Capitals

Buckeyes win them all but still get left behind

Buckeyes win them all but still get left behind

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Mewhort loves college football. Yet he likely won't go out of his way to watch a single bowl game in the coming days.

What's the point, the thoughtful, red-haired Ohio State offensive lineman says, not really seeking an answer.

``Now that the season is over, you can sit around and think to yourself a little bit,'' he said in a voice a lot softer than you might expect coming from a body measuring 6-foot-6 and 312 pounds. ``Your mind kind of wanders. We accomplished everything we possibly could.

``But you've got to keep the demons out.''

The Buckeyes aren't allowed, due to NCAA violations committed by those no longer with the team, to play in a bowl game. They did all they could during the 2012 season, going 12-0.

So while Notre Dame and one-loss Alabama fight it out for the national championship, and while lesser teams play in sunny climes and get maximum exposure, Mewhort and the rest of the Buckeyes are left with their thoughts.

Coach Urban Meyer is perfectly willing to move on, to cease all the talk about NCAA crimes and punishment.

But that doesn't mean, the Ohio State coach still doesn't have a lingering regret: What might have been.

``It's very difficult,'' concedes Meyer, not one to spend a lot of time dealing with the what-ifs of daily life. ``After we won our last game (against rival Michigan) and we saw we couldn't go play in the Big Ten championship game, and then if we would have won that we might have been playing for the national championship - you can't help but think about it.''

There's plenty of regret to go around at Ohio State these days. There's regret that former coach Jim Tressel, who wrote books about integrity, morals and leading a Christian life, found out in 2010 that some of his best players took money from a suspected drug dealer and yet did nothing about it. He played those players anyway and they were later ruled ineligible for taking cash and free tattoos. A 12-1 season, including a Sugar Bowl victory two years ago, was wiped off the books.

Tressel was forced out of the job in disgrace after 10 years and all of the players involved either graduated, moved on to the NFL or went elsewhere.

There's also regret that athletic director Gene Smith, who once worked on the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, didn't give up a meaningless Gator Bowl bid after the 2011 season as a pre-emptive strike to mollify the NCAA. The thinking is that, had he surrendered that game - what would be the seventh loss in an utterly forgettable year of suspensions, innuendo, investigations and sanctions - perhaps the current Buckeyes might still be pursuing that elusive national championship berth.

Smith, for one, refuses to play the blame game. He said he doesn't feel any remorse for his decision whatsoever.

``No. As I've said before, with the information we had at the time we made the decisions at the time that we felt were the best decisions,'' he said. ``So we've moved on. I guess that's the challenge. We've moved on. We're looking at what we accomplished this year, we're looking at the future and we're recognizing the opportunities ahead of us that are exciting because of how we stayed focused on helping this team and this coaching staff be successful.''

Of course, the players affected the most by the bowl ban are Ohio State's seniors. They overcame doubts and questions to post just the sixth unbeaten and untied season in the program's 123 seasons. Yet, for the sins of others, they're deprived of the reward of going on a good bowl trip.

``I can't stay here and live in the past and wish and hope,'' said a wistful Etienne Sabino, a senior linebacker. ``There's nothing I can control. I try not to think about it.''

But the underclassmen feel a void, as well.

Star quarterback Braxton Miller says it's an injustice that the Buckeyes paid the price for others' mistakes in judgment.

``I'm really disappointed,'' said Miller, who will be a junior next fall. ``They got in trouble before I got here. With the probation, it's very disturbing for the players. We put in the hard work and went 12-0 and, you know, should have had an opportunity to go to the national championship game. It's not fair.''

There are other considerations, of course. The lack of a bowl game denies Ohio State weeks of practice that even a mediocre bowl-bound team with a 6-6 record gets. It also denies a national stage to an unbeaten team, perhaps preventing the seniors from another opportunity to impress pro scouts. And it eliminates an additional high-profile chance for Meyer to show off the rebuilding project he's overseen at Ohio State, one that might be very appealing to potential recruits who are glued to the TV during the postseason.

Meyer believes the players will just have to work harder to make up for those missed practices. And that the coaches must work even harder to reach recruits and spread the word of the rebirth at Ohio State in the wake of the Tressel trauma.

Those are still minor considerations, he believes, compared to what the seniors lost.

``Everybody has a dream of playing for a national title and our guys don't get that opportunity,'' he said softly.

Despite the premature end to their season, the players take great pride in that perfect record. NCAA rules allow players to leave a team - without having to sit out a transfer year - when a team gets hit with major penalties. Yet none of the Buckeyes left under those circumstances. They stuck around, and will be rewarded with rings for winning their Big Ten division and will be remembered as a unit that provided a cornerstone for what's to come.

``This season just kind of sets a tone for the future years,'' senior fullback and linebacker Zach Boren said.

That doesn't mean being left behind isn't painful.

``We're really proud of what we did going 12-0. We accomplished everything we could. We won our division, we won our big game (Michigan) at the end,'' Mewhort said. ``I want to stress how important that was to us to win every game possible for these seniors. They led us. It was all for them. But it does get a little frustrating as you get close to bowl season.

``Because you still have that fire burning, you know. You want to go out there and compete.''

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Who is the most underrated Caps player of all-time?

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Justin Cade writes: Who do you think is the most underrated/underappreciated player in Caps history?

So I have a  few candidates for this, but when I first read this question one name instantly came to mind. It is a current player so I went back and scoured through a list of all the players in franchise history to make sure this was not just a product of recency bias. In the end, I am having a hard time finding a better option. The most underrated player in Caps' history is Braden Holtby.

There, I said it.

Holtby is the best goalie in franchise history and was one of the key pieces in a Stanley Cup run and every time he lets in a questionable goal, I get inundated with people telling me that he is terrible, has always been terrible and he should be traded immediately.

Now, let's be clear. I am not talking about the people who think the team should move on from Holtby this season when his contract expires -- heck, I'm in that camp -- I am talking about the people who are unceasingly critical and disparaging not only of Holtby's recent play, but of the entire career of, let me repeat myself, the best goalie in franchise history.

Holtby became the undisputed No. 1 goalie in 2013-14. Since that time, no goalie in the NHL has played more games than Holtby and no goalie has more wins. Holtby has a whopping 20 more victories than Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask who is second in that stretch despite playing only 13 more games so don't tell me his win total is just a product of the number of games he has played. Before the Cup win, he was criticized as being a poor playoff performer which is ridiculous. Holtby has the fifth-best playoff save percentage of all-time. Of all time!

But JJ, what about Olie Kolzig?

Kolzig was great. I loved him when I was growing up. Holtby has a better career GAA and save percentage, both players have a Vezina Trophy to their name and, oh yeah, Holtby has a freakin' Cup. And yet, Kolzig is revered by the fanbase while I am left constantly having to defend Holtby.

Do I think he is past his prime? Sure, but the way in which people downplay how important a player Holtby has been to this franchise is staggering. To think he has not been a key factor in the team's success including the Cup run is just plain wrong.

Maybe this is a product of the fact that probable replacement, Ilya Samsonov, is younger, cheaper and already on the roster. Maybe 10 years from now, people will feel differently about Holtby, but for now it is stunning to me how many people undercut what he has accomplished.

There are two other names I wanted to bring up. First, Mike Ridley. Ridley has the fifth-most goals in franchise history with 218, but for some reason he has seemingly faded into history in the minds of Caps fans. If I told you to list the greatest players in franchise history, how far down the list would you have to go before you thought of Ridley? A guy who scored 218 goals and 329 assists in 588 games for Washington probably deserves more recognition.

The other name is another recent player: Alex Semin. I am not saying he is underappreciated, he did not take full advantage of his skills during his NHL career. That is not debatable. I guess this is just more of a quibble I have with the word "bust."

Sasha Pokulok was the Caps' first-round draft pick in 2005. He never played a single game in the NHL. That's a bust. Semin played 650 NHL games with 239 goals and 517 total points. That's not a bust.

Was he disappointing considering his talent level? Sure, but he still produced a heck of a lot of points while wearing a Caps sweater.

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John Schecter writes: Could you discuss and explain some of the various "systems" that teams use in hockey?

There are a lot of people who could explain this better than me, but I can give you the basics. A hockey system is basically the tactics of how a team plays. Hockey is a very fluid game and, as a result, it can look as if the players are largely winging it. You try to keep the puck out of the net and when you get it, you head down the ice as quickly as possible, pass to a teammate and shoot. Done. In reality, just about every aspect of what the players do on the ice is meticulously planned, coached and practiced.

How aggressive is the forecheck? Who's responsible for the forecheck? How do you defend the neutral zone? Do you try to trap? How do you defend the blue line? How does the defense defend in any given situation? How do you break the puck out of the defensive zone? How do you transition on offense? How aggressive are the forwards on the breakout looking for odd-man rushes? How do you break the puck in? How much does the team dump and chase? How does the team set up offensively? What type of shot is the offense looking for?

I think it is a little easier to grasp the different systems in football where it can be largely and easily defined such as a spread offense, wishbone, a 4-3 defense, etc. Hockey is more nuanced because the game is free-flowing and everyone has different responsibilities depending on where the puck is, who is on the ice and the situations. To really understand a hockey system in the NHL requires an insane level of knowledge and understanding of the game that is beyond most of us, including me. I can give you the basics, but believe me, it gets very complicated very quickly.

Austen Bundy writes: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are obviously going to have their numbers retired together but I've always wondered why Scott Stevens, Peter Bondra and Olie Kolzig never had theirs retired. Any historical or practical insight you can provide on this, JJ?

This is something that I have argued about for years. First off, my guess with Stevens is that it is because he spent the majority of his career and had the most success in New Jersey. He had eight good seasons with Washington and what the team ultimately had to show for it was the five first-round draft picks the team received to compensate them for the offer sheet Stevens signed with St. Louis. I don't know why the Caps have not retired Bondra or Kolzig's numbers but if it were up to me, I wouldn't. I know that gets a lot of people riled up, but I have an extremely high standard for retired numbers.

There are only three numbers that should be retired by the franchise: 5, 8 and 19. That's it. That's the list.

Being a good player for a team is not a good enough reason to get your number retired. Believe me, it pains me to say this. I grew up watching Bondra and Kolzig play, I loved both of them. Bondra was my favorite player. But that's not good enough for no one else to ever wear No. 12 again.

Rod Langway, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom not only played hockey at an elite level for the team, but their impact on the franchise went well beyond good play. You have to have a greater impact on the franchise than just being good at hockey. To me, that's what it should take and those are the only three who meet that standard.

Jules A. writes: How would you rank each version of the Caps’ jerseys from start of the franchise to now?

  1. Original red
  2. Blue Stadium Series
  3. Current white
  4. Current red
  5. Black
  6. White eagle
  7. Original white
  8. Maroon Winter Classic
  9. Blue eagle

The hatred of the old red jerseys stems largely from the team's abysmal record while wearing them this season, but if you step back and actually look at them, you will recognize the undeniable beauty. That and the blue Stadium Series jerseys are far and away the two best jerseys this team has worn. It's a shame we only got to see the Stadium Series jersey twice.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, you can submit it here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

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Former Wizard Paul Pierce among NBA, WNBA stars to play in HORSE challenge

Former Wizard Paul Pierce among NBA, WNBA stars to play in HORSE challenge

As sports fans grip with the suspension of the NBA due to the coronavirus outbreak, the league has done its best to fill the basketball-sized void. On Thursday, it announced the latest part of that initiative: a HORSE competition.

The league will host its first-ever HORSE Challenge with eight players from the NBA and WNBA participating in a single-elimination tournament. On behalf of the participants, sponsor State Farm is donating $200,000 to charities assisting those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Wizards forward Paul Pierce is among the NBA’s representatives, which also include Trae Young, Chris Paul, Mike Conley Jr., Zach LaVine and Chauncey Billups. Three-time WNBA All-Star Allie Quigley and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Tamika Catchings round out the field.

There are a few rules. Dunking won’t be allowed, and players must call the type of shot they’re taking before shooting—such as bank or swish. A coin flip will determine which player shoots first, with the elder player calling heads or tails.

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On April 12, four quarterfinal matchups will be played on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Young and Billups will open up the competition, followed by Catchings vs. Conley Jr., LaVine vs. Pierce and Paul vs. Quigley. The semifinal and championship matchups will then be played April 16.

It’s no NBA playoff game, but basketball fans will take what they can get amid the state of the world. As the league continues to monitor the situation and examine ways to salvages the 2019-20 season, fans have this HORSE competition to help get them through this global pandemic.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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