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Buckeyes close to perfection; Michigan in way

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Buckeyes close to perfection; Michigan in way

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) All that separates Ohio State from a season for the ages is a contest so big that everyone simply calls it ``The Game.''

Just five teams in the program's 122 previous years have gone through a campaign unbeaten and untied. The Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) can become the sixth Saturday when they take on archrival Michigan.

Perfection is exceedingly rare, whether for a baseball pitcher, a pearl or a college football team.

``That's the goal for every team. I mean, why not?'' said former NFL and Ohio State All-American offensive lineman Jim Lachey, now a radio analyst for Buckeyes games. ``Everybody dreams about that opportunity.''

Since the schools officially saved the best for last and moved their biggest game to the end of the schedule in 1935, Ohio State has carried a perfect record into the Michigan game 12 times, going 8-3-1.

Some believe that it is more difficult to run the table and win every game now than ever before, due to scholarship limits, spread-the-wealth conferences and even small schools getting a chance to appear regularly on television.

Just last week many experts already had Kansas State and Oregon in the national championship game, virtually conceding that they would win the rest of their games and put up unblemished records.

Instead, they both lost, leaving No. 1 Notre Dame and fourth-ranked Ohio State as the only major unbeatens left in the country.

``You saw last week with Kansas State and Oregon that it's hard to do,'' first-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. ``It's a credit to a bunch of players and assistant coaches who keep that focus in spite of all the distractions. It's such a credit to this team to be in the position they're in. It's hard. It's real hard.''

Ohio State, of course, is trying to preserve its perfect season. But is Michigan motivated by trying to ruin it?

Marcus Ray, a former Wolverines player who is from Columbus, knows a little bit about both sides of it. He played for the last unbeaten and untied Michigan team to beat Ohio State, in 1997. Coach Lloyd Carr's team went on to win The Associated Press national championship.

Ray also played strong safety on teams that twice demolished perfect seasons by Ohio State, the Buckeyes' second-ranked squads that were 11-0 in 1995 and 10-0 a year later.

``It heightens the stakes and makes the game more entertaining to watch because it adds more fuel to the fire,'' Ray said of having an undefeated team in The Game. ``It works against the undefeated team in a rivalry game. If you win, you were supposed to win. If you lose, your rival can say they knocked you off your high horse.''

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said neither team's record matters in such an emotional game.

``It doesn't, to be honest with you,'' he said. ``If you need anything to get amped up more for this football game, then you don't know college football and you don't understand the importance of this great rivalry.''

Earle Bruce succeeded the legendary Woody Hayes as Ohio State's head coach in 1979 and guided his first team to 11 consecutive wins, including a win over Michigan, before losing the national championship by a point to Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

A team that's hoping to make a name for itself by ruining its adversary's faultless record is misguided, he said.

``If that's the case, they're doing it the wrong way, aren't they?'' he said. ``You do it for the good of you, not the detriment of someone else. That's not good focus.''

Michigan's fifth-year senior center Elliott Mealer, an Ohio native, believes too much is made of the ancillary things off the field.

``I don't think there's any way to raise or lower the bar for this game,'' Mealer said. ``It's always important, it's always intense.''

If the rivalry takes on even more relevance for Ohio State's players this season, it's because it's their final game. NCAA sanctions for violations committed under former coach Jim Tressel include a bowl ban. So, with no chance to play in the Big Ten title game, the BCS national championship or any postseason game, there is little left except to maintain perfection.

Asked what a 12-0 mark would mean - particularly coming on the heels of an embarrassing 6-7 record including a Michigan loss last year - senior linebacker Etienne Sabino had difficulty answering.

``I don't know if words can (express it),'' he said. ``Every year you set out to win every game. That's your goal. That's the dream for every athlete in every sport. To have a chance to do that ... We're 11-0 with one game in front of us. If, at the end of this game, we can do what we're supposed to do it's going to be amazing.''

