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Clemson seeking strong finish unlike last year

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Clemson seeking strong finish unlike last year

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thinks the 10th-ranked Tigers have grown since their late-season collapse of last fall and have the experience to avoid a similar slide this season.

``Consistency is something this program has lacked,'' Swinney said Tuesday. ``That's the next thing we've got to do.''

The quest starts Saturday when the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) travel to Duke (6-3, 2-2). Clemson appeared ready to break through a year ago when it stood 8-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country. The Tigers were in the thick of BCS title talk because of a record-setting offense that looked unstoppable.

Then things fell apart.

Clemson lost three of its final four games in the regular season. While the team rebounded to win the ACC crown, Clemson was demolished in prime time in an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

Clemson's already handled several obstacles it hasn't in the past since its lone loss, a 49-37 defeat at No. 9 Florida State, to get itself back in the top 10. Swinney said the players have learned from last year's problems and look forward to continuing their strong play.

``I just think the experience they've had is going to pay off for them,'' Swinney said. ``That's usually the case.''

Tigers center Dalton Freeman said Clemson went nine games without a break last year and bumps and bruises began to take a toll. There were also several underclassmen at key positions, he said, like quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins whose production tailed off and mistakes increased as the season wore on.

``They hadn't been through it before and I don't know if they were mentally ready'' for the stretch run, Freeman said.

Freeman says those players haven't forgotten what they went through and are focused on building on their four-game win streak.

For Boyd, this is a chance to prove he won't have a drop off in production the way he did last fall. Boyd had passed for 24 touchdowns and three interceptions in Clemson's perfect start. He had four touchdowns and seven interceptions the final four games.

Boyd said he's a much more mature player this season and doesn't spend much time thinking about what went wrong for him last fall.

``It's a growth in the leadership role and having these guys look up to me in any situation whether we're down or up,'' he said. ``So my job is to stay calm, stay poised and let the game come to me.''

Boyd's done that this season. He leads the league with more than 326 yards of total offense per game. He also tops the ACC with 20 TD passes against six interceptions.

Boyd threw for a record 428 yards in Clemson's 42-13 victory over Wake Forest on Oct. 25. He tied his own school record with five touchdown passes to five different receivers - a fact Boyd's especially proud of.

``I think that's when we're at our best,'' he says, ``when everyone touches the ball.''

Clemson got a major boost against Wake Forest from Watkins, an All-American who had struggled to match his freshman production as a sophomore. Watkins had eight catches for a school record 202 yards and his first receiving touchdown of the year.

Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris believes Watkins is rounding into form at exactly the right time to keep the Tigers rolling.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils will have their hands full trying to slow down the Tigers.

``Clemson is an ACC championship team,'' he said. ``They've got players that have performed at that level and continue to perform at that level.''

Duke is Clemson's last road game and the Tigers finish ACC play at Death Valley against Maryland and North Carolina, who are combined 2-3 in conference play so far.

Clemson closes the season at home against rival South Carolina, which lost star rusher Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee injury last week. The Tigers still need help in another Florida State loss to win the Atlantic Division and defend their ACC title. A perfect November might also bring Clemson a second straight BCS bowl, Swinney said.

``We are pretty high (in the rankings) right now with a loss,'' Swinney said. ``We are about where we should be. If we can finish strong, we'll have every opportunity that's out there.''

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AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report from Durham, N.C.

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Capitals deal Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik ahead of the draft

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals deal Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik ahead of the draft

DALLAS—The Capitals have dealt backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round pick, the team announced shortly before the NHL Draft kicked off Friday at American Airlines Center.

After the moves, the Caps had more than $21 million in space under the salary cap ceiling, according to www.capfriendly.com, and potentially enough room to accommodate new contracts for John Carlson and other key free agents.

GM Brian MacLellan was widely expected to deal Grubauer, a 26-year-old who wanted the opportunity to be a No. 1. As a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who was also coming off a strong season, Grubauer was due a significant raise.

“We would like to thank Brooks and Philipp for all of their contributions to our organization,” MacLellan said in a statement. “Philipp has been a consummate professional and a great teammate and we wish him all the best.”

Trading Orpik, on the other hand, was a bit unexpected, particularly considering how much the 37-year-old’s rugged play and leadership meant to the Caps during their run to the Stanley Cup.

By dealing Orpik, MacLellan shed his $5.5 million cap hit for next season—an important development given the Caps’ tight salary cap situation and the number of key players who need new contracts. Carlson, Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek are unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Avalanche are expected to help Orpik land a preferred spot, whether via trade or buyout. By taking on Orpik in the deal, Friedman reported, the Avs only had to give up one pick.

“Brooks,” MacLellan continued, “was a great leader and a tremendous role model for our young players in his four years with our organization. This was a difficult move, but the one we felt we needed to make in order to give some flexibility moving forward.”

Will moving out Grubauer and eliminating Orpik’s cap charge allow MacLellan to ink Carlson, who's set to become the top defenseman on the free agent market? That’s unclear, but it will sure help the Caps’ cause. Carlson is expected to command an extension in the eight-year, $8 million per neighborhood. 

Dealing Orpik also opens up a spot for a young and inexpensive defenseman such as Christian Djoos or Madison Bowey to take on a bigger role in 2018-19.

Without Grubauer, the Caps are likely to turn to Pheonix Copley, who is due to earn the NHL minimum of $650,000 next season, as their backup next season. And if Copley starts the year in Washington, that allows 2015 first round pick Ilya Samsonov to take the reins in Hershey.

The second round pick the Caps received in exchange for Grubauer and Orpik is the 47th overall selection.

MacLellan is expected to speak to reporters following the first round later Friday night. The Caps currently hold the 31st overall pick.

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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