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Bama, Oregon, K-State, ND rise to top of AP poll

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Bama, Oregon, K-State, ND rise to top of AP poll

Breaking down the AP college football poll after Week 9 of the regular season.

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MAKING A STATEMENT:

Call them the fantastic four. Or maybe the final four in the race for No. 1.

Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame hold the top four spots in The Associated Press college football poll released Sunday.

The Crimson Tide is No. 1 for the ninth straight week and the Ducks are No. 2 for the sixth consecutive week.

The third-ranked Wildcats and fourth-ranked Fighting Irish each moved up a spot after Florida lost 17-9 to Georgia. That dropped the Gators from third to eighth.

The BCS standings came out later Sunday and Alabama was first again, but Kansas State and Notre Dame followed with Oregon fourth.

The Tide, Ducks, Wildcats and Irish will spend the last month of the regular season competing against each other from a far, vying for two spots in the BCS national championship game. All of them could get to Dec. 2, BCS selection day, unbeaten.

The finish line is now in sight, but no peeking.

``It's tough not to, knowing you're so close, but man, you just have to focus in on next week, focus in on next game,'' K-State wide receiver Chris Harper said after the Wildcats' 55-24 victory against Texas Tech. ``It's really hard not to look ahead, but the position that we're in, you can't do it.''

Alabama and Oregon both face big tests Saturday. Emerging Heisman trophy contender AJ McCarron and the Tide go to Baton Rouge, La., to face No. 5 LSU in a game that could decide the SEC West.

The Pac-12's game of the year was supposed to be Saturday as well. The Ducks will be at No. 18 Southern California, but the Trojans are coming off their second loss of the season. USC fell 39-36 at Arizona and hasn't looked much like a team that started the season No. 1.

Still, Matt Barkley and crew figure to provide some resistance to an Oregon team that has yet to enter the fourth quarter of a game with the result in doubt.

Kansas State is home against Big 12 rival Oklahoma State. Notre Dame, coming off a 30-13 victory at Oklahoma, takes on Pittsburgh in South Bend, Ind.

A BCS mess looms. Alabama's position as No. 1 is safe as long as the defending national champions keep winning. The other three will jockey for the position behind the Tide, and voters (both in the AP poll and the two used in the BCS standings) will parse scores and schedules, looking for the slightest flaws to separate the Ducks, Wildcats and Irish.

Good luck with that.

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MOVING UP

Dismissed after getting thumped at South Carolina, No. 7 Georgia moved up five spots in the latest rankings and moved into position to win a second straight SEC East title.

The Bulldogs put together by far their best defensive performance of the season against the Gators. It really came out of nowhere. Georgia, with a lineup full of future NFL draft picks, had been allowing more than 200 yards per game on the ground over its last three.

All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones, who has been slowed by injuries, was spectacular with 13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Florida ran for only 81 yards.

Georgia needs to beat Mississippi and Auburn to book a trip to the Southeastern Conference title game for the sixth time in 12 seasons under coach Mark Richt. Yes, the Bulldogs have benefited from a favorable schedule the past two seasons, missing the best teams from the SEC West. But you can only play the teams on your schedule and Georgia has beaten almost all of them.

Still, many Bulldogs fans have been exasperated by their team and coach in recent seasons. Georgia hasn't won the SEC since 2005, and while Florida, Alabama, Auburn and LSU have won the last six national titles, Georgia hasn't won any.

That's a high standard to meet, but that's where the bar is set for the top SEC programs these days.

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MOVING DOWN

USC, now that's a disappointing team.

Even after losing at Stanford in September, the Trojans were No. 10 with a chance to work their way back into the national title race. Another sloppy performance led to their second loss of the season.

The Trojans had more than 600 yards, including 493 passing by Barkley, against Arizona. Star receiver Marqise Lee had 16 catches for a Pac-12 record 345 yards. But USC committed five turnovers and 13 penalties and let a 15-point, second-half lead slip away.

Coach Lane Kiffin's talented team has been its own worst enemy all season. USC is the most penalized team in the country, averaging 10.3 per game for 84.6 yards. The Trojans are tied for 94th in the nation with 18 giveaways.

The irony is USC will still be front and center in the national championship chase.

The Trojans play Oregon on Saturday, and finish their regular season on Nov. 24 at home against Notre Dame. The Trojans still control their destiny in the Pac-12 South, and could reach the conference title game, possibly for a rematch with Oregon.

Playing spoiler, however, is not what the Trojans had in mind this season.

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IN AND OUT

From undefeated to unranked.

Rutgers pulled off that trick with a ghastly performance at home against Kent State.

The Scarlet Knights committed seven turnovers and the Golden Flashes won 35-23 for the Mid-American Conference's fourth victory this season against the Big East. For the second straight week, a ranked and unbeaten Big East team lost to a MAC team. Last week, it was Cincinnati losing at Toledo.

Rutgers, which only had six turnovers coming into the game, had been ranked 18th.

The silver lining for the Scarlet Knights is they are still very much in play for their first Big East championship. They play Army next week before finishing the season against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and No. 12 Louisville.

The Big East didn't have much chance of sending a team to the national title game, but those nonconference loses have taken some of the luster off what was set to be an intriguing league race.

Elsewhere in the MAC, Ohio University also went from unbeaten to unranked. The Bobcats, ranked for the first time since 1968, lost 23-20 to league rival Miami of Ohio.

