Nationals

Column: SEC needs to be flagged for soft schedule

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Column: SEC needs to be flagged for soft schedule

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Christian Robinson is a competitor. Naturally, the Georgia linebacker would like to see how the Bulldogs stack up against the best teams from around the nation.

Not to mention, he loves checking out new places.

But, when you play in the Southeastern Conference, those experiences don't come along very often. You see, the nation's top football league is content to sit on its laurels, scheduling a bunch of cupcakes instead of behaving like a champion.

Its motto could be, ``Have bus, will travel,'' because outside the conference there's rarely any reason to break out a plane.

``There are a lot of guys who've never flown on a plane before,'' Robinson said. ``I remember going out to play Colorado a couple of years ago, seeing the mountains. I had never been out there before. There's more than just football on the line in those kind of games. There's a lot of different experiences that - who knows? - you may never get to experience again.''

Enough already.

It's time for the SEC to be penalized in the rankings.

Personal foul, refusing to play enough tough teams.

This season, the 14-team SEC has a grand total of 14 non-conference games against opponents from the other so-called major conferences. And four of those are pretty much mandated by in-state rivalries - an early season meeting between Kentucky and Louisville of the Big East, plus Saturday's games against three Atlantic Coast Conference opponents: Georgia hosting Georgia Tech, Florida traveling to Florida State, and South Carolina playing at Clemson.

Mississippi State and Texas A&M didn't schedule anyone from another Bowl Championship Series conference. The only SEC teams that played more than one were Vanderbilt, which lost to Northwestern (Big Ten) and travels to Wake Forest (ACC) on Saturday, and newcomer Missouri, which apparently has yet to learn how the game is played since it met both Arizona State (Pac-12) and Syracuse (Big East).

Last weekend was downright embarrassing, a Saturday full of games that passed for an SEC-FCS Challenge. The biggest, baddest conference in the land beating up a bunch of lower-division schools that don't have the athletes, scholarships or funding to make it anything close to a fair fight:

Alabama 49, Western Carolina 0. Georgia 45, Georgia Southern 14. Auburn 51, Alabama A&M 7. Texas A&M 47, Sam Houston State 28. Kentucky 34, Samford 3. Florida 23, Jacksonville State 0. South Carolina 24, Wofford 7.

The whole day was a spectacle unbecoming of such a mighty league.

But the SEC is making no apologies.

``Our conference schedule is tough enough,'' South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday. ``We don't need to go play Oregon and Stanford and those kind of teams unless we want to lose a bunch of games.''

Wow, is the SEC running scared?

Probably not.

But the league is intent on protecting the lofty records of its best teams, and it's hard to argue with the results. Six straight national championships. A good shot at a seventh with No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia in the thick of things this season.

``If we keep playing the top teams from other conferences, our record isn't going to be near as good,'' Spurrier said bluntly. ``In our business, it's all about the record. There's no playoff, so it's whatever your record is. If you play all the best teams around the country and only beat four of them, everybody is going to be mad at you. But if you play some people you can beat and win nine or 10, everybody is happy.

``It's whether you want to be happy or want to play a whole bunch of tough teams.''

Granted, no one is taking on any and all comers.

A case can be made that the Big 12 is just as guilty of this gimme mentality, with only seven non-conference matchups against BCS opposition this season. But that's a 10-team league that plays nine conference games, one more than the SEC, leaving far fewer chances and less flexibility to pick up quality opponents.

The Pac-12 (11 games against other BCS teams) is in a similar situation, with a nine-game conference schedule and two fewer members than the SEC. The Big Ten also has two less schools (for now), which means its 14 out-of-conference games against BCS opposition carries more weight than the same number from its counterpart to the south.

The two weakest leagues have by far the toughest non-conference schedules. The ACC is taking on 21 BCS opponents, while the eight-member Big East has 15 such games. Much of that is out of necessity, since hardly any of those schools can just throw open the doors and expect 90,000 fans in the stands no matter who the home team is playing - which is the case at SEC powerhouses such as Alabama, Georgia and LSU.

Perhaps the most troubling thing about the SEC is the unwillingness to venture very far from home.

Vanderbilt is the lone school going outside the conference's 11-state footprint, and one of those trips is for Saturday's game in neighboring North Carolina. The September trip to suburban Chicago to face Northwestern is the only time an SEC team has ventured north of the Mason-Dixon line or, for that matter, west of Dallas (Alabama faced Michigan in the season opener at Cowboys Stadium).

This is nothing new, either.

Florida hasn't played a non-conference game outside the sunshine state since a trip to Syracuse - in 1991! Georgia went more than four decades without playing a regular-season game outside the confines of old Confederacy (if Kentucky is included) until a 2008 game at Arizona State.

No other league comes close to being that provincial. The Big Ten, for instance, has nine games outside its state boundaries this season. The ACC plays 13, the Big East 11.

This is not meant to cast doubt on the SEC being the strongest conference of all.

But it's time to start ranking the teams more on who they're playing and less on reputation. There's some truly horrid squads in the SEC this season, and not nearly the top-to-bottom depth as past years. Tennessee and Kentucky are both winless in conference play and have already fired their coaches. Auburn is also 0-7 in the SEC and might be down to its final days with Gene Chizik at the helm.

Even so, if Alabama and Georgia win this week - and both are heavy favorites - the SEC will be assured of having a shot at another national title. Never mind that it's hard to see how Bulldogs, especially, deserve to be in such a lofty position.

Georgia (10-1) has defeated only two top-division teams with winning records, No. 6 Florida and Vanderbilt, and the loss was a blowout - 35-7 at South Carolina. No team has ever won a national title with such a lopsided defeat on its record. Yet here are the Bulldogs, two wins away from playing for the biggest title of all.

They should give thanks to the schedule.

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Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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How to execute the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

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How to execute the ultimate D.C. sports day of the summer

Summertime; the time of year when you only look at your calendar to make sure you haven’t double-booked yourself for your ritual weekend brunches, or the time of year you exhaust every vacation day you’ve stored up over the course of the year to get the kids somewhere near their grandparents so you can continue to work on that ever-elusive summer dad-bod. Either one is a win in my book.

Summer also gives birth to one of the rare occasions when there can be three to four different DC-sports related activities all occurring within the same 24-hour timeframe. Thursday, June 20, is THAT day!

Who’s playing? Is there a chance I can attend the game? If not, how do you watch them all? These burning questions are about to be answered faster than you can ride down the escalator at the Pentagon City Metro Station…I think. So, let’s hurry and get started.

We’ll run through these one at a time, in chronological order!

Event 1: Soccer: 3 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       The US Women’s National Team takes the pitch against Sweden as they look to continue their international dominance in the Women’s World Cup. And yes, it’s DC team because we’re the nation’s Capital.

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

a.       These women are the best Soccer players on the planet; having showcased their proficiency for many years on the world stage. Remember they put up 13 against Thailand in their first match! Don’t miss an opportunity to witness history in the making.  

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       You can either pull up to Dulles and jump on the next flight to France, or you can be like the rest of us Super-geniuses and tune in at 3pm to watch it from the comfort of your favorite Soccer bar. Make sure to buy a round for anyone rocking a USWNT jersey; #OneNationOneTeam. USA, USA, USA!!!

Event 2: Baseball: 7 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       The Washington Nationals are wrapping up a 4-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

a.       This is the last day of Bryce Harper in THIS city for the remainder of the season. HALLELUJAH! 

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       First pitch is at 7:05p so you can either slide by the park and enjoy the smorgasbord of delicacies offered at Nats park, or you can tune in on the tube. I suggest hitting the park and booing Harper until you lose your voice! Tell your boss it’s my fault you’re hoarse. It won’t be the first time someone did that.

Event 3: Basketball(NBA): 8 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       NOBODY, derp! But, it’s the NBA draft and frankly put, I couldn’t be more excited it’s finally here.

2.       Why should I watch/attend?

a.       This is the first official activation in the post-Grunfeld era for the Wizards. More importantly, this will be the first chance for Wiz fans to wrap their minds around the new direction the team will be taking. Optimism starts here!

