Tide-Bulldogs set for clash of SEC West unbeatens


Tide-Bulldogs set for clash of SEC West unbeatens

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) College football fans don't have to wait until Alabama-LSU for a showdown of highly ranked, unbeaten SEC West teams.

No. 13 Mississippi State's surprising rise means that matchup comes two weeks early. The Bulldogs visit the top-ranked Crimson Tide Saturday night in the first meeting of two ranked SEC West teams since the BCS championship game in January.

It might lack some of the national appeal of that Nov. 3 rematch in Baton Rouge, but the stakes are awfully high. The winner controls its own destiny in the division and takes a big step toward even bigger ambitions. In Alabama's case, that means staying ahead of the pack.

``At this time of the season, it's kind of like you're running the 100-yard race and now you're getting down to about 70 meters and you've got 30 meters to go,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. ``And a lot of people are close, right on your heels and you've got to be able to finish the race.''

The perception is that Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) is at least a few steps behind the Tide (7-0, 4-0), which is favored by 23-1/2 points. This is a chance for the Bulldogs to show they've closed that gap.

They're off to their best start since the 1999 team won its first eight games and Mississippi State didn't even enter the rankings until a month into the season. Alabama has been No. 1 for eight weeks running and has easily dispatched SEC foes Missouri (42-10) and Tennessee (44-13) the past two weeks on the road.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen dismisses any suggestion that this game will be about gaining respect nationally.

``For our guys, to me, the respect issue comes down to our guys respect themselves, they respect each other,'' Mullen said. ``And that's really the only respect you need in a football team.

``What people outside our building say about us is their opinion. We have to worry about what we think about each other inside. And I think our guys have a lot of respect for the leaders on our team. And they respect how everybody on the team works, and they respect each other and they respect our program. So they give great effort in those regards because of those things, and that's really all that matters.''

Nevertheless, the respect is evident from the Alabama team for the Bulldogs improvement, even though the Tide has dominated the last four meetings by a collective 117-27 margin.

``They have improved a lot over the past three years,'' Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said. ``We're not taking them lightly because they're a good team. I don't think they get the credit they deserve. We're going to come in with the mindset of they want to knock us off, so we're gonna try to get after them the best we can for a 60-minute game.''

It's a big one for the SEC West, which had three teams in the national title hunt - Alabama, LSU and Arkansas - going into the final weekend of the regular season last year. The decline of Arkansas and Auburn, plus the rise of several SEC East teams, has dimmed the spotlight on the division somewhat even with No. 22 Texas A&M entering the mix.

The SEC East has been part of all the marquee league games so far, such as Florida-Texas A&M, Florida-LSU, South Carolina-Georgia and LSU-South Carolina.

This game features two of the nation's top three teams in turnover margin and two of the league's most efficient quarterbacks.

Alabama's AJ McCarron has the nation's highest passing rating. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns and his interception-free streak has risen to 239 passes. Mississippi State's Tyler Russell has 15 touchdown passes against one interception.

``It's always been a great game because they are great at running the ball,'' Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said. ``They have a great offense and a great defense. They have one of those defenses that gets a lot of turnovers, too, and we're right there with them on turnovers. It ought to be a great day.''


Follow John Zenor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jzenor .

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall coming back, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32 on the season. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed. 

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

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Eagles' Michael Bennett allegedly injured elderly worker; arrest warrant issued

Philadelphia Eagles lineman Michael Bennett has been indicted on felony abuse for allegedly pushing an elderly NRG Stadium worker during Super Bowl LI.

Bennett was indicted by the Harris County, Texas district attorney's office for injury to the elderly — which is intentionally and knowingly causing injury to a person 65 years or older, according to a press release from the Harris County Sheriffs' Office.

A warrant has been issued for Bennett's arrest.

The 66-year-old paraplegic stadium worker was attempting to control field access when Bennett allegedly pushed her. 

The maximum penalty Bennett faces is ten years in prison in addition to a $10,000 fine.


Bennett — whose brother Martellus played in that Super Bowl for New England — was a member of the Seattle Seahawks during the incident and was in attendance as a noncompetitive player.

The NFL has been made aware of the situation and is looking into the matter, according to Pro Football Talk.

The 32-year-old 10-year NFL veteran could potentially face NFL discipline under the league's personal conduct policy.