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Championship hunger rumbles for Stoops, Sooners

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Championship hunger rumbles for Stoops, Sooners

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) After 14 seasons at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops understands the all-or-nothing culture that surrounds his Sooners.

Anything less than a national championship equates to a disappointing season in the eyes of many. To some degree, that includes Stoops.

``I hate it,'' he said Friday when asked about being out of the national title race again. ``We've been pretty used to it. I helped create that and to me, it's the pulse here and I don't like it.''

The Sooners finished 10-3 for the second straight season and head into the winter smarting after a 41-13 throttling at the hands of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Stoops knows much of the focus this offseason will be on the three losses to teams that finished the season ranked in the top 12, but he still believes the status of his program is strong.

He'll readily point out that Oklahoma has won 10 games each of the last three seasons, something only five other programs can boast. In that timeframe, the Sooners won the 2010 Big 12 title outright and shared it this season with Kansas State. No other team in the conference has won more games, in league play or overall, than his Sooners in that span.

``People get bored with just winning the Big 12 championship. They want more. You've got to win the national championship,'' Stoops said.

It's been that way since he led Oklahoma to the championship after the 2000 season. The Sooners also played for the title after the 2003, 2004 and 2008 seasons.

``Every four years, or within four years, we're competing for the national championship - in the game. I don't mean just part of it - in the game,'' he said. ``And even that isn't good enough if you don't win it. In the end, that's just how people are. I get it.''

So, while he sees the Sooners' final ranking of No. 15 as a sign the program is still solid, he's not satisfied with it because it's not No. 1. Going practically position by position on his team, Stoops' assessment was similar at nearly every spot: Good, but it can be better.

``Really, think about it: What's ever good enough?'' he said. ``Nothing, unless you win them all.''

Stoops said he doesn't foresee any changes on his coaching staff, although that's always subject to change. He has canceled an upcoming recruiting weekend for high school juniors, choosing instead to focus on locking down the seniors he will be able to sign in February and bring in for next season.

There will be plenty of holes to fill, including a competition between backup Blake Bell and others to replace four-year starter Landry Jones at quarterback. With safety Tony Jefferson and linebacker Tom Wort exiting early for the NFL draft, a maximum of four starters will be back on defense next season.

Stoops is still waiting to find out whether junior cornerback Aaron Colvin will return.

``I never mind playing guys we're going to sign in February. We've had a lot of good ones come in and make big contributions, so that may be the case to a degree,'' Stoops said. ``But I think always, too, there's a lot of guys every year ... that people aren't seeing that we are trying to develop who come on and, `Wow! Who's this guy?'''

The Sooners will be counting on playmakers to emerge if they are to get back into the national title mix. And Stoops said he's not backing away from his statement before the 2011 season, when his team held the preseason No. 1 ranking, that it's time to bring another championship to Norman.

``You never know. We didn't seem very close when we had a shot at it in 2000. You never know when it's coming, and we're going to work hard for it,'' Stoops said. ``We may try and make some improvements here through the winter and spring and hopefully have a chance to be better next year.''

He needed only to point to one of this year's participants in the BCS championship game to show how early expectations can be deceiving.

``Year to year, you never know who progresses, who doesn't. Obviously, Notre Dame was that story this year,'' Stoops said. ``They weren't probably projected real high, did it right, had great team chemistry I'm sure, won some tight games and played well.''

One of those close calls came against Stoops' Sooners, who could find that same magical combination this season.

``In the end, we weren't quite good enough to win 11, 12 or 13 games,'' he said. ``We were good enough to win 10 and have a part of a championship once again, for the second time in three years. So, that's where we're at.''

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Justin Tucker kept the game ball from his first missed extra point

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Justin Tucker kept the game ball from his first missed extra point

It's Draft Day, baby!

Before the 2019 NFL Draft gets underway Thursday night in Nashville, Tn, here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes:

1. The Ravens made a VERY smart move Wednesday by signing kicker Justin Tucker to a four-year extension that will keep him in Baltimore through the 2023 season. In seven seasons, Tucker has experienced the highest of highs, and just last year, the low of his first missed extra point Week 7 against the Saints. Memorable as it is something we rarely see from Tucker, the 29-year-old has that game ball on display as a reminder of the ups and downs of his career.

“That’s a part of my story, and I want to be able to look at that and realize that was a learning moment,” Tucker said. “It was, perhaps, a pivotal moment for me as a professional.”

“I think it’s incredibly important for any football player, any athlete, anybody, to learn form both your successes and your failures,” Tucker said.

2. The Ravens are making one very special fans' dream come true this weekend during the NFL Draft. Mo Gaba, a 13-year-old superfan who's been blind since he was nine months old and is battling cancer for the fourth time, will announce the team's fourth-round pick from the Ravens' Draft Fest at the Inner Harbor Saturday. Gaba will be the first person ever to announce an NFL draft pick in Braille. 

3. General manager Eric DeCosta will lead his first-ever war room Thursday night, but he won't be kicking former GM Ozzie Newsome out of his usual seat at the head of the table. 

“I’ve been in that seat for a long time,” DeCosta said via the Ravens' website.

