Big week of BCS scoreboard watching for Oregon

Big week of BCS scoreboard watching for Oregon

This is a big week for Oregon's BCS title hopes.

No, not because the second-ranked Ducks play hapless Colorado. That'll be a breeze.

The teams directly ahead of Oregon in the BCS standings (Alabama, Florida and Kansas State), and the one right behind (Notre Dame), are all playing ranked foes Saturday.

So the Ducks, fourth in the BCS standings, could get some of the help they need to move up - or they could slip further back in the race to the national championship game.

It's a bit early to get overly worked up about the BCS pecking order. There are 11 undefeated teams in major college football, and the most there could be at the end of the season is seven. But you can whittle that down to four serious contenders for a spot in the BCS title game in Miami.

Ohio State is ineligible. Ohio University doesn't play a tough enough schedule. The Big East champion probably won't be able to climb over the top teams from the Southeastern Conference, Pac-12 and Big 12, and Notre Dame.

Out of the top five teams, Oregon seems to be the most likely to get left out of the national title game if more than two teams finish unbeaten. Excuse Ducks fans if they are a bit skittish. The BCS hasn't always worked out in their team's favor (see 2001 and `05).

Here's an example of the Ducks' problems: Notre Dame is at Oklahoma. If the Fighting Irish win, there's a chance they could jump the Ducks in the BCS standings the way Kansas State did last week. If Oklahoma wins, it makes Kansas State's victory at Oklahoma look even better and could push the Wildcats further ahead of the Ducks.

The Ducks' problems come down to schedule. Oregon's opponents so far just haven't been particularly good, and it's especially weighing the Ducks down in the computer ratings.

Oregon is second in both polls that are used in the BCS standings, but sixth in the computer rankings.

And part of Oregon's strength of schedule problem stems from a game it was supposed to play against Kansas State.

The Wildcats and Ducks had agreed to play a home-and-home series in 2011 and `12. Oregon asked to reschedule when it got a shot to play LSU in Texas last year.

With the Big 12 headed toward playing nine conferences games, Kansas State suggested to cancel the whole thing. The Ducks agreed.

That left the Ducks with Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech to tuneup with this season. Oregon easily dispatched all three, but two months into the season the Ducks still don't have a marquee victory.

Obviously, Kansas State couldn't have known how this would play out, but it's looking like one of the best decisions coach Bill Snyder has made since returning to the sidelines.

After Colorado, the Ducks get into the teeth of their conference schedule with Southern California, Stanford and Oregon State all coming up, plus a possible Pac-12 title game (and maybe a rematch against USC). Win all those and the computers will spit out some different numbers on the Ducks.

Will it be enough to catch Kansas State if the Wildcats keep winning? Or fend off Notre Dame? Stay tuned.

The picks:


No. 14 Clemson (minus 12) at Wake Forest

Tigers can't afford another ACC slip ... CLEMSON 31-17.


Cincinnati (plus 3 1/2) at No. 16 Louisville

Battle for the Keg of Nails will have Big East title implications ... LOUISVILLE 28-24.


No. 13 Mississippi State (plus 24) at No. 1 Alabama

As line shows, Bulldogs have plenty of doubters ... ALABAMA 38-17.

Colorado (plus 45 1/2) at No. 2 Oregon

Ducks have outscored opponents 199-49 in first half ... OREGON 50-14.

No. 3 Florida (plus 6 1/2) vs. No. 12 Georgia at Jacksonville, Fla.

What happened to Bulldogs' defense? Last three opponents have averaged 211 per game on ground ... FLORIDA 31-23.


No. 15 Texas Tech (plus 7) at No. 4 Kansas State

Seth Doege for Heisman? If Red Raiders beat Wildcats, their QB could be a contender ... KANSAS STATE 41-31.

No. 5 Notre Dame (plus 10) at No. 8 Oklahoma

Best offense Fighting Irish have faced, but also best defense Sooners have faced ... OKLAHOMA 28-17.


No. 7 Oregon State (minus 4 1/2) at Washington

QB Sean Mannion (knee) returns for Beavers ... WASHINGTON 31-28.

No. 9 Ohio State (pick'em) at Penn State

Most interesting game in the Big Ten so far has no championship implications ... PENN STATE 35-31.

No. 10 Southern California (minus 6 1/2) at Arizona

Matt Barkley's Heisman campaign resets ... USC 42-28.

Duke (plus 27 1/2) at No. 11 Florida State

ACC title game preview? Hard to say it with a straight face ... FLORIDA STATE 45-14.