It's been 33 years since Bruce's No. 2-ranked Buckeyes took on No. 13 Michigan on a bright but cold day at The Big House.

It seems like just last week to the 81-year-old, as all of the memories from that cherished 18-15 victory come flooding back. Jim Laughlin's blocked punt. Scoring a touchdown against the maize-and-blue for the first time in four years. Climbing to No. 1 in the polls. Clinching a berth in the Rose Bowl.

``Those are the things I remember,'' Bruce said softly.

Perhaps in time such reflections matter. Right now, for those involved, there are more fundamental things to worry about: stopping the run, no mistakes in special teams, reining in the emotion and doing your job.

``I've been coaching for a while now, and there's nothing you can control other than getting ready to go play the game,'' Meyer said. ``You learn that along the journey. If it was the first rodeo, I'd be worried about this, worried about that.

``I am concerned, but you've got to move forward and do the best you can.''

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AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Mich., contributed to this report.

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

After already making significant changes to their roster, the Wizards may not be done this offseason, as they have been in talks with the San Antonio Spurs about a potential trade for superstar Kawhi Leonard, according to a new report by ESPN

Read this from Adrian Wojnarowski:

Still, the bidding war among Boston, Philadelphia and the Lakers never materialized. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Toronto and Washington are among teams who've talked with San Antonio, league sources said.

The Wizards certainly make sense as a Leonard suitor. They are in the East, meaning the Spurs could trade Leonard to them and not have to worry about facing him as often. Plus, they have a solid group of tradeable assets and ones that seem to fit the Spurs model.

Otto Porter is a versatile, young player under team control who plays an unselfish style and would likely embrace playing in a small market. He also has a salary ($26M in 2018-19) that isn't far off from Leonard's ($21M in 2018-19), so the money could be easily matched.

The Wizards also have Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre, Jr., two young and up-and-coming players. Plus, they have draft picks, though ones that are unlikely to convey as lottery selections.

The Spurs have reportedly been more interested in getting players that can help now rather than draft picks to rebuild. That makes sense, as they still won 47 games last year despite Leonard only playing in nine of them due to injury.

The question in any Wizards and Spurs talks would be whether they would want one of Washington's All-Stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. It would be tough to imagine the Wizards parting with either guy for Leonard, who carries some risk not only because of his quadriceps injury but also because he can opt out of his contract and leave after next season.

Just because the Wizards have talked to the Spurs doesn't mean they are serious contenders for Leonard, but it does show they are serious about improving their roster this summer. If they got Leonard and didn't part with Wall and Beal, that would be some team.

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Orioles reportedly have deal in place to trade Manny Machado to Dodgers

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Orioles reportedly have deal in place to trade Manny Machado to Dodgers

When Manny Machado returns from the 2018 MLB All-Star Break, he will not be donning a Baltimore Orioles uniform. 

The All-Star shortstop is expected to be traded from Baltimore to the Los Angeles Dodgers, barring any last-minute changes, according to multiple media reports. 

That being said, the Machado trade talks remain fluid and both the Phillies and Brewers are still trying to work a trade for the 26-year-old third baseman, according to Jon Heyman. The Diamondbacks are also reportedly trying to lure the four-time All-Star to the desert, while the Yankees decided to pull out of the Machado sweepstakes just prior to the All-Star festivities in Washington, D.C. 

While the details of the trade have yet to be revealed, the Dodgers will reportedly include top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz in the Machado trade, according to Heyman.

According to Jim Bowden, when regular-season play returns, Machado will be in the National League, although which team he plays for is still up in the air.

With the Orioles sitting a historically awful 39.5 games out of first place at the All-Star Break, trading Machado is the first major step toward a complete overhaul. The Orioles drafted Machado out of Brito High School in Miami, Fla., with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. Since then, Machado has drawn comparisons to iconic third basemen Brooks Robinson and Alex Rodriguez, despite being moved to shortstop full-time this past season, and is widely considered one of the three best position players in professional baseball.

Machado is currently batting .315 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs.

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