“The other reason is Ozzie doesn’t like change a lot,” DeCosta said. “He still gets his hair cut on Friday, he’s on a treadmill three times a day. He only started using an iPhone about six months ago. No, that’s not actually true

“But he definitely doesn’t like change, and I just feel like if we moved his seat, he’d be really flustered.”

4. The Ravens are showing increased interest in Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley. John Harbaugh did mention earlier in the offseason that the team could add another playmaker in the Ravens' backfield.

5. Free agent pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah reportedly visited the Ravens Wednesday. Drafted fifth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Lions, the Ravens could use Ansah after losing Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith in free agency.


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

WASHINGTON – This was not the way it was supposed to end.

The feeling after the Capitals’ Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday was one of shock. There is always an element of that when a team gets eliminated from the playoffs in overtime, but it wasn’t how they lost that made it so stunning. It was when.

“Everything can happen in a seven-game series,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We all seen that. But right now it's just disappointing. We would've liked a better outcome. ... It's tough to swallow"

“We fight through 82 games and in Game 7, they score one goal and it’s a kind of situation where you’re disappointed, you’re frustrated, especially after last year,” Alex Ovechkin said.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and returning with largely the same core intact, returning as the defending champs to win the Metropolitan Division for a fourth consecutive year, no one envisioned Washington’s defense of the Cup and its quest to repeat to end in the first round. That was especially true when the Caps drew Carolina as their first-round opponent, a plucky team with a first-year head coach that made it to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

It looked like a favorable matchup for Washington. It wasn’t.

“All series long it was a game of mistakes,” Brooks Orpik said.

The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the series, Carolina battled back to tie it 2-2. Washington won the all-important Game 5 to push the Hurricanes to the brink, Carolina responded by winning Game 6 to force the all-or-nothing Game 7. The Caps even jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 7 and yet the Hurricanes just kept coming.

In the end, the overtime loss was shocking, but not surprising. Carolina had taken control in the second period and never looked back. They fired the first nine shots on goal in overtime and were controlling the play over a Washington team that just looked gassed. The Caps needed to get a favorable bounce, otherwise it was only a matter of time before Carolina would finish them off and that was exactly what happened as Brock McGinn deflected in a shot for the overtime winner.

There are many reasons Washington ultimately lost this series, but it was for none of the typical reasons we see in most upsets.

This was not a case of a goalie standing on his head to completely shut down Washington’s offense. Petr Mrazek made some key saves at times, but ultimately finished the series with a .899 save percentage. Take away the six-goal blowout of Game 5 and Mrazek’s save percentage rises to .919. That’s better, but still would rank only sixth among goalie with at least four starts this postseason.

This was not a case of a superstar forward putting the team on his back and carrying them to the improbable upset. Sebastian Aho tallied five points in seven games, Teuvo Taravainen had four. Both had fewer points that Jaccob Slavin who had nine assists and Warren Foegele who scored an improbable four goals and two assists.

This was not a case of Washington’s best players not showing up. Alex Ovechkin scored four goals and five assists to lead the team with nine points. Right behind him was Nicklas Backstrom with five goals and three assists. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored only one goal in seven games, but his one goal came in Game 7 to restore Washington’s two-goal lead in the second period.

Washington finished with a 25-percent power play and an 88-percent penalty kill, bot respectable numbers.

The Caps lost Michal Kempny and T.J. Oshie – both significant injuries – but Carolina had a number of significant injuries as well.

Really, the biggest reason the Caps felt they lost is because they were out-played, out-hustled and out-worked.

“I think we were all guilty of some mistakes at different times that were maybe a little uncharacteristic of us,” Orpik said. “Two two-goal leads at home within the same game is kind of a tough one to swallow. I don’t know if unacceptable is the right word but you have to be able to maintain those leads, especially on home ice and this time of the year. We made mistakes but they played great all series so it wasn’t just us. Eventually you have to give them credit at some point.”

Now instead of preparing for the quick turnaround of playing and starting a second-round series against the New York Islanders on Friday, the season is over and the Caps are left to wonder what could have been.

Already eliminated in the first round were the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators, all thought to be Cup contenders. Heck, even archrival Pittsburgh was out. Alex Ovechkin was playing at the top of his game as he claimed his eight Rocket Richard Trophy after leading the league in goals yet again. That performance carried over to the postseason and he was brilliant in Wednesday’s game.

But despite how favorable the road in front of them looked for another Cup run, despite the unreal performance the team’s top stars were delivering, none of it ultimately mattered.

The only thing harder than winning a Stanley Cup is winning it twice. Perhaps to expect a second championship was unrealistic. But a first round exit felt too soon. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for a team that had finally learned how to win.

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs were already turning into the year of the upset. The Caps became the latest victim of that on Wednesday. And finally, a party that had begun in June 2018, came to an end officially meaning a new champion will be crowned.

“Every opportunity missed is devastating, really,” John Carlson said. “You only get to do this for so long and I've been fortunate to be on great teams. When you don't do well, it's more than we were up in a series or a game. It's everything. It hurts.”

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