Nationals

Badgers' Bielema: No shame backing into title game

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Badgers' Bielema: No shame backing into title game

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema understands a lot of people believe his Badgers don't deserve to be playing in the Big Ten championship game.

Asked if he's insulted by the sentiment, he says he's not.

``I appreciate the question and understand it totally,'' he said Sunday. ``I think there are 10 teams out there in the Big Ten that would love to be in the position Nebraska and we're in right now. When the two teams take the field on Saturday, neither is going to care how the other team got there or what their record is.''

With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible because of NCAA sanctions, the Badgers will represent the Leaders Division against Legends champion Nebraska this Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The winner goes to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA or Stanford.

The Badgers (7-5, 4-4), the two-time defending Big Ten champions, finished third in their division behind Ohio State and Penn State after losing three of their last four games in overtime.

The 14th-ranked Cornhuskers (10-2, 7-1) have won six straight since a 25-point loss at Ohio State on Oct. 6. They won their division outright when Michigan lost to the Buckeyes and will be playing for their first conference championship since winning the Big 12 in 1999.

Nebraska opened Big Ten play on Sept. 29 with a 30-27 win over the Badgers, coming back from a 17-point, third-quarter deficit.

Pelini told Bielema after that game that he thought they might meet again in Indianapolis.

``Here we are,'' Pelini said.

Wisconsin won last year's inaugural Big Ten championship game 42-39 over Michigan State. The Badgers are looking for their 14th Big Ten title and a third straight league title for the first time in school history.

Nebraska has won 43 conference titles and is looking for its first Big Ten championship in its second year in the league.

The Badgers were 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the league after beating Minnesota in mid-October. An overtime loss to Michigan State, a win over Indiana and OT losses to Ohio State and Penn State ended the regular season.

Bielema said he's received supportive correspondence from people around the Big Ten since the Badgers clinched a spot in the title game.

``We've been on the short stick of some close, hard-fought games,'' he said. ``The optimist in me looks at it and says, `Hey, we were in these games.' We lost to Ohio State and Penn State, who are ineligible to play in the game. One play here or there, we could we win them. We didn't. I get it... It's not going to diminish what we've accomplished.''

Pelini said he doesn't buy that some of the luster is off the Big Ten championship game because unbeaten Ohio State, which finished first in the Leaders, won't be there.

``I don't really care what people say about that,'' he said. ``Wisconsin is there because they deserve to be there. (Ohio State's) not there for a reason. That's not taking anything away from Urban Meyer or the kids who played at Ohio State and played their tails off, but there's a reason they're not there.''

Wisconsin is in the same position it was in a year ago, playing an opponent in the championship game that had beaten the Badgers in the regular season. Last year Michigan State handed the Badgers their first loss of the season, 37-31.

Montee Ball scored four touchdowns, the last coming on a 7-yard run with 3:45 left, and the Badgers used a running into the kicker penalty to kill the clock to win the championship game. Russell Wilson, who threw for three touchdowns, was the game's MVP.

Wilson has gone to the NFL, leaving the Badgers to play three quarterbacks this season.

Joel Stave, who replaced Danny O'Brien, made his first road start against Nebraska and turned in a strong first-half performance before O'Brien replaced him late in the game. Curt Phillips has started the last three games.

The Badgers still have Ball, the 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist who went over 1,500 yards rushing and became the NCAA career touchdown leader in the loss to Penn State. Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries against Nebraska but was held to 31 yards on 15 runs in the second half.

``We lost a heartbreaker to Nebraska on the road,'' Bielema said. ``We played well in that game and did some things not so well. I know they're a better team than we saw. I know we're a better team, too. It's going to be fun for us.''

Nebraska is coming off a 13-7 win over Iowa, a game that marked the return of running back Rex Burkhead. The senior, who had been out with a left knee sprain, ran 16 times for 69 yards in his first action since Oct. 20 at Northwestern. In the fourth quarter alone, Burkhead carried the ball 10 times for 57 yards.

Burkhead had 86 yards in the first game against Wisconsin. The Huskers' playmaker that night was Taylor Martinez, who threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 107 and a score.

Pelini said what happened in the first meeting won't have any impact in the second.

``The challenges will be the same,'' he said.

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How to execute the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

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How to execute the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

Summertime; the time of year when you only look at your calendar to make sure you haven’t double-booked yourself for your ritual weekend brunches, or the time of year you exhaust every vacation day you’ve stored up over the course of the year to get the kids somewhere near their grandparents so you can continue to work on that ever-elusive summer dad-bod. Either one is a win in my book.

Summer also gives birth to one of the rare occasions when there can be three to four different DC-sports related activities all occurring within the same 24-hour timeframe. Thursday, June 20, is THAT day!

Who’s playing? Is there a chance I can attend the game? If not, how do you watch them all? These burning questions are about to be answered faster than you can ride down the escalator at the Pentagon City Metro Station…I think. So, let’s hurry and get started.

We’ll run through these one at a time, in chronological order!

Event 1: Soccer: 3 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       The US Women’s National Team takes the pitch against Sweden as they look to continue their international dominance in the Women’s World Cup. And yes, it’s DC team because we’re the nation’s Capital.

