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Big Ten teams all underdogs in bowl season

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Big Ten teams all underdogs in bowl season

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) The Big Ten spent much of the year as a national punch line.

It might get worse during bowl season.

The Big Ten could only fill seven of its eight predetermined bowl slots - and each of those bowl-bound teams is currently an underdog.

From the five-loss Wisconsin team that still wound up in the Rose Bowl to the 6-6 Purdue squad that fired its coach, the beleaguered Big Ten isn't expected to do much of anything in the postseason.

The league went just 1-6 in bowl games in 2008. According to odds makers, things could go even worse in 2012.

``I'm not apologizing for us to go to the Rose Bowl with five losses,'' Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said during his press conference to announce he would coach the Badgers in that game. ``I didn't have anything to do with two teams being ineligible in our division. That allowed us to play in that championship game, and we soundly defeated the champion from the other side.''

That they did, thumping Nebraska 70-31.

Still, the current symbol for the league's plight has to be Badgers (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten).

They finished four games behind Ohio State and one behind Penn State in the Leaders Division. But the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions weren't eligible for the Big Ten title game, and the Badgers made the most of their lucky break.

Wisconsin is currently in upheaval after Bret Bielema stunned nearly everyone by bolting for Arkansas a few weeks ago. Alvarez will lead the Badgers in their third straight Rose Bowl, where they're about a touchdown underdog to 11-2 Stanford. Afterward, he'll resume his search for a new coach.

``It will be a great challenge for us, but I think it's a good matchup. I think it's a great bowl matchup. The game hasn't changed,'' Alvarez said.

The way Wisconsin manhandled the Huskers also took some buzz out of the Capital One Bowl.

Nebraska (10-3, 7-1) fell to the game in Orlando following their loss to the Badgers. The Huskers face Georgia (11-2) in a matchup that would have looked like good on paper - in mid-November.

While the Bulldogs were within about 5 yards of beating Alabama and earning a shot at Notre Dame in the BCS national championship, the Huskers were embarrassed by the five-loss Badgers a few hours later.

Georgia is a 10-point favorite over the seemingly reeling Huskers.

``They're resilient,'' Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. ``They look forward to going out and playing again. They were hurting, but you know what, they are grown men. You move on. That's what you have to do. We'll be ready to go.''

Perhaps no bowl matchup epitomizes the current gap between the Big Ten and the powerhouse Big 12 and SEC more than Purdue-Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Even though the Boilermakers fired coach Danny Hope, they're still on a three-game winning streak. Yet the Cowboys, who at 7-5 are just a game better than Purdue, are an 18-point favorite.

That's the biggest line of the postseason - bigger than even Florida State over MAC champs Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.

Minnesota (6-6, 2-6) is also a heavy underdog in its matchup with Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, even though the Red Raiders (7-5) lost coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati.

Even with all those apparent mismatches, going 0-7 is probably a long shot for the Big Ten.

Michigan (8-4, 6-2) and South Carolina should make for an entertaining Outback Bowl. Few would be surprised if the Wolverines won their second straight bowl game under coach Brady Hoke.

Northwestern (9-3, 5-3) can reach the 10-win plateau for just the third time with a win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

The Wildcats, who were perhaps the only Big Ten team that can claim they were underrated in 2012, are just a 2-point underdog.

``Our guys are hungry. This is an opportunity for 10 wins for this ball club and to potentially be ranked in the top 15 in the country. That's an unbelievable foundation of success that this senior class will have laid. Ten wins makes a good season great,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

Michigan State and TCU are also a virtual toss-up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

The Spartans were one of the nation's most disappointing teams, but five of their six losses were by four points or less.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is hoping his team can finally catch a few break.

His Big Ten colleagues might be thinking along those same lines.

``One play here, one play there, we're a different football team. But you have to play what you've got. We want to point our compass north. I believe the glass is half full, not half empty,'' Dantonio said.