Tennessee (plus 14) at No. 17 South Carolina

Two straight losses have derailed Gamecocks' championship hopes ... SOUTH CAROLINA 35-24.

Kent State (plus 13 1/2) at No. 18 Rutgers

Beware the MAC ... RUTGERS 31-14.

Washington State (plus 24 1/2) at No. 19 Stanford

First season at Wazzu has been forgettable for Mike Leach ... STANFORD 43-14.

No. 20 Michigan (plus 2 1/2) at Nebraska

Denard Robinson tends not to play well against good defenses. Not a problem this week ... MICHIGAN 33-27.

No. 21 Boise State (minus 16 1/2) at Wyoming

Defense carrying the Broncos ... BOISE STATE 28-14.

No. 22 Texas A&M (minus 15) at Auburn

Coach Gene Chizik and Tigers desperately need a victory ... TEXAS A&M 35-24.

No. 23 Ohio (minus 7) at Miami, Ohio

Bobcats are unbeaten, but have been living dangerously ... OHIO 37-33.

No. 24 Louisiana Tech (minus 30 1/2) at New Mexico State

Bulldogs hit 70 last week. Two straight? ... LOUISIANA TECH 66-24.


Last week's record: 18-3 (straight); 8-13 (vs. points)

Season record: 134-26 (straight); 77-65 (vs. points)

Best bets: 2-6.

Upset specials: 4-4.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

A shorthanded Capitals team marched into Colorado and took a 3-2 overtime win over the Avalanche on Friday.

Here are five reasons the Caps won.

A big glove save

With no T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Braden Holtby, the Caps were a bit shorthanded heading into the game. After the Avalanche took a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds in, it felt like it could be a very long night for Washington.

It could have been if not for an early breakaway save by Pheonix Copley.

Soon after the goal, Nathan MacKinnon grabbed the puck on a breakaway. MacKinnon is one of the best offensive players in the league and not the guy you want to see going in alone on Copley on a breakaway.

Copley, however, flashed the glove and made the save to keep the game at 1-0.

One year ago to the day, the Caps lost 6-2 in Colorado. With the injuries Washington was dealing with, it’s not a stretch to think this game could have gone off the rails quickly had the Avalanche jumped out to a 2-0 lead.


The Caps struggled through the first period to get any real penetration on Colorado’s defense and were kept largely on the perimeter with very few high-danger opportunities. The Avalanche defense got a bit more porous in the second and Washington took advantage.

Travis Boyd collected the puck in the offensive zone below the goal line. As he skated along the wall, he found himself face-to-face with four Colorado players who were all just following the puck. As far as defense goes, that’s not an ideal situation. Boyd found a wide-open Chandler Stephenson on the cross-ice pass, Stephenson goes back left to Devante Smith-Pelly who had an empty net to shoot on to get the Caps on the board and tie the game at one.

Game speed

After six seasons in Washington, Philipp Grubauer has faced literally thousands of shots from Alex Ovechkin in practice. But he never faced one of those shots in a game until Friday. Those shots come off the stick a bit faster when it counts as Grubauer learned.

Nicklas Backstrom entered the offensive zone with the puck and backhanded it to Ovechkin. Backstrom kept driving to the net drawing the defense with him except for Tyson Barrie. Backstrom’s passed to the left, but Ovechkin collected it going right which caught Barrie flatfooted. Ovehckin easily skated around Barrie to find an open shooting lane, then snapped a shot past Grubauer to put the Caps up 2-1. Ovechkin’s celebration was almost instantaneous, he knew he had Grubauer beat.

A late penalty

The referees really put away the whistles in the third period. They even missed a clear high-stick to Dmitry Orlov that drew blood and should have been a double-minor. Colorado came back to tie the game, but Smith-Pelly finally drew a blatant holding penalty from Ian Cole with just over a minute left to go in regulation.

The Avalanche survived to force overtime, but Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winner on the power play just 22 seconds in for the win.

Tom Wilson making a Tom Wilson play

Space is important in hockey. That’s what makes a four-on-three power play harder to cover than a five-on-four power play. You know what’s even better? A three-on-two.

The Caps entered overtime on a power play which gave them a four-on-three to start. Tom Wilson had the puck on the wall and took a hit from Carl Soderberg. He saw the hit coming and took it so he could make the pass to Backstrom. He won the board battle and the hit took Soderberg out of the play, giving the Caps a three-on-two in the offensive zone to work with. Backstrom passed to John Carlson who passed back to Backstrom. He had all day to fire the game-winner and it was all thanks to a tremendous play from Wilson that most people would not have noticed.