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       Unless you feel like hopping a flight to Chicago to see the Draft in person, I highly suggest you tune in to NBC Sports Washington for full draft coverage on ‘Wizards on the Clock’ at 8p. In my humble opinion, you won’t find better comprehensive coverage. You can watch on TV or via the MyTeams App while you’re at the Nats game booing Bryce if you’re slick with multi-tasking.

Event 4: Basketball(WNBA): 10 p.m. EST

1.       Who’s playing?

a.       Your Washington Mystics are out in Sin City to take on the Las Vegas Aces. Note: Bill Laimbeer sighting!

2.       Reason to watch/attend?

a.       The Aces sit atop the Western Conference with Australian native Liz Cambage (she can BALL) holding down the paint. It’s going to be a good test for the Mystics and you’ll get a chance to see how unrelentingly talented Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and crew really are. Buckets, the Mystics get buckets!

3.       How to watch/attend?

a.       I know the temptation to hit Vegas is rising by the moment but fret not. You can save a ton of money and possibly help your best bud save his fragile relationship by staying in DC and catching the game at 10 p.m. on Monumental Sports Network/NBC Sports Washington.

Now you know how to do it while maintaining some semblance of sanity, and you can even keep a running tab on who’s been the most DC among your friends. I’m certain we’ll have another opportunity for this phenomenon when Fall comes back around, but for now, let’s all enjoy the summer and all the games therein!

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Redskins fans shouldn't forget about Colt McCoy because the coaches haven't

Redskins fans shouldn't forget about Colt McCoy because the coaches haven't

After a third surgery on his leg in April, Colt McCoy did not practice with the team during OTAs or mandatory minicamp. He was in Ashburn for many of the workouts, but did not take any team snaps.

In a normal quarterback battle, that would put McCoy at a distinct disadvantage, but the Redskins quarterback battle is not exactly normal. 

Veteran Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins got nearly all of the work at signal caller during the spring practice sessions, and both showed signs of being able to take over head coach Jay Gruden's offense. Keenum proved he can handle the huddle and has quickness when plays broke down behind the line of scrimmage. Haskins showed a rocket arm and a ton of potential, but he's also a rookie trying to learn a boatload about life in the NFL in a hurry, like calling plays, and that showed too. 

All of that is a long way to say neither Keenum nor Haskins locked up the top QB job. And that means the door is still open for McCoy.

"We would love for him to take some reps, but obviously his health is more important right now than anything, and that is the most important thing for him," Gruden said about McCoy on the first day of minicamp. "When his time comes it will come quickly. He will be ready."

Gruden's quote speaks to the biggest advantage McCoy will have once he hits the field. He's been with the Redskins since 2014, and knows Gruden's version of the West Coast offense backwards and forwards. 

Throughout the spring sessions, Haskins made clear that his number one goal for the offseason was to learn the playbook and gain mastery of calling plays in the huddle. McCoy already has that.

Speaking with reporters on the last day of minicamp, Keenum explained that Gruden's offense is the seventh or eighth new system he's learned in the NFL. Keenum said each system is like learning a new language, and that "there is no Rosetta Stone for the West Coast Offense."

If there was a translator, its name would be Colt McCoy. 

Once doctors clear the former University of Texas star, he will immediately be the Redskins quarterback with the best understanding of the offense. That will show up on the field right away.

Remember too that Gruden has tried to turn to McCoy as his quarterback at a few different turns, but injuries have always derailed those plans. If McCoy gets fully healthy in time for Richmond, which team sources believe will happen, he has a chance to finally take over this job.

Make no mistake, Haskins is the Redskins long-term future at the quarterback position. He has the talent but needs to learn the speed of the NFL, from playcalling to pass rush. Eventually though, he will be on the field for the Redskins. 

If he wins the job, it's his.

Same for Keenum, who is probably better than he showed last year in Denver but not as good as his career season with Minnesota in 2017. Keenum could certainly start Week 1 in Philadelphia and is probably ahead of Haskins right now. 

But fans would be wise not to count McCoy out of the quarterback competition. The Redskins coaching staff definitely hasn't. 

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