MAC teams Toledo (8-1, 5-0), Kent State (7-1, 4-0), Northern Illinois (8-1, 5-0) and Ohio (7-1, 3-1) all received votes in the latest AP Top 25.

Also falling out of the rankings was Michigan. Moving back in was No. 21 Nebraska, No. 24 Arizona and No. 25 UCLA.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Louisville has not been ranked this high since it reached No. 8 early in the 2007 season, the year after Bobby Petrino coached the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl, and then bolted for the NFL.

Louisville fell out of the rankings in September 2007, and didn't get back in until the start of this season.

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ODDS AND ENDS

Newly ranked Arizona and UCLA play at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. ... No. 16 Texas A&M is at No, 17 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, who were trounced by Alabama 38-7 on Saturday, will try to avoid a two-game losing streak after starting the season 7-0.

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AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Manhattan, Kan., contributed to this report.

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

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Big money John Carlson isn't going anywhere

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Big money John Carlson isn't going anywhere

John Carlson isn't going anywhere.

Carlson wanted to stay in Washington, but he wasn't going to come cheap. The Capitals ponied up the cash, however, and signed their star defenseman to a big-time, big-money deal worth $64 million that will make him a Capital for the next eight years.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir talk about his new contract, the trade that made it happen and take a look ahead to this week's development camp.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

After a week that gave several teams the opportunity to prove themselves in the National League East, the only team that did so was the Miami Marlins.

They aren’t as bad as we thought they were.

As for everyone else, each fan base should be disappointed.

The Atlanta Braves missed a golden opportunity to pull away from both the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, they actually lost ground to BOTH teams that were playing each other.

Philadelphia did leapfrog the Nationals in the standings, but they continue to leave wins on the table due to their bullpen. This is all while Washington went 4-4 on an eight-game homstand.

And if you’re the Mets, I need to say no more in regards to disappointment. Look out because the Marlins are now on your tail.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 44-32
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: vs. Cincinnati (3), @ St. Louis (3)

It is hard to take a team seriously when they lose two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles in their home park.

Both were in demoralizing ways. First, Sean Newcomb went seven innings allowing only a single run, then two relievers gave up a combined six runs in the ninth. Despite a comeback in the ninth, they wouldn’t eventually fall in the 15th (!) inning.

And yes… we can attest, this sucks…

Second was Julio Teheran allowing four to score before Atlanta even got an at-bat. There was a wistful rally for the rest of the game, but ultimately they came up two runs short.

Missing on a golden opportunity to emerge as the frontrunner in the NL East, the Braves dropped the ball. Once excited for a finalized rotation to be back together, there are still some gaps to fill. The team averaged 6.8 runs this week and managed only two wins.

And still no Robert Acuna Jr.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 41-34
Last 10: 7-3
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (3), vs. Washington Nationals (4)

Winning series will get you in the postseason. Taking two-out-of-three over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Nationals gives them four straight series wins.

None of those series victories were bigger than taking two at Nats Park.

In those six games Odùbel Herrera had 12 hits, four home runs, nine RBIs for a .444 average. He is leading the charge for a team that scored 39 runs in only six games.

Their starters are giving them quality outings as well. With each starting pitcher this week having a 1.40 WHIP or lower, there has been no downtick from them. However, all of their losses are attributed to their bullpen, including three blown saves.

On June 18, they optioned their closer Héctor Neris to Triple A after giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. While he did have a 6.00 ERA, and a 9.45 ERA in June, he did get the job done in the final innings of games. On 13 save opportunities this year, he got 10 saves.

They hope Seranthony Domínguez (four saves) can turn around the bullpen as they make a push to the All-Star Game.

Washington Nationals

Record: 41-35
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Tampa Bay Rays (2), @ Philadelphia Phillies (4)

All things considered it wasn’t the worst week for the Nationals. Despite losing a series to Philadelphia and dropping a Gio Gonzalez start to Baltimore, Washington gained a half game on the Braves.

But, you have to demand better on an eight-game homestand. These games may be the ones that could haunt the Nats come late-August and September.

Yet there are a lot of highlights this week.

-Juan Soto retroactively hit a HR on his first-ever MLB at-bat
-The Nats pick up reliever Kelvin Herrera in a career-year
-Despite trailing by four, and a rain delay, the Nats came back

Most importantly though Bryce Harper is out of his funk.

…and the fire is back, which may be the most important headline this week.

New York Mets

Record: 31-44
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: vs. Pirates (3), @ Marlins (3)

Finishing up a 10 game road trip with a 3-7 record, all the Mets needed was a return home.

Wrong, New York followed that up by getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field.

And one of those losses, just one, featured seven Dodger home runs.

Also another of the few productive players for the Mets could be heading to the DL. Centerfielder Brandon Nimmo (.283, 12 HR) took a pitch off of his hand this past weekend.

Miami Marlins

Record: 31-47
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. Diamondbacks (4), vs. Mets (3)

A 3-3 West Coast road trip is not too shabby for the Marlins who are playing .500 ball in the month of June (11-10).

It gave the opportunity for Kyle Barraclough to pick up two more saves, bringing his total up to seven this season. His stellar relief performances will likely garner him the honor as the Marlins’ lone representative in the All-Star Game next month.

He’s pitched 11.2 straight innings of hitless baseball. Barraclough has also not allowed a run since May 8 (19 appearances).

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