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Column: Playoffs? Not yet, but finally on the way

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Column: Playoffs? Not yet, but finally on the way

The final whistle of the national championship game also signals a new beginning.

It's time to start saying goodbye to the Bowl Championship Series as we know it. The cartel hijacked the postseason in 1998 and despite a tweak here and a tuck there, kept it roughly the same during that run, despite facing more criticism than the replacement refs. Mercifully, though, the 2013-14 season, ending at the Rose Bowl next January, is guaranteed to be the last gasp.

The most obvious change the season after that - without going full Jim Mora on you - will be PLAYOFFS???

Or to be more exact, a four-team mini-playoff in January 2015. The site is still to be chosen from among a half-dozen bids, and after that, the process will be open to all comers, the way the NFL chooses its Super Bowl cities. For plenty of us, that can't happen soon enough.

``I won't kid you, this system has been plenty good to us,'' Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood said as the second-ranked Crimson Tide wrapped up preparations in search of their third BCS title in the last four years, this time against No. 1 Notre Dame.

``But I got a lot of calls and texts from friends on other teams who don't think it's fair,'' Norwood added, with a quick glance over his shoulder to see if anyone else was listening in. ``Me, too. When I was in high school at D'Iberville (Miss.), the chance to play for a state title was everything. You could lose a game here and there, and not feel like your season was done. It's a lot fairer for everyone.''

College football won't be that democratic for a while. How fast and far ``bracket creep'' begins remains anyone's guess. The current TV deal extends out a dozen years and most of the same guys who ran the last version of the BCS remain in charge. As noted above, they do not like to be bullied.

There's also nothing in the contract that even hints at expanding the format. But if the mini-playoff proves successful enough, and especially if there's some turnover at the top of the conferences in charge, adding four more teams to the mix could come as early as a half-dozen years down the road.

Anything beyond that, especially the 16-team playoff that would do college football justice, is no more than a pipe dream at the moment. Remember: It took a century or so of wrangling just to reach the threshold of a playoff. So for the moment, let's limit the discussion to the mini-playoff.

Asked what challenges the new order will present to the BCS, executive director Bill Hancock thought the committee charged with selecting the playoff teams will be scrutinized way more than its NCAA basketball counterparts. For teams and players, he suggested ``the week between the semifinals and the championship game is going to be a big adjustment.

``The rhythm will be a lot different than the regular season. There will still be a break and then a big game, and then a bigger game after that. Pros are used to that,'' he added. ``For 19- and 20-year-old kids, it could be tough.''

The toughest adjustment, though, could be the bowl committees themselves. The Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls have already been assured of spots in the national semifinal rotation, expected to be joined by the Fiesta Bowl and two other sites - maybe Atlanta and Dallas.

``We've got a semi every three years and eight other significant games,'' Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms said. ``Obviously, we're pretty happy with the road map.''

Few of the bowl committees further down the food chain are feeling that comfortable. There were 35 bowls this season and while TV ratings have generally held steady, a slight drop in attendance for the second straight year has some in the industry wondering whether they've reached the saturation point.

``I'm getting that question a lot,'' said Wright Waters, who heads the Football Bowl Association, which looks after the interests and paperwork for all the non-BCS bowls. ``My initial reaction is that as long as the bowls continue to market themselves as events, and not just games, and focus on getting strong regional matchups and competitive, compelling games, we'll be fine.

``I think the challenge is going to be the perception - in the minds of the public and the players - more than the reality. I worry are we going to have the seven (BCS-sanctioned) games and everything else will be well, something less. We saw a little bit of that this year, where teams were focused on winning a championship, then went to a second-tier bowl and lost their enthusiasm.''

From where he sits, however, Wright doesn't see the long-term problem as supply. With the Western Athletic Conference on the verge of dissolving, there will be 10 conferences playing next season, plus independents and any team with a 6-6 record will be bowl eligible. To make certain the demand for second-tier bowls can be met in a way that makes money for the schools, the committees and the host cities involved, the FBA commissioned an analysis back in August.

``It will be nice to get an opinion for somebody who's actually studied the situation,'' chuckled Wright, an old-school guy who used to head the Sun Belt Conference. ``Up until now, the only thing we've had a surplus of is opinions.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at www.Twitter.com/JimLitke

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Capitals' victory celebration halted as a win suddenly turns into a loss

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Capitals' victory celebration halted as a win suddenly turns into a loss

WASHINGTON — The Capitals bounced up and down in celebration. They yelled. They screamed. They lost. 

Call it the win that wasn’t. Washington stole two points from the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at Capital One Arena when T.J. Oshie scored in overtime. The up-and-down first two periods, all those big saves from Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta, a 3-0 deficit, all erased as the crowd roared and the players exalted. 

But old baseball writers have a term for what happened next: “Or so it seemed.” 

