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BCS implications in NIU vs Kent St MAC title game

BCS implications in NIU vs Kent St MAC title game

DETROIT (AP) The Mid-American Conference championship game this year has a lot more at stake than usual.

It's a showcase for two Top 25 teams on long winning streaks - and there may even be BCS implications.

When No. 18 Kent State takes on No. 19 Northern Illinois on Friday night at Ford Field, it will be the first time two MAC teams in the Top 25 have faced each other since Ben Roethlisberger was playing in the conference. The winner could end up in the Orange Bowl, which would be unheard of for either program.

Kent State coach Darrell Hazell is trying not to look ahead too far, but his counterpart is soaking up the hype.

``It gives you a chance to potentially do what Boise (State) did a number of years ago when they beat Oklahoma,'' Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren said. ``Not that we could pull off the same feat, but we would try, and I think that's what we want. We want that opportunity.''

The Huskies (11-1) would have an outside shot at a BCS bowl bid if they win Friday, but Kent State (11-1) would be in even better position.

Under BCS rules, if a champion from a conference without an automatic bid, such as the MAC, ranks in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and is ranked higher than a champion from one of the AQ leagues, such as the Big East, the non-AQ champ is guaranteed a spot in the BCS.

Big East-leading Rutgers wasn't ranked in last week's BCS standings. Kent State was 17th and could move up with a victory. UCLA is 16th and has to play Stanford in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night.

``I'll leave that for the experts to decide,'' Hazell said. ``I think it adds a little flavor that both teams are in the Top 25, but we'll worry about where we go bowl-wise after Friday night.''

The last time two MAC teams in the Top 25 played each other was when Roethlisberger and Miami of Ohio beat Bowling Green in the 2003 conference title game, according to STATS LLC. And these two teams are rolling.

Northern Illinois has won 11 games in a row, Kent State 10 straight. Both went unbeaten in MAC play while winning their divisions, and this title game could bring some welcome publicity to the league.

``It's well-deserved and well-earned attention,'' said Jon Steinbrecher, the conference commissioner. ``I think it's a reflection of the depth and strength of the league.''

Northern Illinois is 21st in the BCS standings and would need more of a jump to reach the top 16 than Kent State, but Doeren is happy to contemplate the possibility.

``Quite honestly, I think it helps us, because we know if we really want to even be in a conversation like that, we have to win,'' Doeren said. ``That just kind of puts fuel on the fire, in my opinion.''

The Huskies blew a fourth-quarter lead in an 18-17 loss to Iowa to open the season, and they haven't lost since.

``We consider ourselves the best team in the state,'' said quarterback Jordan Lynch, a potential shot at Illinois and Northwestern, two Big Ten programs.

This is the Huskies' third straight trip to the MAC title game. They won last year on a last-second field goal.

Kent State is one of only two teams to beat Rutgers so far this season. The Golden Flashes went 5-7 last year, but they won four of their last five, setting the stage for this season's resurgence.

Kent State's most recent bowl appearance was 40 years ago in the Tangerine Bowl, so it's fair to say the fan base is fired up for this week's game.

``I got an email today with a guy that's put a blue `K' on his tooth,'' Hazell said earlier this week. ``You talk about 106 players in the locker room and 25 coaches, changed the country, how they think about Kent State, Kent State football.''

Running backs Dri Archer and Trayion Durham have both surpassed 1,100 yards rushing this year for the Golden Flashes. Northern Illinois relies heavily on Lynch, who has thrown for 2,750 yards and 23 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He's also run for 1,611 yards.

The Northern Illinois athletic department's website is touting Lynch as a Heisman Trophy candidate. That might be a reach, but the idea of a MAC team playing in a major bowl is suddenly very real.

``We've got two great teams that don't like to lose,'' Archer said. ``So it's going to be a good game.''

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NBA Draft prospect De'Andre Hunter is ready to make his family proud at the next level

NBA Draft prospect De'Andre Hunter is ready to make his family proud at the next level

When asked if his family had a motto, De'Andre Hunter summed it up in two words: "Family first."

"We have a great bond, we're really close and we all get along. I feel like that really helped me in the long run," the 2019 NBA Draft prospect told NBC Sports Washington for its miniseries I Am The Prospect. "We know we have each other's back, we always put each other before anyone else."

