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Top tailbacks Ball, Taylor in Rose Bowl spotlight

Top tailbacks Ball, Taylor in Rose Bowl spotlight

LOS ANGELES (AP) Although Montee Ball and Stepfan Taylor have barely met, Taylor is pretty sure they would get along famously.

``We had a quick hello this week, but you can tell we've got a lot in common,'' the Stanford running back said. ``At least on the field.''

In an era of college football dominated by spread schemes and prolific quarterbacks, these two tailbacks personify an old-fashioned, smash-mouth approach to offense. Running behind similar massive offensive lines at Wisconsin and Stanford, both backs persevered through slow starts to their careers to earn prominent spots in the record books heading into their big finales in the 99th Rose Bowl.

``You can't really have a better running back matchup in college football than this one,'' Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said.

Ball and Taylor expect to get to know each other while they prepare for the upcoming NFL draft, where they're both likely to be high picks. They'll first finish up their college careers against each other when the surprising Badgers (8-5) make their third straight Rose Bowl appearance Tuesday against the favored No. 8 Cardinal (11-2).

When Ball is asked about Taylor's abilities, he realizes he might as well be describing himself.

``We're both not blazing fast, but we both do a good job playing to our strengths,'' Ball said. ``We run behind our pads, run between the tackles and always stay physical. We've got a lot of similarities, so it's good to see him have success. Just hopefully not too much success in the game.''

The Rose Bowl is a culmination of two resilient tenures at a notoriously fickle position. Both backs are playing in their third straight BCS bowls: Ball was outstanding in both of the Badgers' previous trips to the Rose Bowl, while Taylor had big games in Orange and Fiesta bowls over the past two years.

Ball, who won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back this season, has scored 82 touchdowns - more than anybody in FBS history.

Taylor is merely the leading rusher in Stanford history - and one score shy of becoming the school's career touchdowns leader - as an incredibly durable performer who almost never leaves the field when the Cardinal have the ball.

Yet neither Ball nor Taylor started his college career as the main man, instead winning their starting jobs through persistence and hard work.

Taylor was a backup to Toby Gerhart as a freshman, getting just 56 carries. He was overshadowed for most of his first three seasons on The Farm with Heisman contenders Gerhart and Andrew Luck in the same backfield before getting the spotlight this year - and even then, he was overshadowed on the West Coast by fellow Pac-12 ball-carriers Kenjon Barner at Oregon, Ka'Deem Carey at Arizona and Johnathan Franklin at UCLA.

Yet Taylor broke Darrin Nelson's Stanford career rushing record in the Pac-12 title game, getting 78 more yards to give him 4,212 in his career. With a touchdown against Wisconsin, he'll break his career tie with Gerhart at 44 TDs.

``I don't worry about people paying attention to me as long as we're winning games, because that's all you can control,'' Taylor said.

Ball played behind John Clay as a freshman and in a three-back combo with Clay and James White as a sophomore. Ball was frequently the third option in that troika in 2010, particularly when he didn't even play in a win over Ohio State, a setback that left him contemplating a transfer or moving to linebacker.

``I learned a lot about distractions during my career, and that helps you when you get in a situation like the Rose Bowl where you need focus,'' Ball said.

Ball has rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns in the final season of his decorated career at Wisconsin. With three touchdowns in the Big Ten title game, Ball broke the FBS career record for rushing TDs with 76 while topping 5,000 yards for his career.

He was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season after scoring 39 touchdowns, and he rushed for 164 yards in Wisconsin's loss to Oregon in last season's Rose Bowl. Ball won't catch Wisconsin career rushing leader Ron Dayne, the top ball-carrier in FBS history with 6,397 yards, but he's done just about everything else possible in Madison.

When David Shaw was asked about his single biggest concern in the Rose Bowl, the Stanford coach was blunt: ``He wears No. 28 for the other team.''

That would be Ball, of course. The Cardinal have replicated Ball in practice with Stanford backup running back Barry Sanders - yes, the son of that other Barry Sanders, whose single-season record of 39 touchdowns for Oklahoma State was tied by Ball last season.

``His career reminds me so much of Stepfan Taylor,'' Shaw added. ``"He's got great vision, great balance. He waits for the blocks and to happen, and then he explodes. You never see him get in (bad) body position. He doesn't turn the ball over. He doesn't sacrifice the good play to try to make the big play. He makes the plays he's supposed to make, and then makes more. He's just one of those complete running backs that we have a lot of respect for.''

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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Need to Know: The most overrated Redskins events of 2017

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Usa Today Sports Images

Need to Know: The most overrated Redskins events of 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, February 23, 19 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

The overrated Redskin moments of 2017

Originally published 12/30/17

Sometimes in the NFL, something happens that grabs headlines and appears to be a momentous event that has ripple effects that will last all season and perhaps beyond. Other times something that is greeted with a yawn by fans and the media turns out to be something with lasting impact. Yesterday we looked at three events that were underrated at the time they happened. Here, in no particular order, are three overrated events from 2017.

Beating the Raiders—At the time, the Raiders were 2-0 and they still had the status of being one of the favorites to get to the Super Bowl. The Redskins whipped them 27-10 and the prevailing view was that the Redskins were on their way to a special year. But that loss started a four-game losing streak for the Raiders. They are currently riding a three-game skid and at 6-9 they are contenders for a top-10 draft pick, not for the Super Bowl. The win became less impressive for the Redskins as the year went on.

Signing Terrelle Pryor—There was plenty of excitement when the Redskins signed the Browns wide receiver, who had 1,000 receiving yards catching passes from a sub-mediocre group of quarterbacks in Cleveland. Imagine what he could do with a quality QB and a good offense around him. The hype grew when a fan captured him making this catch in training camp:

But the production was not there. In nine games before going on injured reserve with an ankle injury, Pryor caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.

Su’a Cravens departure—There was a lot of concern about issues both on and off the field when Cravens abruptly let it be known to teammates that he intended to retire just after the Redskins finalized their 53-man roster on September 2. All offseason Cravens’ name had been written at the top of the depth chart at strong safety in Sharpie. When he walked away and was put on the Exempt/Left Squad list (and eventually on the Reserve/Left Squad list, ending his season), there was plenty of speculation about whether the organization botched the situation and, of more immediate importance, what would happen at safety without Cravens. We’re still not sure about what happened but Montae Nicholson and Deshazor Everett did a respectable job at safety.

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.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 6
—NFL Draft (4/26) 62
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 198