Nationals

Improbably, Georgia in mix for national title

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Improbably, Georgia in mix for national title

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Alabama was supposed to be the best team in the country. Then Oregon and Kansas State got all the hype. Now it's Notre Dame looking down at everyone else.

Plodding along quietly, barely noticed, is one other team that has a prime spot in the national championship race.

The Georgia Bulldogs.

Coach Mark Richt's squad moved up to No. 3 in The Associated Press poll on Sunday and the same spot in the BCS standings. That leaves only three teams in control of their own destiny: top-ranked Notre Dame, second-ranked Alabama - and Georgia.

The Bulldogs need to beat Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, then Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game to earn a shot at the big prize in Miami.

Richt is keenly aware of the hoopla that suddenly surrounds his team, so much so that he steadfastly refused to even address the national race on his weekly teleconference.

Asked for his reaction when both Oregon and Kansas State were beaten in stunning upsets Saturday night, Richt replied: ``I was thinking we need to have a great week of preparation for Georgia Tech.''

Someone else asked, in a slightly different way, about having a shot at winning it all.

``Right at this moment, all I can think about is Georgia Tech,'' the coach said.

Finally, as the line went quiet and reporters tried to figure out another way to ask the same question, Richt piped in.

``Does anybody want to talk about Georgia Tech?'' he asked.

But there's no getting around the fact that everything has fallen into place for the Bulldogs (10-1), who haven't always looked impressive but kept winning games, enough to push them into the spot they needed.

Georgia has taken advantage of a soft schedule, padded with non-conference patsies such as Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and lower-division school Georgia Southern, which fell to the Bulldogs 45-14 on Saturday. Inside the SEC, Richt's team benefited from a juggling of the scheduling formula to account for the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.

Instead of facing Alabama in the regular season, as they would have under the former 12-team format, the Bulldogs picked up Missouri. Their two crossover games from the opposite division were against Auburn (3-8) and Mississippi (5-6). Contrast that with their two major rivals from the SEC East, No. 6 Florida and 13th-ranked South Carolina, which both had to play No. 8 LSU.

South Carolina blew out Georgia 35-7 the first Saturday in October, but the Gamecocks dropped their next two games against LSU and Florida. The Gators also beat LSU, climbing to No. 2 in the rankings, only to be taken down in Georgia's most impressive victory of the season, a 17-9 defensive struggle in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Bulldogs' only other victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision team with a winning record came against Vanderbilt (7-4). They routed the Commodores 48-3.

Nevertheless, timing is everything in the BCS. Oregon and Kansas State fell right at the end of the regular season, with little time to recover, while Georgia has won five straight since the debacle at South Carolina.

``We obviously have goals and aspirations. We've had them since January,'' Aaron Murray said after throwing four touchdown passes in the win over Georgia Southern. ``Let's just see what happens.''

Besides, as Richt will continually stress this week, the Bulldogs won't have any chance of playing for the national title if they don't beat Georgia Tech (6-5), the longtime rival which would love nothing more than to ruin Georgia's national title hopes.

The Yellow Jackets score a lot of points with their option offense. They give up a lot of points, too. Georgia likely will have to win a shootout in its final game of the year at Sanford Stadium.

``You can't even think about (the BCS) until you handle the business in front of you,'' receiver Tavarres King said. ``We can't think about that until we beat Georgia Tech. One game at a time. I know it's super cliche, but that's really the way it is.''

The only issue Richt would address regarding the national polls was the lone first-place vote Georgia got in the coaches' rankings. Notre Dame was a unanimous choice in the AP poll.

``I'm glad you asked me that. I am not the person who voted for us,'' Richt said. ``Somebody thought we were No. 1. I guess that's good. But it's really not all that important.''

Remember, there's that game against Georgia Tech.

Richt wants to talk about nothing else.

``Right now, the only thing I'm really concerned about is playing Georgia Tech,'' he said, fending off one last attempt to get him to talk about that other thing everyone else is talking about. ``We're trying to have a good game plan through the week. We're trying to slow down that offense and put some points on the board.''

With that, there was nothing else to say.

``Thanks everyone,'' Richt said.

The phone line went dead.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

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USA TODAY Sports

A quick recap of Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game, including how your Nats did

Tuesday evening's All-Star game was fairly uneventful until its later innings. The American League triumphed over the National League, 8 - 6, for their sixth straight All-Star game victory.

Despite fears of potential rain and inclement weather delaying the game, there were no unexpected stops in play. 

The AL started very strong offensively, with runs from Aaron Judge and Mike Trout in the top of the second and third innings, respectively. Jean Segura's three-run homer in the top of the eighth made victory look inevitable for the AL by the fifth. 

Max Scherzer, unsurprisingly, was well received among fans at Nationals Park. The Nats starter pitched the first two innings, giving up four hits. One was Judge's second-inning homer, but Scherzer remained unfazed and lighthearted. Four strikeouts made his performance commendable.

Bryce Harper did not get on as well, striking out in both of his at-bats. After Harper's Home Run Derby Win last night, there was chatter of him going for the MVP title as well. 

It didn't work out, but given Harper's consistent presence at the All-Star game, there's always another chance.

Elsewhere in the dugout for the NL, who rallied back from the three-run deficit, the kids were all right. Willson Contreras of the Cubs had a solo homer at the bottom of the third, the Rockies' Trevor Story had one in the seventh, and Christian Yelich added another in the eighth. A two-run homer by Scooter Gennett in the bottom of the ninth brought the game back to a 5-5 tie.

Jesus Aguilar struck out for the NL, and extra innings began.

In the top of the tenth, Alex Bregman and George Springer, both of the Astros, hit home runs almost immediately off of Dodgers pitcher Ross Stipling. Stop us if you've heard that one before.

With no outs, Michael Brantley took a sacrifice flyout to right field, and Jean Segura got in one more run to put the score at 8-5.

Though Joey Votto (Reds) hit one last home run in the bottom of the tenth, the NL couldn't quite make up the deficit.

After a late night, the American League will be going home happy.

MORE ALL-STAR GAME NEWS:

Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver named 2018 WNBA All-Stars

Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver named 2018 WNBA All-Stars

On Tuesday, the WNBA revealed the list of 22 players selected by fans, WNBA players and head coaches and media for Verizon WNBA All-Star 2018. 

Two Washington Mystics will be featured in the July 28 showcase at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Elena Delle Donne is making her fifth All-Star appearance and serving as one of two team captains, while Kristi Toliver earns the honor for her second time, and first since 2013. 

Delle Donne recorded her 3,000th career point Sunday night becoming the fastest player in WNBA history to reach the milestone with a 23-point performance in a loss to the Atlanta Dream. It was just the 148th game of her career. 

The 28-year-old is averaging 20.6 points, good for fourth in the league. 

Toliver is averaging 14 points and 4.2 assists. The former Maryland Terrapin is also just a week removed from making her debut as part of the Wizards coaching staff during Las Vegas Summer League. 

The Mystics are 13-9 and atop the eastern conference by 0.5 games. The last time the team had two all-stars was in 2015, when Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman played together.

For ticket information about Verizon WNBA All-Star 2018, fans may visit lynx.wnba.com/allstar/.