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

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Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

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USA TODAY Sports

Trotz's future in Washington remains unsettled on eve Stanley Cup Final

Caps Coach Barry Trotz doesn’t have a contract beyond the Stanley Cup Final, and any potential talks about an extension will wait until the trophy is awarded, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday.

“No,” MacLellan said, asked if a decision on Trotz’s future had been made. “We’re going to address everything after the playoffs are over.”

Trotz’s four-year contract expires at season’s end.

It’s rare for a head coach to enter a season while in the final year of his deal. But that’s how the Caps decided to handle Trotz’s situation last offseason after another strong regular season performance ended with yet another second round playoff exit at the hands of the Penguins.

It was a suboptimal situation for Trotz, a 55-year-old who ranks fifth all-time in regular season victories but, until this year, had never led any team beyond the conference semifinals.

Despite his lame duck status, all Trotz did was produce his best coaching performance to date. 

Consider:

  • While visiting his son in Russia last summer, Trotz visited Alex Ovechkin in Moscow to discuss the changes he’d like to see the Caps’ captain make to his training and his game.
  • When the Caps reconvened for training camp in September, it was clear there were still some hurt feelings in the locker room. So Trotz and his assistants backed off, allowing some necessary healing to occur.
  • When the team suffered back-to-back blowout losses in Nashville and Colorado back in November, Trotz initiated a tell-it-like-it-is team meeting that many players have pointed to as the turning point of the regular season, which ended with the team’s third straight Metropolitan title.
  • Trotz also got his highly-skilled lineup to buy into a more structured, detailed style of play late in the campaign, a transformation that prompted MacLellan to call this playoff run the most defensively responsible of Trotz’s tenure.
  • In each of the two previous conference semifinals, Washington was defeated by Pittsburgh and, as a result, the Penguins had become a physical and a mental hurdle for the Caps. Earlier this month, Trotz helped direct Ovechkin and Co. past the two-time Cup champions.

Although MacLellan wouldn’t say much about Trotz’s contract, he did say that he’s noticed a big change in Trotz’s day-to-day approach to his job, a change possibly prompted by the coach’s free agent status.

“I think his demeanor has changed a little bit,” MacLellan said. “He seems a little lighter, a little looser, a little less pressure. Maybe a little more freedom about how he goes about things. He’s more relaxed, I guess would be the way to describe him.”

MacLellan also acknowledged the job Trotz’s has done this season, beginning with his delicate handling of the dressing room to start the year.

“I think he’s done a good job managing it,” MacLellan said. “To come in this year with so many questions—from my point of view, the lineup questions weren’t that big of a deal—but just the emotional state of our coming into to start the year [and] how to handle that. I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Indeed, Trotz’s situation remains unclear on the eve of the Final. But we do know this much: He’s having one of the best contract years in NHL coaching history.

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Small Virginia town changes name to Capitalsville ahead of Stanley Cup Final

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FB/The Town of Lovettsville

Small Virginia town changes name to Capitalsville ahead of Stanley Cup Final

Welcome to Capitalsville, Va., population: #ALLCAPS

Hoping to become the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup headquarters, the small Northern Virginia town of Lovettsville has renamed itself to Capitalsville, Va.

Caps superfan and Mayor of Lovettsville, Bob Zoldos, had a lightbulb moment while watching Game 7 in a local bar and restaurant, Velocity Wings. Overcome with emotion from the win, he decided to take his idea to the town council meeting Thursday and Capitalsville was born after a unanimous vote to "unleash the fury."

This is not the first time name changes have occurred ahead of a big game. Ahead of the Caps' first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Blue Jacket Brewery located in downtown D.C. changed its Twitter handle to "Grujacket Brewery" in support of goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

The name change from Lovettsville to Capitalsville is temporary, with the plan to keep the new name through the end of the Stanley Cup Final. However, Zoldos hopes the sign brings in other Caps superfans from across the DMV to take in a piece of history 20 years in the making. 

Here's to hoping Capitalsville brings the city some luck heading into Game 1 on Memorial Day.

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