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For coaches, no sleep 'til BCS championship game

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For coaches, no sleep 'til BCS championship game

NEW YORK (AP) Brian Kelly and Nick Saban expect many restless nights between now and the BCS championship game on Jan. 7.

Kelly and top-ranked Notre Dame play Saban and No. 2 Alabama in Miami. The coaches appeared together at a news conference on Wednesday at the Nasdaq stock exchange in Times Square.

``And in keeping with the venue where we are, you have two blue chip stocks that are going to go against each other,'' Kelly said.

Asked what about their opponent will keep them up at night, Kelly and Saban both said there is plenty to worry about.

``Are you kidding me? Really?'' Kelly said. ``Everything about them.''

Saban's response: ``For me, I never sleep well, so Notre Dame is just the excuse now.''

The Fighting Irish will have 42 days between their last game against Southern California and the BCS title game against the Crimson Tide.

Alabama played in the Southeastern Conference title game on Dec. 1, so its break is a week shorter.

This is the third BCS championship appearance in four years for the Tide - Alabama won its previous two - so Saban obviously hasn't had a problem finding a routine that works.

``Many people have asked me how you carry the momentum of winning the SEC championship game into the next game,'' Saban said. ``And I think the answer to that is, you can't. You almost have to look at any bowl game, or any layoff like you have for this length of time, as the next game is sort of a one-game season.''

Both teams will go into training-camp mode this week. The players will lift weights and do conditioning and fundamentals drills.

``Right now we're doing two weeks of offseason conditioning programs, which is always fun. Always popular with the guys,'' Alabama center Barrett Jones said Tuesday, with more than a hint of sarcasm in his delivery.

Kelly said the worst thing a coach can do about the unusually long time between games is worry about it.

``First, I think it's a self-fulfilling prophecy if you keep talking about the long layoff,'' he said. ``We don't talk about that. We talk about what's the next step here and the next stage, or it's the national championship.''

``We think we've got a plan and we don't concern ourselves with the length of that time.''

The plan is to keep the next few weeks as productive as possible.

``We try to work our way up to a routine,'' Kelly said. ``There's that space there, weight training, conditioning, some fundamental work and then try to get back to that routine that they are all familiar with as we lead into the game.''

Aside from keeping the players occupied and in shape, Kelly and Saban are also facing the possibility that members of their staffs could land head coaching jobs over the next week or so.

Kelly's defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco, was a candidate for the Boston College job that was filled Tuesday when the Eagles hired Steve Addazio away from Temple. Diaco recently won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach.

There was speculation about Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart being a candidate for the Auburn job, but the Tigers hired Gus Malzahn.

As jobs are filled others open and there are still plenty of vacancies. There is still a possibility Notre Dame or Alabama - or both - could be dealing with this issue.

``I think those folks have every right to receive positive self-gratification professionally by taking advantage of some opportunity they have created for themselves by doing a good job,'' Saban said, without talking about any specific assistant. ``And I think it's just a matter of professionalism where you can separate yourself for a day or two, not affect the performance of what you're trying to do at your job, evaluate the circumstance.''

Last year, Alabama prepared for the national championship game with its offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain, interviewing and accepting the Colorado State head coaching job.

Alabama won that BCS title game 21-0 and Saban said McElwain, ``put a great plan together'' for the Tide.

And if there is staff turnover during the layoff, and a coach needs to be replaced, Kelly said there are plans in place to deal with it.

``We can't predict it, but we know that we are prepared regardless of the circumstances, and if we were to lose somebody, we've got great coaches on board that are ready to step up,'' he said.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

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