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Alabama runs No. 1 streak to school-best 8 weeks

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Alabama runs No. 1 streak to school-best 8 weeks

Breaking down the AP college football poll after Week 8 of the regular season.

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MAKING A STATEMENT

Even better than the Bear.

Alabama is No. 1 in the AP poll for the eighth straight week, the longest run atop the rankings in the history of the storied program.

The Tide has twice previously been No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks - in 1979 when Bear Bryant coached `Bama to his last national title and in 1980 when the Tide finished sixth.

Nick Saban's Tide is working on trying to win its third national title in the last four seasons.

Alabama's latest No. 1 ranking came with just the slightest smudge. The Tide received 59 of 60 first-place votes after being a unanimous top pick for the last three weeks.

Oregon is No. 2 for the fifth consecutive week, though the gap between the Ducks and No. 3 Florida narrowed after the Gators beat South Carolina 44-11 on Saturday.

Florida was so good it persuaded one voter to give the Gators a first-place vote. And why not?

To this point, Florida has played a tougher schedule than both the Tide and Ducks, and dominating a good South Carolina team - albeit without producing much offense - was enough for Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland to make the switch.

``That gave the Gators three wins over very good opponents, while Alabama still has that opening win over Michigan and then blowouts of lesser teams,'' he wrote in a blog post.

Alabama is about to enter the difficult part of its schedule. The Tide is home against unbeaten and No. 13 Mississippi State on Saturday. The next week is the latest installment of Alabama's Game of the Century series with LSU. After that, No. 22 Texas A&M comes to Tuscaloosa.

South Carolina was the only team ranked in the top 16 last week to lose Saturday, so the top half of the latest poll only had minor adjustments.

Kansas State stayed at No. 4 after beating West Virginia 55-14. Notre Dame is No. 5 after a 17-14 victory against BYU and LSU remained sixth with a 24-19 victory at Texas A&M.

South Carolina dropped from ninth to No. 17.

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MOVING UP

Seems like a long time ago that Oklahoma lost at home to Kansas State and tumbled out of the top 10.

The Sooners have been making steady progress since, working back to No. 8 this week after pounding Kansas 52-7. Oklahoma has outscored its last three opponents 156-48. Safety Tony Jefferson has led a defense that hasn't allowed a point over the last two weeks with the first unit on the field and Damien Williams has provide a big-play threat at running back.

Texas Tech, Texas and the Jayhawks are not exactly murderers' row, but the Sooners have restored some order in Norman and gotten themselves back to the fringe of the national title picture.

They can dive deeper into it Saturday when Notre Dame comes to town, but the Sooners still need plenty of help - in the form of two Kansas State losses - to even have a chance of winning the Big 12.

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MOVING DOWN

From No. 5 to No. 25 in two weeks.

Quarterback Geno Smith and the Mountaineers were fifth in the Top 25 after winning at Texas, then fell flat 49-14 against Texas Tech and slipped to No. 17.

A second straight lopsided loss - this time to Kansas State - dropped the Mountaineers (5-2) another eight spots.

Their defense has been a mess, and now the offense can't keep up.

``I'm not going to sit here and point fingers at anyone else,'' Smith said after a deflating night in Morgantown.

After two losses by a combined 76 points - coincidentally the same amount of points they received in the poll - should the Mountaineers be ranked at all? It's a fair question. Working in their favor is no team in the Top 25 has faced opponents with a better winning percentage than West Virginia's, who are 33-15 (.686).

Still, Toledo (7-1), which finished first among the others receiving votes with 49 points, has a reasonable gripe.

The Rockets handed Cincinnati its first loss on Saturday at the Glass Bowl in Toledo, and their only loss was in overtime at Arizona.

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IN AND OUT

Cincinnati was the only team to fall out of rankings this week, a stiff penalty for its first loss.

The Bearcats didn't get much leeway from voters probably because they had played such a weak schedule. Cincinnati's one ``big'' win came against Virginia Tech. The Bearcats rallied with a late touchdown to beat the Hokies 27-24, but Virginia Tech is 4-4 after getting roughed up by Clemson on Saturday.

Cincinnati's other victories were against Pittsburgh, Miami, Ohio, and two FCS teams.

The Bearcats, though, could be back in the rankings soon. They play at No. 16 Louisville in a Friday night Big East game.

Those road trips to Mid-American Conference opponents have been tricky for the Big East. Earlier this season, South Florida lost at Ball State and Connecticut lost to Western Michigan.

Re-entering the rankings this week is Louisiana Tech. The nation's highest-scoring team beat Idaho 70-28. The Bulldogs had 839 yards, the most by an FBS team in game this season.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Oregon State moved up one spot to No. 7 and stayed unbeaten with a 21-7 victory over Utah.

The only other time the Beavers and Ducks have both been ranked in the top seven was the final poll of the 2000 season. Oregon State finished fourth and Oregon seventh.

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ODDS AND ENDS

No. 9 Ohio State dropped two spots after needing a late rally and overtime to beat Purdue at home. The unbeaten Buckeyes go to Penn State, where the Nittany Lions have won five straight. Neither team is eligible for the postseason. ... Florida plays No. 12 Georgia in their annual rivalry game at Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday with the SEC East on the line. If the Gators win, they clinch the division and a spot in the conference title game. If Georgia wins, it only needs to beat Ole Miss and Auburn to win a second straight East division. ... No. 21 Boise State (Mountain West), No. 23 Ohio (MAC) and Louisiana Tech (Western Athletic Conference) give the conferences without BCS automatic qualifying bids three ranked teams, one less than the ACC and Big Ten combined.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

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  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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I put out a tweet correcting the Super Bowl ring count to two.

Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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