Ducks, Sun Devils hoping to make a big statement

Ducks, Sun Devils hoping to make a big statement

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Second-ranked Oregon has raced through its first six games without hitting much of a speed bump, using its quick-strike offense to put most opponents away by halftime.

Arizona State is off to a strong start under coach Todd Graham, winning five games, nearly pulling off a sixth victory.

The Pac-12 division leaders get a chance to see just how good they really are Thursday night in what should be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it offensive showcase at sold-out and blacked-out Sun Devil Stadium.

``It's a big-time matchup,'' Arizona State linebacker Brandon Magee said.

It sure is.

On one side there's Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12), the national runner-up two years ago, defending Rose Bowl champion for the first time in 95 years, possibly even better this season.

The Ducks are more swarm than flock, all those speedy athletes making the play clock obsolete and looking away, if even for a second, is to risk missing a touchdown, maybe two.

Oregon has two of the most dynamic running backs in the country in Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, and a slew of talented receivers who have made life a whole lot easier for freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota.

A win would give Oregon a boost to overcome its slim deficit behind No. 2 Florida in the BCS Standings and position itself for a shot at another title game.

Arizona State (5-1, 3-0) also likes to hike it fast, often hovering at the line of scrimmage, waiting for the official to put the ball down to get off its next play. The Sun Devils have a few talented running backs of their own and a quarterback, Taylor Kelly, who plays with a sandlot quality to him, often at his best when things break down.

Arizona State leads the Pac-12 South after running away from Colorado in the second half of a 51-17 win in Boulder last week.

Beat Oregon and the Sun Devils will gain national attention that few expected so quickly under Graham.

``I've got a belief in our guys,'' Graham said. ``We have a good football team. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.''

Oregon will be facing its first true road test.

The Ducks have played five games at Autzen Stadium and their sixth was against Washington State in Seattle, where there were nearly as many Oregon fans as Huskies followers.

Thursday night's game should be an entirely different atmosphere, particularly for Mariota.

The first freshman to start the season at quarterback for Oregon in 21 years, he played well through the first half dozen games, throwing for 1,301 yards and 15 touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes.

Sun Devil Stadium is expected to be a sellout and filled with rowdy fans who have been encouraged to wear black T-shirts to create an intimidating blackout effect.

In other words, it'll be like nothing Mariota has seen before.

``I just have to make sure I take care of what I've got to do,'' he said. ``A lot of times a crowd can try and influence an offense, especially with our communication. I have to make sure I'm the guy (the offense) can look to.''

For Arizona State to have a chance, it will have to do something no other team has come close to doing this season: Stop the Ducks.

Oregon has the nation's second-ranked scoring offense at 52.33 points per game - its closest game was 17 points - and is eighth in total offense with nearly 542 yards. The Ducks have done it quickly, too, with 25 of their 39 scoring drives covering two minutes or less, including 14 in 60 seconds or less.

The Sun Devils' focus will be on sustaining drives when they have the ball, limiting Oregon's explosive plays and, a common theme for Graham since he arrived in the desert, forcing them into turnovers.

``The bottom line, we have to have takeaways and we have to have a 100 percent ball security,'' Graham said. ``That is just like in any game, I say the same thing every week because that is just how it is. But this week it is even more important.''

Even if the Sun Devils force Oregon into some turnovers, it still won't be easy.

The Ducks have turned it over 14 times so far this season, but haven't blinked when it's happened, often answering with a big play on the next series.

And the road hasn't intimidated Oregon in the past. The Ducks have won 11 straight games away from Autzen Stadium, the longest streak in the FBS, and have a four-game winning streak in Tempe.

Oregon also is coming off a bye week, giving it plenty of time to prepare for the Sun Devils.

``If you're going to be a great football team, you've got to be able to win on the road,'' Kelly said.

The winner of this game will make a big statement.

Either way, it should be fun to watch.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.


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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler