Nationals

BCS standings set up semifinal in SEC title game

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BCS standings set up semifinal in SEC title game

NEW YORK (AP) Two years before the playoffs start in college football, the Southeastern Conference is staging a semifinal to determine who plays Notre Dame in the BCS title game.

Alabama (.9236) was second and Georgia (.8911) third in the BCS standings released Sunday. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs play Saturday in Atlanta for the SEC championship.

The winner will advance to the national championship game in Miami on Jan. 7 against the Fighting Irish (.9979), who locked up their spot Saturday with a 22-13 victory against Southern California.

``If you think about what the game means, this that and the other, it doesn't really help you win the game,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ``The only thing that helps you win the game is preparation and getting your mind ready to go to battle. That's what you've got to do.''

Florida (.8882) is fourth in the standings, but with no games left, looks stuck behind their SEC rivals. The good news for the Gators is they are likely to get an at-large BCS bid to the Sugar Bowl, while the SEC runner-up is out of the big games all together.

``For either one of these teams, it's not really a great scenario,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

One way or another, the SEC will get a shot at its seventh straight BCS championship.

The Bowl Championship Series is in its second-to-last season. It will be replaced by a four-team playoff in 2014.

While the race for the BCS title game is now fairly straight forward heading into championship weekend in college football, there's some intrigue to watch for involving potential BCS busters.

Kent State is 17th in the standings and Northern Illinois is 21st. They'll meet in the Mid-American Conference championship game on Friday night in Detroit.

Because it is almost a certainty that the Big East champion - Louisville and Rutgers will determine who that is on Thursday night in New Jersey - will be ranked behind the MAC champion in the final BCS standings, if either Kent State or NIU can get into the top 16, they would receive an automatic BCS bid. The MAC has never sent a team to the BCS.

Neither Louisville nor Rutgers is in the BCS top 25 this week.

Boise State from the Mountain West is 20th in the standings and also still in the mix for that BCS buster bid if it can jump ahead of the MAC teams and into the first 16. The Broncos play Nevada on Saturday to earn a share of the MW title.

The team that could be hurt most if a BCS buster emerges is Oklahoma. The Sooners are sitting 11th in the standings with a game left against TCU. With another victory, they would seem to be in good shape to get into the BCS even if Kansas State clinches the Big 12 by beating Texas.

But that at-large spot could get gobbled up by a BCS buster.

Other BCS automatic bids will be determined this weekend in the Pac-12, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference.

UCLA plays at Stanford in the Pac-12 title game with the winner going to the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin and Nebraska will play for the Big Ten's Rose Bowl berth.

Florida State and Georgia Tech play for the ACC title and a spot in the Orange Bowl.

Oregon is fifth in the latest standings, and like Florida, done with its regular season and in good shape to receive an at-large BCS bid.

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John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

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USA TODAY Sports

John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

ST. LOUIS -- Even John Gant cracked a smile.

Gant homered for his first major league hit and pitched one-run ball into the sixth inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Tuesday night for their season-high seventh consecutive victory.

Kolten Wong had three hits and three RBIs as St. Louis (65-55) pulled within four games of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs and moved within one game of the Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL wild card. The Cardinals also improved to 18-9 since Mike Shildt was named interim manager on July 13, the most wins for a manager through his first 27 games in franchise history.

"Things are starting to click for us," Wong said. "We're playing confident. We're out there playing aggressive and I think it's the kind of baseball Cardinals fans have been waiting for."

The Nationals (60-60) have dropped six of eight to fall eight games behind Atlanta in the NL East.

"We've just got to keep pulling the same rope, keep grinding it out, keep trying to win ballgames," Nationals slugger Bryce Harper said.

Gant (5-4) permitted four hits and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings. He has given up just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his last two starts, both wins.

The 26-year-old Gant was 0 for 30 for his career when he drove a 1-1 pitch from Gio Gonzalez (7-9) over the wall in left in the second. The two-run shot gave Washington a 3-0 lead.

"I was jogging kind of my hands in the air," said Wong, who scored on Gant's homer. "I already knew it was going out. Looking back I think he almost caught me."

Added Gant, "I thought it was going to hit the wall maybe but when I finally looked up and (Wong) was looking back at me, that's when I knew it was going over the wall."

Gant, who has a reputation for being a stoic player, admitted to smiling "once or twice" once he got back to the dugout.

Wong's solo homer made it 6-1 in the sixth, but Washington responded with three in the eighth. Harper hit a two-run shot, and Daniel Murphy singled in Anthony Rendon.

Matt Adams then struck out looking against Dakota Hudson, ending the inning, and Jordan Hicks worked the ninth for his fourth save in eight chances.

Paul DeJong also doubled and scored for St. Louis one night after he connected for a game-ending homer in a 7-6 victory. Matt Carpenter walked in the sixth to extend his on-base streak to 32 games.

"We have a 25-man roster and we have confidence in all of them," Shildt said. "They're here for a reason and guys are looking to contribute every night and in different ways."

Gonzalez was charged with five runs and five hits in four innings. The veteran left-hander is just 1-4 in his last six starts.

"I wasn't hitting my spots," Gonzalez said. "Just not being as consistent in the strike zone as I should be. It's just one of those games you can't explain."

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Need to Know: Redskins have faith in their young cornerbacks but will keep their options open

Need to Know: Redskins have faith in their young cornerbacks but will keep their options open

RICHMOND—Here is what you need to know on Wednesday, August 15, one day before the Washington Redskins host the Jets in their second preseason game. 

Talking points

The Redskins paid Orlando Scandrick $1 million and he didn’t play so much as a preseason snap for them. The money is gone, and the Redskins are left with what is mostly a youthful group at cornerback

The senior citizen is Josh Norman, who is 30 and entering his seventh NFL season. Quinton Dunbar is next on the age scale at 26. Those two will be the starters at cornerback on the outside. After them, youth rules the day. 

Fabian Moreau, 22, will take the slot corner position that Scandrick was going to fill. He is in his second NFL season having played just 59 snaps as a rookie. 

That’s 59 more NFL snaps than the next three players on the depth chart have combined. Rookies Greg Stroman, a seventh-round pick this year, Adonis Alexander, a supplemental sixth-round pick, and undrafted free agent Danny Johnson, all 22 years old, are the next men up if any of the top three on the depth chart falter or get injured. 

“I’m very impressed with them all,” said Jay Gruden. “You know, obviously Adonis not as much because he just got here, and he’s been hurt but he’s got the skill set that we’ve noticed, as far as your sixth corner, I think he’d be a very good guy to have in your building to develop. Watching Stroman and watching Danny Johnson compete and play, I’ve been impressed. Watching Fabian move inside, I’ve been very impressed.”

That all sounds good. However, Gruden made sure that everyone knows that the cornerback depth chart is not set in stone.

“We still have time if it doesn’t work out or if somebody gets injured, we still have time to make moves also ourselves,” he said.

The Redskins have about nine practices and three preseason games before they have to set their roster. If it proves that their confidence in the young corners is not well founded, they could look to pick up an alternative on the waiver wire, in the free agent market (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is still available), or via a trade.

The best-case is that the kids work out. But if not, there are alternatives. 

Bureau of statistics

The 2017 Redskins were sixth in the league in pass defense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. 

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The agenda

Today: No media availability

Upcoming: Preseason Jets @ Redskins (Aug. 16) 1 day; Final cut (Sept. 1) 17 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 25 days

In case you missed it

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page,Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler