their performances. Five losses in Big Ten play, by a total of 13 points to Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern, are about all one needs to know about this team.

``We just kind of need to go back to work, go back to putting our nose to the grindstone, take that workmanlike attitude, obviously finishing this season out, hopefully getting the sixth win this Saturday, then taking it into the offseason, winter conditioning, spring ball, realizing how hard it is,'' Maxwell said. ``Success doesn't come easy. It mainly comes to those who truly want it and truly understand the challenges that are ahead of them.''

The Gophers (6-5, 2-5) have certainly enjoyed more satisfaction this year after winning a total of six games the last two seasons, but their lopsided losses to Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska have served as humbling signs that there's arduous work left to lift this program to the conference's upper level.

This will be the last game at TCF Bank Stadium for 15 seniors, including wide receiver MarQueis Gray, whose turn as the starting quarterback didn't go as well as he hoped, just like his entire career.

``I've done a lot of things here, been through a lot, overcame a lot and now it's almost my time to leave it alone,'' Gray said. ``But I'm truly going to miss this place, my teammates, that stadium and all the fans.''

Gray is one of the few players on this team who participated in the 2009 Insight Bowl, the last time the Gophers extended their season.

``Once the guys get down there, to wherever we're going, they're going to fall in love being treated the way they've been treated,'' Gray said. ``Going out there and playing on a national stage, I feel like it's going to leave a taste in their mouth and a hunger for them to get back there as years go on.''

Linebacker Mike Rallis expressed the same, holding out a long-shot hope of being picked for the Jan. 1 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 29 in Tempe, Ariz., which is the former Insight Bowl, or the Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl in Houston on Dec. 28 are the more-likely options.

``I'm excited for the program. I'm glad I got to be a part of the beginning of what hopefully turns this thing around and gets it going to where it's a consistently great program, but we've got to finish it if we want to do that,'' Rallis said.

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

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Clarifying the confusion about the Redskins' Week 16 game at the Titans

Clarifying the confusion about the Redskins' Week 16 game at the Titans

There was some confusion about the Redskins’ Week 16 game in Tennessee when the NFL schedule dropped. The schedule pushed out by the Redskins said that the game date and time are to be determined. Other versions that went out, including the one on NFL.com, says the game will be on Sunday, December 23 at 1 p.m.

So what’s the story? Well, if you’re thinking of making reservations to go to Nashville to watch the game you just might want to hold off for a while. Like, until early November. 

In an under the radar move, the NFL has established flex scheduling for its late-season Saturday games. Here are the details from the schedule press release from Redskins PR:

“Flexibility for Saturday games in Weeks 15 and 16 is also part of the 2018 schedule. In Week 15, there will be two games played on Saturday on NFL Network, with the game times of 4:30 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. to be determined. In Week 16, two of four possible matchups will be scheduled for Saturday. Start times and Saturday games for Week 15 and 16 will be announced no later than following Week 8, with the non-Saturday games to be played on Sunday.”

The way it sets up, if the Redskins and Titans are playing well in midseason there is a good chance the game will be played on Saturday, December 22 at either 4:30 or 8:20. If one or both teams are struggling, the league and networks could choose to flex two of the other four matchups to Saturday. 

This is taking flex scheduling to a different level. It’s one thing shifting a Sunday kickoff seven and a half hours from 1 p.m. to 8:30. It’s another to shift a whole day. The visiting teams can’t make travel arrangements, not knowing if they need to come into town on Friday for a Saturday game or on Saturday for Sunday. Fans who want to travel to the game are in the same boat. 

Of course, if you can afford it, you can just add a day to your Nashville excursion. There are worse things in the world than spending an extra day or two in Music City. 

If you have to wait to make your plans, as the Redskins do, you will find out no later than October 29, which is when Week 8 ends. 

Do you believe in trends? Then you should hope that the game does get flexed to Saturday. The Redskins have won three straight Saturday games, beating the Eagles in both 2014 and 2015 (the latter game clinching the division title for Washington) and the Bears in 2016. 

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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/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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