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

a.       These women are the best Soccer players on the planet; having showcased their proficiency for many years on the world stage. Remember they put up 13 against Thailand in their first match! Don’t miss an opportunity to witness history in the making.  

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       You can either pull up to Dulles and jump on the next flight to France, or you can be like the rest of us Super-geniuses and tune in at 3pm to watch it from the comfort of your favorite Soccer bar. Make sure to buy a round for anyone rocking a USWNT jersey; #OneNationOneTeam. USA, USA, USA!!!

Event 2: Baseball: 7 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       The Washington Nationals are wrapping up a 4-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

a.       This is the last day of Bryce Harper in THIS city for the remainder of the season. HALLELUJAH! 

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       First pitch is at 7:05p so you can either slide by the park and enjoy the smorgasbord of delicacies offered at Nats park, or you can tune in on the tube. I suggest hitting the park and booing Harper until you lose your voice! Tell your boss it’s my fault you’re hoarse. It won’t be the first time someone did that.

Event 3: Basketball(NBA): 8 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       NOBODY, derp! But, it’s the NBA draft and frankly put, I couldn’t be more excited it’s finally here.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

a.       This is the first official activation in the post-Grunfeld era for the Wizards. More importantly, this will be the first chance for Wiz fans to wrap their minds around the new direction the team will be taking. Optimism starts here!

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       Unless you feel like hopping a flight to Chicago to see the Draft in person, I highly suggest you tune in to NBC Sports Washington for full draft coverage on ‘Wizards on the Clock’ at 8p. In my humble opinion, you won’t find better comprehensive coverage. You can watch on TV or via the MyTeams App while you’re at the Nats game booing Bryce if you’re slick with multi-tasking.

Event 4: Basketball(WNBA): 10 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       Your Washington Mystics are out in Sin City to take on the Las Vegas Aces. Note: Bill Laimbeer sighting!

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

a.       The Aces sit atop the Western Conference with Australian native Liz Cambage (she can BALL) holding down the paint. It’s going to be a good test for the Mystics and you’ll get a chance to see how unrelentingly talented Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and crew really are. Buckets, the Mystics get buckets!

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       I know the temptation to hit Vegas is rising by the moment but fret not. You can save a ton of money and possibly help your best bud save his fragile relationship by staying in DC and catching the game at 10 p.m. on Monumental Sports Network/NBC Sports Washington.

Now you know how to do it while maintaining some semblance of sanity, and you can even keep a running tab on who’s been the most DC among your friends. I’m certain we’ll have another opportunity for this phenomenon when Fall comes back around, but for now, let’s all enjoy the summer and all the games therein!

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Redskins fans shouldn't forget about Colt McCoy because the coaches haven't

Redskins fans shouldn't forget about Colt McCoy because the coaches haven't

After a third surgery on his leg in April, Colt McCoy did not practice with the team during OTAs or mandatory minicamp. He was in Ashburn for many of the workouts, but did not take any team snaps.

In a normal quarterback battle, that would put McCoy at a distinct disadvantage, but the Redskins quarterback battle is not exactly normal. 

Veteran Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins got nearly all of the work at signal caller during the spring practice sessions, and both showed signs of being able to take over head coach Jay Gruden's offense. Keenum proved he can handle the huddle and has quickness when plays broke down behind the line of scrimmage. Haskins showed a rocket arm and a ton of potential, but he's also a rookie trying to learn a boatload about life in the NFL in a hurry, like calling plays, and that showed too. 

All of that is a long way to say neither Keenum nor Haskins locked up the top QB job. And that means the door is still open for McCoy.

"We would love for him to take some reps, but obviously his health is more important right now than anything, and that is the most important thing for him," Gruden said about McCoy on the first day of minicamp. "When his time comes it will come quickly. He will be ready."

Gruden's quote speaks to the biggest advantage McCoy will have once he hits the field. He's been with the Redskins since 2014, and knows Gruden's version of the West Coast offense backwards and forwards. 

Throughout the spring sessions, Haskins made clear that his number one goal for the offseason was to learn the playbook and gain mastery of calling plays in the huddle. McCoy already has that.

Speaking with reporters on the last day of minicamp, Keenum explained that Gruden's offense is the seventh or eighth new system he's learned in the NFL. Keenum said each system is like learning a new language, and that "there is no Rosetta Stone for the West Coast Offense."

If there was a translator, its name would be Colt McCoy. 

Once doctors clear the former University of Texas star, he will immediately be the Redskins quarterback with the best understanding of the offense. That will show up on the field right away.

Remember too that Gruden has tried to turn to McCoy as his quarterback at a few different turns, but injuries have always derailed those plans. If McCoy gets fully healthy in time for Richmond, which team sources believe will happen, he has a chance to finally take over this job.

Make no mistake, Haskins is the Redskins long-term future at the quarterback position. He has the talent but needs to learn the speed of the NFL, from playcalling to pass rush. Eventually though, he will be on the field for the Redskins. 

If he wins the job, it's his.

Same for Keenum, who is probably better than he showed last year in Denver but not as good as his career season with Minnesota in 2017. Keenum could certainly start Week 1 in Philadelphia and is probably ahead of Haskins right now. 

But fans would be wise not to count McCoy out of the quarterback competition. The Redskins coaching staff definitely hasn't. 

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