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Big Ten shaping up to be brutal in 2013

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Big Ten shaping up to be brutal in 2013

Anyone wondering how tough the Big Ten will be this season should take a look at Iowa's plight.

The Hawkeyes (11-2) are flying high, having won six straight for their best start in eight years. They've got a pair of emerging stars in Aaron White and Devyn Marble and their league opener is already sold out. And yet the Hawkeyes will probably be underdogs in each of their first three Big Ten games.

Iowa kicks off play in by far the nation's toughest league by hosting fifth-ranked Indiana (11-1) on New Year's Eve. The Hawkeyes then travel to second-ranked Michigan (12-0) before a relative breather - No. 19 Michigan State in Iowa City.

``I think everybody in the preseason knew what this league was going to be, and that's what it's been,'' Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after the Hawkeyes beat Coppin State on Dec. 22.

What it's likely to be this winter is a blast for fans - and brutal for members.

The Big Ten is first in overall RPI nationally as non-conference play winds down this weekend. Five league teams are ranked in the top 12 of the latest AP poll and at least eight of them have a good shot at reaching the NCAA tournament.

For now, the favorites to win the Big Ten are about the same as they were in October. The Hoosiers, Wolverines and ninth-ranked Buckeyes (9-2) currently look like the three teams most capable of winning the regular-season title.

Indiana was No. 1 for most of this season before an overtime loss to 18th-ranked Butler knocked the Hoosiers down a few pegs. Still, Indiana leads the country in scoring (89.1) and in point differential by outscoring teams by nearly 30 points a game.

Michigan can finish unbeaten in non-conference play for the first time in 27 years with a win over Central Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines join top-ranked Duke, No. 3 Arizona and surprising Wyoming as the only undefeated teams left.

Ohio State has a pair of losses, though falling to Duke and Kansas is nothing to be ashamed of. The Buckeyes have depth beyond star Deshaun Thomas, who is averaging 20 points a game, and that should come in handy in the league.

``The Big Ten defensively is as good as there is in the country. Just having different guys out there that can knock shots down is something that is going to be advantageous for us throughout the season,'' Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.

What makes the Big Ten so tough this season is that it isn't just top heavy. The middle is pretty rough too.

No. 11 Minnesota (12-1) has wins over Memphis, Stanford, Florida State and USC, and is arguably the best team Tubby Smith has had in six seasons coaching the Gophers. Minnesota opens Big Ten play on Monday when it hosts Michigan State (11-2).

``I think we're in good position, but I know we have to play better,'' Smith said.

No. 12 Illinois has been the surprise of the league with its 12-1 start while the Spartans have wins over Kansas and Texas.

``It was a physical war and there were bodies everywhere. That's the way it is going to be in our league so we might as well get used to it,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the win over the Longhorns.

Northwestern (9-4) suffered a major blow when it lost star Drew Crawford for the year with a shoulder injury, but the Wildcats nearly beat Stanford without him. Wisconsin is just 8-4, though its losses were against quality opponents like 14th-ranked Florida and 16th-ranked Creighton.

Nebraska (8-4) is still finding its way with new coach Tim Miles, and Purdue (5-6) is in rebuilding mode after losing Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson. Penn State suffered a massive blow when its best player, guard Tim Frazier, ruptured his left Achilles tendon and was lost for the year.

The true wild card in the Big Ten could wind up being those Hawkeyes. Iowa hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since winning the Big Ten tournament and earning a No. 3 seed way back in 2006. The Hawkeyes have wins over Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and their losses came against Wichita State and at Virginia Tech.

Iowa can play 10 guys comfortably for the first time in recent memory. McCaffery is going to need all of them for what promises to be as tough of a league schedule of anyone in the country.

``We have a better team. We're deeper. You have to be deep,'' McCaffery said.

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AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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Running back is one position where things could look very different for the 2020 Redskins

Running back is one position where things could look very different for the 2020 Redskins

Not much has gone to plan for the 2019 Redskins. Congratulations, you won't read a more obvious thing all day.

Running back is one such spot on the team where the preseason expectations haven't been met. A surprise benching in Week 1, injuries and inconsistent production have plagued what was supposed to be one of the most stacked positions on the roster.

Because of those issues, there may be a lot of RB turnover this offseason, leading to what could be a different-looking depth chart in 2020.

The main reason for that possible shuffling is Derrius Guice's unfortunate health problems. Guice has actually been placed on injured reserve twice since Week 1, with the second trip to I.R. ending his year. If you count exhibition contests, he's suited up for the Burgundy and Gold seven times as a pro and has had to leave three of those contests with knee injuries.

