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Amid changes, No. 9 Ohio St, Penn St still rolling

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Amid changes, No. 9 Ohio St, Penn St still rolling

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) The Big Ten won't hand out a championship trophy to the winner of the Ohio State-Penn State game Saturday night, so bragging rights will have to do.

The ninth-ranked Buckeyes and surging Nittany Lions just might be the class of the conference at midseason, but neither team can win the league title or play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions.

Saturday's meeting then, has turned into a virtual midseason bowl game, complete with a national television audience and plenty of hype. About 107,000 rowdy fans are expected to pack Beaver Stadium, which would be the first sellout of the season.

Welcome to the ``Ineligi-Bowl.''

``We only get the chance to lay it on the line 12 times, 12 Saturdays. So every game for us is a very, very big game,'' Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. ``And we're playing probably the best team in the Big Ten this week, with a great head coach in Urban Meyer.''

Two coaches in their first years at their respective, well-known programs saddled with NCAA sanctions.

Yet there are the undefeated Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) and Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0), playing another high-stakes conference game like nothing's changed. First place in the Leaders Division is at stake.

``I assume it's going to be, because it's a night game, I'm sure the crowd will be nice,'' senior tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner said tongue-in-cheek.

And yet so much has changed since the last time these two teams met, a 20-14 win for Penn State in Columbus last Nov. 19.

The Buckeyes then were led by interim coach Luke Fickell, who is now back coordinating the defense under Meyer.

That win was the one and only victory for Penn State for interim coach Tom Bradley, who took over a week earlier after longtime coach Joe Paterno was fired in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Bradley, the longtime defensive coordinator under Paterno, wasn't retained when O'Brien was hired in January. Seven months later, a school already reeling from the aftereffects of the scandal was rocked again when the NCAA levied landmark penalties including a four-year bowl ban.

Ohio State has a one-year bowl ban for the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal during former coach Jim Tressel's tenure.

``I know there's going to be some tough sanctions against them. I don't really understand all of them,'' Meyer said before talking about what he has had to study up on all week.

``Penn State has great football players right now.''

Especially on defense, where the veteran linebacking crew of Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson will be charged with keeping an eye on Buckeyes dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller - sore neck and all.

Miller appeared to be seriously hurt in last week's 29-22 overtime win over Purdue, but returned to practice this week and seems to be fine. He's listed as the starter again, and Meyer said he had no reservations about playing his Heisman Trophy candidate.

``If you ask me if it surprises me, no, Braxton Miller is a competitive guy,'' Meyer said about his quarterback's return. ``Competitors fight through adversity.''

Penn State's defense gets better every week, in large part because the Nittany Lions have clamped down on third downs. The ``Linebacker U.'' schemes are more aggressive this year, and the new-look offense installed by O'Brien is piling up points.

But Miller might be the best opposing player Penn State will face all season. He's second in the league in total offense (292.9 yards per game) and fourth in rushing (119.9 yards).

``He's a tremendous athlete who can create with any play,'' Nittany Lions linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said. ``We have to defend him every single play.''

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin won't be confused with Miller for his running ability, though the senior remarkably leads his team in rushing touchdowns (five) because of four goal-line sneaks.

Actually, McGloin has become better known as the savvy leader of a new Penn State system off to a smashing debut. His development from walk-on (a term McGloin disdains) to the top passer in the Big Ten (255.4 yards per game) is testament to O'Brien's ability to tutor quarterbacks.

O'Brien, after all, did mentor Patriots quarterback Tom Brady while coordinating New England's high-octane attack last year.

Like other players on both Ohio State and Penn State, McGloin is eager to prove his team belongs in the postseason - even if there's no chance to get there because of the NCAA sanctions. Even if either team wins the Leaders Division, each school can't play in the Big Ten title game because it counts as a postseason game.

They'll have to make due with Saturday night.

``Ourselves, and Ohio State, we both deserve to get into a game like this,'' McGloin said. ``This is the reason you play college football.''

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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