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A guide to college football's 35 bowls

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A guide to college football's 35 bowls

The BCS has been criticized plenty for not getting it right over the years, from all those teams that believed they should have been playing for a national title to last year's all-SEC championship game.

But for all its faults, the system seemed to work this season, producing a matchup for the ages: Notre Dame vs. Alabama.

The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide, programs tied for the most Associated Press national titles, in Miami, playing for a national championship - yeah, this could be pretty good.

Alabama and Notre Dame also happen to be two of the most polarizing teams in the country, so if you love one, chances are you hate the other.

Of course, if you hate both, it might be a tough night of yelling at the TV, hoping that somehow neither team wins.

Either way, the good news is there's plenty of other great games and players to watch over the next three weeks.

Here's a bit of what to look for in this year's 35 bowl games:

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TOP GAMES

Fiesta Bowl, Oregon vs. Kansas State, Jan. 3, Glendale, Ariz. For the second straight year, the Fiesta Bowl has a matchup that could be 1A to the national title game. The Ducks and Wildcats were national title contenders just a few weeks ago and have two of the nation's most dynamic players in running back Kenjon Barner and K-State QB Collin Klein.

Rose Bowl, Stanford vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. There might be a collision or two between these two power programs.

Cotton Bowl, Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 4, Arlington, Texas. Johnny Heisman and Landry Jones could combine for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs on their own.

Orange Bowl, Northern Illinois vs. Florida State, Jan. 1, Miami. Just to see if the BCS-busting Huskies do actually belong.

New Mexico Bowl, Nevada vs. Arizona, Dec. 15, Albuquerque. Two of the nation's best scoring offenses against two of the nation's worst scoring defenses. The bowl season will kick off with fireworks.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Johnny Football broke the freshman barrier in the Heisman Trophy vote. `Nuff said. Faces Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

Manti Te'o, Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish linebacker came up just short in becoming the first true defensive player to win the Heisman. About the only thing he's missed all season.

Collin Klein, Kansas State. Another Heisman finalist, he has a just-get-it-done quality in the vein of Tim Tebow.

Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona. Led the FBS in rushing, might get a few more yards against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.

Tavon Austin, West Virginia. All-American lines up all over the field, and is a threat to score from anywhere. Gets Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Montee Ball, Wisconsin. He's only scored more touchdowns than anyone in FBS history.

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BOWL SPONSORS

Food is again king when it comes to sponsoring bowls. The dot-coms? About done.

Food-related companies were tops in sponsors bowls last season with seven and there's one more this season with Insight Bowl becoming the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It joins Tostitos, Chick-fil-a, Outback, Kraft, Beef `O' Brady's, Little Caesars and the Idaho Potato Commission in bowl sponsorship.

Tying for second most are auto-related companies and financial companies with five each.

This year's lineup also includes an aerospace and defense contractor, a helicopter company, a department store, a hotel chain and a consumer electronics company.

What's missing are the dot-coms.

Once the dominant force of bowl sponsorships, online companies are down to two: the GoDaddy.com Bowl and TaxSlayer.com sponsoring the Gator Bowl.

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ODDS

A year ago, oddsmakers were predicting a tight BCS championship game, opening with a spread of one point between LSU and Alabama.

They're looking for a little more lopsided game this year, with the Crimson Tide opening as a 7 1-2-point favorite over Notre Dame on the Glantz-Culver Line.

The closest game was one point between UCLA and Baylor in the Holiday Bowl and the highest opening spread was the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where Oklahoma State was giving up 18 points to Purdue.

Despite predictions of a close game, the Holiday Bowl has the highest over/under of 79 1-2 points between UCLA and Baylor. Could be fun to watch if they live up to the prediction.

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DISTANCES

The farthest distance to travel to a bowl this season will be SMU's halfway-across-the-Pacific journey to the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, a trip of about 3,800 miles.

For anyone wanting to take a long road trip in a car - good luck with that - the longest non-water distance is about 2,800 miles. That's roughly how far San Jose State will go to play Bowling Green in the Military Bowl in Washington D.C. and Navy's trip to San Francisco for the Fight Hunger Bowl against Arizona State.

Vanderbilt and San Diego State have the shortest trip: nowhere.

The Commodores get to face North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl in Nashville and the Aztecs will play against BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.

Other short trips include Central Florida in the Beef `O' Brady Bowl (about 100 miles), Duke at the Belk Bowl (140), Louisiana-Lafayette at the New Orleans Bowl and Central Michigan at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (both around 150).

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NUMBERS

0.0404-Points by which Northern Illinois got into the coveted top 16 of the BCS standings.

1-Bowl game for Louisiana-Monroe in its history after being selected to face Ohio in the Independence Bowl.

9-Wins by Louisiana Tech, which was left out of the bowl season after failing to meet a deadline with the Independence Bowl and wasn't pick for another bowl.

10.33-Points per game allowed by Notre Dame, best in the country. Alabama is No. 2 at 10.69.

18-Years since Duke's last bowl appearance. The Blue Devils will face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 in Charlotte.

173.08-Passing efficiency by Alabama's A.J. McCarron, best in the country.

383.33-Yards of total offense by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, second nationally.

578.75-Yards per game by Baylor's offense, tops in FBS.

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GAMES NOT TO WATCH

OK, we know we're going to take a little heat on this one, but truth is, with 35 bowl games, there's going to be some clunkers in there.

So, with apologies to the bowls, the teams and their fans, here's a few game you might want to skip for something more entertaining like, say, watching icicles melt from the eaves:

Sun Bowl, Georgia Tech vs. Southern California, Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas. Georgia Tech (6-7) has a losing record and had to get a waiver from the NCAA just to get in. The Trojans may be the most underachieving team in the country, losing five games after opening the season as the preseason No. 1.

Armed Forces Bowl, Rice vs. Air Force. Dec. 29, Fort Worth, Texas. We hate saying anything negative about the men and women at the service academies, but a matchup of 6-6 teams isn't particularly exciting no matter who it is.

BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss, Jan. 5, Birmingham. See 6-6 line above.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan State vs. TCU, Dec. 29, Tempe, Ariz. Not only is it a matchup of a 6-6 team (MSU) against one that's 7-5, the calling card for these two teams are their defenses. First one to six points doesn't exactly get us jazzed up.

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Follow John Marshall at www.Twitter.com/johnmarshallap

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Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

It's the moment we've all been waiting for: finding out who the Redskins are going to take as their No. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

After much anticipation and countless mock drafts, Redskins fans will finally find out what's to come for the Burgundy and Gold in the upcoming NFL season. 

And we couldn't let you handle this news alone: So we've got the Redskins Talk crew hosting a special "Redskins on the Clock" live stream to address, analyze and hopefully rejoice over the 'Skins decision. 

<<CHECK OUT NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S LATEST NFL MOCK DRAFT>>

On Thursday, Apr. 25th, JP Finlay, Peter Hailey and Mitchell Tischler from the Redskins Talk Podcast, along with guests Travis Thomas and Trevor Matich, will be offering a live look into their thoughts and concerns surrounding both the Redskins' pick and all of Round 1. The live stream will be available on the MyTeams by NBC Sports App from approximately 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

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The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

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USA TODAY Sports

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.

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