It’s the perfect phrase to describe a story that’s been written and now has to be deleted: You’re on deadline. One team is about to close out a win. Just waiting to hit send on the story. Then someone walks and then there’s a bloop hit and, oh my god did the third baseman just throw the ball into left field? Suddenly what seemed certain no longer is. Time to rewrite. 

That’s where the Capitals were when Oshie’s apparent game-winner was overturned on replay. Teammate Lars Eller had actually slipped and entered the offensive zone too soon. The play was deemed offside. 

“A bit of a buzzkill there,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. 

Somewhere, a guy sprinted from his seat after Oshie’s goal and was halfway to the Metro before they announced the goal didn’t count. Hopefully he finds out what happened. If not, then he’s going to be confused when the ticker says it was a 4-3 shootout loss. 

“Like coming back from the dead,” said Arizona coach Rick Tocchet.

Dmitry Orlov knocked Coyotes winger Clayton Keller off the puck a little over two minutes into 3-on-3 overtime. Orlov found Oshie streaking toward the middle of the ice, he gave it to Eller, who lost his balance, but pulled up inside the blueline when the linesman ruled he was onside and passed to Oshie.

 Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the NHL’s best skaters, had no chance after an Oshie head fake. Neither did Raanta. Oshie went down to one knee in the slot and ripped the shot home. The crowd exploded. The Capitals poured off the bench to celebrate. The Coyotes skated off the ice. Washington had won. 

Or so it seemed. The Coyotes coaching staff started looking at the play on the tablets kept on the bench. Players started pointing up at the scoreboard, which was replaying the goal. Then the officials made their way over to the scorers’ box and referee Jake Brenk held out his hand. Linesman Darren Gibbs put the headset on to talk with the video review officials in Toronto. The Capitals figured their work might not be done.  

After a review that took almost four minutes, officials in Toronto decided Eller really was offsides. Halt the celebration. The game wasn’t over yet. It would be only after Arizona won in the shootout. The Capitals would settle for one hard-earned point, instead of two and that was probably a just result.    

“That was unfortunate, because it was a great move and it's a goal. But T.J. is pretty on top of things,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “He had a strong feeling it was gonna be offside."

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Brandon Scherff could very well ask for a contract that tops the one Brandon Brooks just signed

Brandon Scherff could very well ask for a contract that tops the one Brandon Brooks just signed

On Monday, one Brandon in the NFL signed a deal that another Brandon in the NFL absolutely noticed.

The first Brandon is Brandon Brooks, a guard whom the Eagles gave a four-year contract extension worth just more than $56 million that'll kick in starting in 2021. His current agreement with Philadelphia runs until 2020 and carries remaining base salaries of $8 million and $7.5 million.

The second Brandon is Brandon Scherff, also a guard and one who's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in a few months. If Scherff truly gets a chance to negotiate with the Redskins or on the open market, he'll likely look for something very close to or even exceeding the numbers Brooks got from Philly.

Brooks' extension has a $14.05 million annual value, which slots just ahead of the Cowboys' Zach Martin when it comes to the highest-paid guards in the sport. Scherff absolutely deserves to ink something that puts him right next to those players, if not ahead of Brooks and all others at the position.

One thing that works in No. 75's favor is his age. Scherff is about to turn 28 years old. Brooks, meanwhile, is already 30. Washington's lineman should have plenty of productive campaigns in his future, wherever that future is. 

Another interesting similarity between Brooks and Scherff is their durability. Both have have returned from a significant injury they suffered in 2018 — Scherff tore his pectoral, while Brooks tore his Achilles — that look like outliers in otherwise reliable careers.  

Scherff is certainly in the same realm when it comes to talent and production as Brooks, too. They've each earned two Pro Bowl nods, and while Brooks may be thought of as the best guard in the league, Scherff isn't far behind.

Plus, as anyone who's followed NFL contracts this decade knows, it often doesn't really matter if the next elite guy to sign is truly better, it just matters that he's elite and he's next to sign.

Those are all factors Scherff could point to when it's time for him to cash in. When will that time come, though?

The Burgundy and Gold, who reportedly offered Scherff an extension worth $13 million a year this past September that didn't really do much for the 2015 first-rounder, could franchise tag him if they want. That move, of course, would be profitable for Scherff but limit his ability to negotiate. 

Now, whether the Redskins go that route or give him something more stable, it's hard to imagine them letting him get away. Trent Williams will very likely never suit up for Washington again, and having to roll out an offensive line in 2020 without Williams and Scherff would be a very unfortunate situation.

Scherff, however, will likely make the organization pay up to ensure that doesn't happen. He said in October he hopes to be a Redskin until he retires, but it doesn't appear he'll do that on a discount. With the way he's played and how his peers are being compensated, he shouldn't have to, either.

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