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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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The case for - and against - the Redskins signing Colin Kaepernick

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USA Today Sports

The case for - and against - the Redskins signing Colin Kaepernick

Don't look in this space for an argument that the Redskins - who are reportedly signing Mark Sanchez as Colt McCoy's backup - should, or should not, sign Colin Kaepernick.

This space will lay out reasons why the Redskins should, and should not, consider signing Colin Kaepernick. 

It's not a binary decision. In fact, it's just about the opposite. 

Any debate about Kaepernick often gets bogged down in differing political view points. This is not the place for that. Rather, here is an attempt to make the case for or against Kaepernick from a football perspective. 

The case to sign Colin Kaepernick

  • The Redskins need a quarterback. Alex Smith broke his leg and Colt McCoy needs a backup. Of the available free agents out there, Kaepernick has by far the best stats and resume. As Chris Thompson explained of Kaepernick, "He made it to a Super Bowl." When he last played in 2016, Kaepernick had 16 TDs against just four INTs in 12 starts. 
  • Kaepernick has familiarity in the West Coast offense, and once backed up Alex Smith and played with Vernon Davis. 
  • Redskins QB coach and passing game coordinator Kevin O'Connell worked on the 49ers staff with Kaepernick.
  • Multiple Redskins players, including Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson, said that the Nike pitchman deserves another chance in the NFL. 

The case not to sign Colin Kaepernick

  • Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL for nearly two full seasons. He hasn't practiced in a professional setting for more than a year. The Redskins are competing for the NFC East title. If they have to go to a backup QB, they want somebody that is game ready. It's hard to think Kaepernick fits that bill today. 
  • Earlier this season, Redskins CB Josh Norman had some choice words for Kaepernick after Panthers safety Eric Reid spoke out against the NFL Player's Coalition. Norman is an active particpant and leader on the Player's Coalition, a social rights group that Kaepernick distanced himself from. Putting Norman and Kaepernick in the same locker room might create some friction for a first-place team. 
  • At 6-4, the Redskins are in first place in the NFC East and should still be able to win games with McCoy at quarterback. Regardless how one feels about Kaepernick's activism, it will create a side show for any organization that brings him in. Cable news outlets like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC will descend on the Washington locker room should Kaepernick get signed. 

 

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    Holtby is back, but Copley will start

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    Holtby is back, but Copley will start

    The Capitals take on the Montreal Canadiens to finish off a four-game road swing on Monday (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). Washington has won two of its first three games on the trip and look to take win No. 3 in Montreal.

    Here are four things to watch:

    Braden Holtby is back, but Pheonix Copley will get the start

    The Caps reassigned Ilya Samsonov to the Hershey Bears on Monday signaling that Braden Holtby will be back in the lineup for Monday’s game, but Pheonix Copley will still get the start.

    Copley has been impressive on the road trip getting all three starts thus far with a .922 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. It says a lot that even with Holtby back, the Todd Reirden is still willing to put in Copley. Per Isabelle Khurshudyan, Reirden said he wanted to get Holtby back into his routine before starting him.

    No Oshie, no Kuznetsov

    T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both injured in Wednesday’s game and will be out of the lineup in Montreal.

    Here is a look at the lines from the morning skate:

    Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson

    Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky

    Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Devante Smith-Pelly

    Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Brett Connolly

    Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
    Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
    Christian Djoos – Madison Bowey

    It is important to remember that when the Caps finally get healthy, they will have two extra forwards on the roster. While the Caps can afford to keep two, most teams typically only carry one and Washington may look to trim one of those extra forwards in the coming weeks. That makes games like this one where more players are getting into the lineup and getting more minutes because of Oshie and Kuznetsov’s absence critical for those players who may or may not be fighting to stay on Washington’s roster.

    Todd Reirden remembers

    The last time these two teams met, things did not go that well for the Caps. Washington had a 4-3 lead late in the third period, but the Canadiens would score three goals in the final 3:04 of the game to win it 6-4.

    Reirden has not forgotten about that game and called a fake goalie interference challenge late in Colorado on Friday just so he could remind his team to finish strong.

    “It was a situation where a few weeks ago we had the lead and let it go against Montreal and it was something that we discussed with our team,” Reirden said following Friday’s game.”

    Reirden reminded the players about how that game ended as a way to motivate them in Colorado. How much more will he remind them about it on Monday in a rematch against the Canadiens and will it lead to a stronger finish for Washington?

    Max (Power) Domi

    Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin has been widely criticized for many of the moves he has made while with the Canadiens. It appears this summer, however, like he may have done something right.

    Bergevin acquired forward Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk. It is a deal that looked decidedly one-sided in favor of Arizona, but let’s take all of the context out of it for one moment and just look at how Domi is performing right now. He looks like a tremendous player.

    Domi has already racked up 10 goals in just 20 and comes into Monday on a nine-game point streak, a streak that started on Nov. 1 in the game against Washington. He has far and away been the team’s top offensive threat this season and leads Montreal in points with 24, seven more than second-place Tomas Tatar.

    Speaking of Tatar, he is also someone the Caps will have to look out for as he has seemingly settled in with his new team and has six goals in his last six games.

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