There was so much hope that Guice would be able to prove himself this time around and convince the Redskins he could be their go-to option for the future, and when he dominated the Panthers for 129 yards and two scores, his long-discussed talent and potential popped.

But with a torn ACL, a torn meniscus and a sprained MCL already in the NFL, the franchise can't move forward with him as their surefire No. 1 back. This was the season where he could've seized the job, yet instead, indications are he'll need to be grouped together with other pieces.

Elsewhere in the backfield, Chris Thompson very well could be playing in his last three games for Washington. The 29-year-old is incredibly helpful in a lot of ways, but he, too, has difficulty staying on the field. After seven campaigns with the organization, it might be time for both sides to move on.

Then there's Bryce Love, the team's fourth-rounder who's essentially been redshirted as a rookie. The Stanford product has to show that he can recover from his own knee struggles — he had another surgery on it in late October — but he's got a lot of speed and should be more than ready to be a factor in 2020.

Oddly enough, Adrian Peterson has yet again been the steadiest running back for the Redskins. After Jay Gruden's decision to sit him for the opener, the 34-year-old has rebounded and shown he still can be a valuable asset. He's under contract and seems like a logical choice to keep in town for one more season. 

So, when added all together, the team has quite a few questions at running back. They've got to decide whom to trust out of a crop that includes someone who's super-skilled but often dinged up, a mainstay who could be on his way out, a totally unproven draft selection and an aging but still useful veteran, while also considering possibly acquiring other bodies.

Coming into 2019, RB looked like an area of strength for the Redskins. Now, nearing the end of 2019, it appears to be an area of mystery.

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All eyes turn to Anthony Rendon at the Winter Meetings after Gerrit Cole signs

All eyes turn to Anthony Rendon at the Winter Meetings after Gerrit Cole signs

SAN DIEGO -- News of Gerrit Cole’s gargantuan contract swept through the Winter Meetings late Tuesday night. A bustling lobby temporarily stalled as everyone looked at their phones then each other. It was true. Cole signed for $325 million to play in New York. 

Which means the third -- and for all intents and purposes final -- day of the meetings will focus on Anthony Rendon. He is now the premier player available in the free agent market. Cole and Stephen Strasburg signed. Rendon should be next.

Much of Tuesday before the Cole news revolved around Rendon. Agent Scott Boras stood atop a Pelican case -- a hard box used to protect television cameras -- in front of a Boras Corp. standing backdrop. There was symmetry between Boras on the box and what it usually holds. He’s naturally drawn to camera equipment.

There, ringed by reporters who largely couldn’t hear or just watched the spectacle, Boras spoke in generalizations about Rendon’s status. Yes, several teams have inquired about Rendon. Yes, seven years is the marker for a contract. Yes, negotiations are ongoing.

Where are the Nationals in this? That is more difficult to pin down. Rendon remains a curious challenge to read in the offseason. He made jokes at the World Series about not wanting to play until he was 35. He turns 30 years old next season. Does nostalgia have pull for him, either in Washington or back in Texas? Is it simply about money?

Asked about Nationals’ managing principal owner Mark Lerner saying the team could only afford Strasburg or Rendon, Boras moved to what has become the Deferred Money Defense. Around $80 million of Strasburg’s $245 million will be put off until after his contract ends. Boras contends wiggle room now exists for the Nationals. Reminder: it’s also his job to drive the market.

“I think Mark’s comments were before the Strasburg negotiations were complete,” Boras said. “And that contract structure that Stephen did allowed certainly an opening and a consideration that probably the Nationals were available to them in their decision making. So I think it’s something that clearly opens doors for them. And when you look at their payroll structure, and the amount of money they have in the $60-$70 million range with their payroll, I think they can sign not only an Anthony Rendon but many players.”

Mike Rizzo was slightly dismissive of Boras’ take when talking to reporters inside his hotel room suite. He’s often taken the position they know Rendon better than anyone, so the amount of times both sides converse is a bit overrated.

“We’ve had conversations about Anthony throughout the process,” Rizzo said. “I don’t get my daily update from Scott, but we’re in communication, and I don’t sense anything is imminent at this point. But that was a while ago, so you never know.”

Read that back. Rizzo talked about Rendon throughout, dropped a dig at Boras, stated nothing is imminent, then countered that claim by saying “you never know.” The last time he said no movement was imminent came almost a year ago. He traded Tanner Roark a couple hours later.

Rizzo is checking on trades, Josh Donaldson and piecemeal as possible Rendon alternatives. There is no equivalent player remaining on the market. So, a transaction involving him is now imminent, to borrow a word. It’s just a question of where.

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