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Wizards try maintaining focus yet cannot shake inconsistencies

USA Today Sports

Wizards try maintaining focus yet cannot shake inconsistencies


CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The Washington Wizards were finally feeling better after that 2-9 start to the regular season. Three wins in a row with three games remaining on the homestand starting with the Brooklyn Nets Friday night. They didn’t conquer all of their problems. But at least they could breathe a bit easier, smile more natural. Heck, they were only 1 ½ games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and three back of third place.

“And we’ve been playing terrible," John Wall said to NBC Sports Washington Thursday night at the point guard’s annual turkey giveaway.  “That’s how shaky it is. You never know how it’s going to go, but we can’t look at that aspect. ... Have to take it one game at a time. Our focus is on Brooklyn right now. Try to win to make it four in a row.”

Last season Brooklyn was one of those non-contending teams that flummoxed the Wizards. Brooklyn finished 28-54, yet won two of three over Washington. While the current momentum was compelling, the reporter told Wall he’s heard such focus talk before and witnessed mixed results. The point guard nodded in acknowledgment.

“You put yourself in that situation, you have to answer (questions) and [reporters] have to ask," Wall said.

Another batch of questions came at Wall and the Wizards Friday. Brooklyn, a try-hard squad lacking high-end talent, dumped Washington 115-104.

The Nets, who lost leading scorer Caris Levert to a nasty ankle injury this week, turned a 56-54 halftime lead into a 19-point margin in the fourth quarter. They also converted 13 Washington turnovers into 19 points.

The Wizards, now 5-10, finished 3 of 17 on 3-pointers. Their defense lacked oomph at the point of attack.

“They were more aggressive than we were, offense and defense,” Bradley Beal said. “They forced us to turn the ball over. We couldn’t make shots [and] we definitely couldn’t guard them. Our one-on-one defense was suspect.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks echoed the defensive struggles.

“The problem was that we couldn’t stay in front of the basketball tonight,” said Brooks, addressing a broad topic he largely could skip during the recent winning. 

Washington no longer ranks last in scoring defense thanks to the woeful Atlanta Hawks, but the 116.9 points allowed per game serves as a reminder that Friday’s struggles were no one-off.

Brooklyn had its own defensive woes during a three-game skid entering Friday. Second-year center Jarrett Allen, the player the Nets selected 22nd overall in the 2017 NBA Draft with the pick acquired from Washington in the Bojan Bogdanovic trade, missed the previous two contests. His return fueled an interior turnaround.

Those stops led to Brooklyn’s generating offense. The Nets, who often used no more than one traditional big man, outscored the Wizards 13-2 in fast-break points. They hit 13 of 15 free throws in the third quarter and finished 30 of 38.

“I thought because we got stops, (we) got into transition, got easy buckets,” Nets forward and ex-Wizard Jared Dudley told NBC Sports Washington. “I thought they were fouling so much we were on our drives. We kept attacking. … I thought defense opened up our offense.”

Wall opened up the postgame Q&A session with reporters in Washington’s locker room. He noted Brooklyn’s constant use of pick-and-rolls with the Wizards switching one through four didn’t work. “Just about every time they drove, they got a foul.”

Wall lives a fishbowl existence. People pay good money to watch him work. That means they witness the highs and lows, the advancement and the learning. Teammates also have eyes on him. All observe the five-time All-Star reacting to some whistles or non-calls he deems incorrect, or his body language during a tough loss.

Wall, 28, acknowledges his role as the team leader. He accepts that fishbowl reality and knows when those frustrations show, everyone can see.

“It’s fun. It’s a challenge," Wall said of being a leader to NBC Sports Washington Thursday. "Every day you have to be perfect. Nobody is perfect, but you have to be good every day. You can’t take a bad day or dwell on something. You have to let that slide because when it gets bad or gets shaky, everybody is looking at you. If your head is down, everybody else’s head is down. That’s something I have to learn."

Despite the streak-busting setback Friday night, Wall stuck with his big picture, no panic approach.

“They just came out and played better tonight. That’s all it is,” Wall told NBC Sports Washington. “We didn’t make shots. We didn’t do a great job of executing. They attacked us defensively. We lost one game. We have to get past and prepare for Sunday with a good team in Portland coming in.”