The Hunter family has always had De'Andre's back, supporting him from the days during his childhood when he'd wake them up early in the morning to play basketball, to the night he helped Virginia win its first NCAA title.

Things weren't always easy in the Hunter household. De'Andre's father, Aaron Hunter Sr., died when De'Andre was 7, forcing the entire family, especially his mother Priscilla, to take on more responsibility and bond together. 

"My mom is the rock of the family. She does anything for every single one of us. No matter where she is or what she's doing, she's willing to help us in any kind of way," Hunter said. "And as far as my brother and sisters, they're the same way. They're really caring, and we ... really look after each other. 

"In a family that's what you need, and we just always support each other, no matter what the circumstance is."

And as he grew up, De'Andre's older brother Aaron Jr. took on a more paternal role. 

"Once my father passed away, he really stepped up," De'Andre said of Aaron. "He really taught me a lot of things that he went through. I didn't see him grow up, but I saw him become, I feel like, a man in some sense. Because he had to take care of our family in a certain way.

"He cares for me a lot, so I thank him a lot for everything he's taught me."

In fact, it was Aaron who De'Andre called upon when he got the disappointing news he would be redshirted his first year at UVA and thus ineligible to play that season.  

"The decision to redshirt really hurt," Hunter said. "I didn't see it coming, but when coach (Tony Bennett) told me, I just took it."

"I told my brother, I probably complained to him a little bit but he just told me to use it in a beneficial way and don’t look at it in a negative way. I tried to do that, and I feel like in the long run it definitely helped me.

Over those next two seasons in Charlottesville, Hunter became a bonafide college star. He won the ACC's Sixth Man of the Year award during the 2017-18 season then earned the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018-19, not to mention leading the Cavaliers to a national championship, scoring a team-high 27 points in the title game against Texas Tech.

Hunter recalled how special it was having his family in the arena that night to celebrate with him. 

"It meant a lot for them to come all the way out to Minnesota to watch me play," he said. "They took off from work, took off from things they probably had to do, just to come see me play. That means a lot to me because they really don't have to do that. But they were there for me." 

Now, Hunter is preparing to take the next step into the NBA ranks. And when his name's called Thursday night at the draft, his family will be there cheering -- and probably crying -- for him. 

"Draft night's gonna be really emotional. I don't know if I'm gonna cry or not, but I know a few members of my family will be crying, so that'll probably get to me a little bit," Hunter said with a smile. "It's gonna be a great moment for not only me but for my family as well."

"My mom's for sure gonna cry. My sisters might even cry, but I feel like Aaron might let a few tears out."

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Free Agency Bracket: Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

Free Agency Bracket: Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Third line forward

Micheal Ferland vs. Joonas Donskoi

2018-19 stats

Micheal Ferland (27 years old): 71 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, 17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points, 14:06 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Carolina Hurricanes, no goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 10:16 TOI

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Hockey-Graphs contract projections

Micheal Ferland: 4 years, $4,181,982 cap hit

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

The case for Micheal Ferland

Ferland fills the Caps’ need for a productive third-line player. He scored 40 points last year with limited minutes and ranked fourth on the Hurricanes in points despite being 16th on the team in time-on-ice per game. Being able to be productive without getting top-six minutes is a skill. Brett Connolly has it and so does Ferland.

In addition to his production, Ferland also plays a physical game which would fit in well with Washington as the Caps like to play a heavier game. While they do have some speedy players, the trade of Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas is a sign that the physicality is still highly valued by the organization.

Ferland turned 27 in April and is entering his prime. The projected price tag may be a bit much for him, but his injury-plagued postseason may help bring that price down.

Donskoi has good skill, but that has earned him career-highs of 14 goals and 37 points, both of which he scored last season so the Caps could end up paying a bit more than they should to obtain him. If you are frustrated by Andre Burakovsky, does it make sense to bring in another player with similar numbers to play on the third line?

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Donskoi will be a much cheaper option than Ferland and with Washington against the cap and given the fact that the salary cap could actually be lower than the $83 million originally projected, money talks.

Comparing Donskoi to Burakovsky may not be entirely fair. When Burakovsky is having a bad game, he is invisible. Donskoi, on the other hand, made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. His stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset.

The ultimate case against Ferland is the fact that his first name is Micheal – but he spells it "ea" instead of "ae" – making him the sworn enemy of every hockey writer.

Who’s your pick? Vote here: