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Can BCS title game challenge TV ratings record?

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Can BCS title game challenge TV ratings record?

NEW YORK (AP) Two undefeated teams, three Heisman Trophy finalists, five lead changes and 19 seconds left when the winning touchdown was scored.

No other BCS title game has come close to matching that perfect formula for broad appeal. The 2006 tilt between Texas and Southern California was on in nearly 22 percent of American homes with televisions; the second-best number is under 18 percent.

Now, seven years later, a matchup may finally challenge that Rose Bowl's TV ratings record.

No. 1 Notre Dame, so popular it can stay independent and negotiate its own television contract, is competing for its first championship since the 1988 season. Notre Dame's opponent, No. 2 Alabama, is a big name in its own right, made bigger by two titles in the last three years and the Southeastern Conference's run of six straight crowns.

``It sets up really remarkable possibilities,'' said Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior vice president for college sports programming.

Just as fans and media break down position-by-position battles for the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide, a look at how this year's matchup stacks up against the record-holders from 2006:

- NAME RECOGNITION. Texas and USC are hardly slouches in the tradition and popularity departments, but Notre Dame is in its own category. Plus there's the added intrigue of the Irish's title drought.

``It definitely raises the bar of the hype and the buzz of this national championship compared to any of the other games I've had the good fortune to call,'' ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said.

Even if much of the interest sprouts from fans rooting against one of the teams.

``Notre Dame is the Yankees, is the Celtics, the Lakers and so on, the Dallas Cowboys. They're polarizing, which helps,'' Magnus said. ``Actually, both of them are right now because of the SEC factor, and Alabama has been the standard bearer for that.''

Herbstreit chuckled at the thought of some fans vowing not to watch because they detest both teams.

``Anybody who takes the time to make a comment like that clearly will be watching the game,'' he said. ``They'll in fact watch the four hours of pregame we have before the game and be blogging and tweeting about how wrong everybody is on those shows.''

- STAR POWER. Texas-USC sparkled far brighter here. The three Heisman finalists that season were from those two teams: Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart (who won the previous year) and running back Reggie Bush (who won this time, before later returning the trophy because of NCAA violations) and Longhorns quarterback Vince Young. All were skill position players believed at the time to have promising NFL futures.

Notre Dame's Heisman finalist is a defensive guy, linebacker Manti Te'o. Alabama's four first-team All-Americans are offensive linemen or defenders.

- ANTICIPATION. Texas and USC were the undisputed top teams in college football - the only undefeated squads in the country who led the rankings all season. Alabama has one loss, and while there has been almost no controversy as to whether the Tide deserves to play in the title game, the late-season rankings scramble that led to this game doesn't carry quite the same buzz.

- MARKET SIZE. In the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, postseason viewership often varies significantly based on whether the teams involved hail from cities big or small. In college football, that's less of a factor, though it didn't hurt the 2006 title game that a school from Los Angeles, the country's second-largest market, was involved.

The program from South Bend, Ind., of course is a classic example of national appeal.

``(Alabama is) the franchise right now and another mega brand,'' Magnus said. ``It doesn't matter that it's Tuscaloosa - the TV markets don't matter when it comes to teams like that.''

- ON-FIELD THEATER. One of the biggest factors in the final rating won't be known until the game kicks off. If the score stays close, more viewers will stick around to the end - and more will join in. Magnus believes the rise of social media will increase the audience of tight games even more than in the past, as casual fans learn through Twitter or Facebook that they can catch a tense finish if they tune in.

The Longhorns' 41-38 win featured 10 touchdowns, and the teams combined to score five times in the fourth quarter. Neither school ever led by more than 12 points.

Notre Dame has had a penchant for close games all season and Alabama also has lately. But the other half of the entertainment equation - high scoring - may be less likely with these two programs. Each allows fewer than 11 points a game.

- RAW NUMBERS. The Texas-USC title game set the record with a 21.7 rating - 22 percent higher than the next best BCS championship. No. 2 all-time was the 2001 Oklahoma-Florida State final with a 17.8. The best ratings since 2006 were a 17.4 for both the 2007 Florida-Ohio State and 2008 LSU-Ohio State matchups.

The 2006 championship was on ABC, but the BCS games have since moved to cable. ESPN is in about 14 percent fewer homes than the traditional broadcast networks, though executives note that college football fans are more likely than the general population to have cable. Ratings since the switch have seemingly been more affected by the matchups and competitiveness of games than by their availability.

Regular-season viewership, while still strong, was down for college football this year. On ESPN's networks, the average audience decreased more than 10 percent on ABC, almost 4 percent on ESPN, and nearly 13 percent on ESPN2 from 2011. SEC games on CBS also dropped 10 percent.

For the four BCS games so far, preliminary ratings are up 1 percent on ESPN from last season.

But Notre Dame and Alabama have already shown their ability to lure big audiences. The rating for the Tide's SEC title game against Georgia - essentially a national semifinal - was up 34 percent from the previous year's LSU-Georgia matchup. With an average of 16.2 million viewers, it was the season's most-watched college football game before the bowls.

No. 2 was Notre Dame's win over USC to clinch a berth in the BCS title game with 16.1 million viewers. That was the highest-rated Saturday night regular-season game on ABC since at least 1991.

Herbstreit is one of those sports fans who watch golf only when Tiger Woods is in contention on a Sunday. He considers Notre Dame-Alabama to be the college football equivalent of that.

``Without a doubt,'' he said, ``if you're a college football fan, or even if you're a fringe college football fan, you're going to watch.''

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Projecting the Caps' opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Projecting the Caps' opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Training camp for the 2019-20 season has officially opened for the Capitals who first took to the ice on Friday.

There has been a lot of talk through the offseason and a lot of people working the “Armchair GM” tool on CapFriendly trying to figure out what the roster will look like. After hearing Todd Reirden and Brian MacLellan speak, plus seeing the team take the ice on Friday, we have at least a rough idea of what the team may be thinking in terms of lines. The news of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s suspension, plus the fact that his cap hit will not count during his suspension, also dramatically changes the roster plans for the start of the season.

There is still an entire preseason to play and a lot of questions that need to be answered, but here is an early projection for the opening night roster for the Caps based on the first few days of training camp.

Offense

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Richard Panik Breandan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway Chandler Stephenson

Suspended: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov’s suspension frees up a significant chunk of cap space for opening night. That creates a lot of possibilities for some players who otherwise would not have made the team to stick around through the first week of the season. If there is a prospect who impresses throughout the preseason, however, this can change. A solid performance for Connor McMichael, for example, and perhaps it is not farfetched to think he could play a few games before getting sent back to juniors. As a junior player, he could play up to nine NHL games in a season without burning a year of his entry-level contract.

For now, I am going pretty vanilla with my projection and including Boyd and Stephenson

Training camp lines should always be taken with a grain of salt, but this is how the top nine has looked on the wings. At center, Kuznetsov has been skating on the second line with Vrana and Oshie with Eller on the third with Hagelin and Panik. No doubt Eller will move up to the second line in Kuznetsov’s absence.

As for the fourth line, there were two different lines skating with the likely candidates. Leipsic and Boyd were with Brett Leason -- which I would not read into, I don’t think there is any chance Leason is a serious candidate to make the team this year -- while Dowd and Hathaway were with Stephenson.

Both Stephenson and Boyd enter camp with something to prove. Frankly, if the team had faith in them to play a fourth line and penalty kill role, they would not have gone out and signed Leipsic and Hathaway a.

"It's a competition,” Reirden said Thursday of Stephenson and Boyd. “They know it's a competition. They're well-informed. It's a very clear message. No one in situations where there's competition are wondering what's going on.”

The Kuznetsov suspension puts Boyd on the third line for now and gives Stephenson a second chance to prove he belongs to stay. I see Boyd primarily being an extra this season and Stephenson most likely headed to Hershey once Kuznetsov returns.

Defense

Michal Kempny - John Carlson Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas Christian Djoos

It seems doubtful that Kempny will play in the preseason, but the goal is for him to be ready for the start of the season. He has yet to skate with the team in practice, but he seems far enough along that he looks to be on pace for Oct. 2.

The Caps will eventually need to make a tough decision somewhere to shed salary and I believe that will mean moving Christian Djoos. If a team suffers an injury in training camp and wants to make a deal, I could see that happening. For now, like with many of the forwards, Kuznetsov’s suspension means the Caps have an extra week to make that decision. For now, I will keep him in the lineup, but I would not be surprised if he is playing for a different team by the start of the season.

The team is excited about prospects Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary. Alexeyev, however, is dealing with an upper-body injury and there is no timetable for when he may return to the ice. Fehervary, meanwhile, has received nothing by rave reviews. Like with the forwards, the Kuznetsov suspension could open the door for a player like Fehervary to get a game or two.

Goalies

Braden Holtby Pheonix Copley

I’m not ready to predict this yet, but with Kuznetsov’s salary off the books for the first week of the season do the Caps consider keeping Samsonov and starting him against the New York Islanders in the second game of the season?

The Caps face a back-to-back with the Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes. I assume Holtby gets Carolina since it is the home opener, but what about the Islanders? Washington has to get their young goalies starts this season and Kuznetsov’s suspension gives them the ability to do so without putting Copley on waivers.

But is it too early? It’s worth watching to see how Samsonov and Vanecek play in the preseason to see if either may be ready for a quick start at the start of the season.

“We’re not going to force it,” MacLellan said. “Based on performance, we’ll evaluate it. … I’ll go with Scott Murray and we’ll see how they do in camp. We like all four of our goalies. We have four good goalies, we feel. We have a lot of depth. Vanecek played well – he was an all-star at the AHL level last year, and I’d like to see him get games. I’d like to see Samsonov get games. Copley has continued to improve, so it’s going to be a competitive situation.”

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The Redskins need these three to be at their best in Week 2 against the Cowboys

The Redskins need these three to be at their best in Week 2 against the Cowboys

Come about four o'clock on Sunday afternoon, the Redskins and their fans will either be feeling quite good with a 1-1 record or the exact opposite of quite good thanks to an 0-2 start.

Washington will of course need Case Keenum to try and come close to replicating what he did in the opener against the Eagles and could really use a vintage Adrian Peterson Performance. 

Beyond them, though, who needs to be on point for the Redskins? These three absolutely qualify.

Ryan Kerrigan

The Burgundy and Gold's defensive line is down two players already and will be relying upon a couple of guys who basically just arrived. They may have trouble generating pressure up the middle thanks to that, meaning Kerrigan better be ready to do so on the edge.

If the home team allows Dak Prescott to stand in the pocket and pat the ball like Carson Wentz did in Week 1, then it'll be another long day for the entire unit. But if Kerrigan, who plays especially well against division foes, can be a constant threat to Prescott, then that'll make a big difference.

In 2018, Kerrigan forced a game-changing fumble at FedEx Field when facing Dallas. Hopefully he can follow that up with another productive outing this year.

Paul Richardson

Richardson had a fine stat line versus the Eagles, but he did have one drive-killing drop and didn't come up with any of the deep catches he's being counted on to create. Terry McLaurin was clearly the star of the receiving corps, while Richardson played more of a supporting role.

Now, perhaps McLaurin will shine again. Even if he does, Jay Gruden would still love for Richardson to also contribute with a splash play or two. Keenum showed he's willing to take chances downfield, so Richardson will need to use his speed and give Keenum a target for those chances.

The Redskins' most obvious path to a win Sunday will be to pound the ball with Peterson and control the clock as best as they can. That said, if Richardson can flip the field and help the offense score quickly instead of trying to string together 10-play drives, that'll make an upset more likely.

Greg Manusky

Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, after just one game in the role, is drawing comparisons to Sean McVay. He brings his offense loaded with playmakers to Landover for Week 2, and will be squaring off with Manusky's group. It's on Manusky to match Moore.

Manusky had a tumultuous offseason and the defense's Week 1 showing in Philadelphia didn't do much to improve his standing as defensive coordinator. And as mentioned earlier, he'll be rolling out a D-line that's missing some major talent as well as a secondary that has injury issues as well.

Those won't be viable excuses for another game in which his players can't get off the field on third downs or force any turnovers, though. His defenders simply have to play better, sure, but he's going to have to put them in positions to succeed as well, or else he'll be scrutinized even more. 

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