Redskins

Irish trying to turn USC rivalry their way

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Irish trying to turn USC rivalry their way

The Notre Dame-USC rivalry has been defined by dominance over the last four decades. Two of college football's most celebrated teams have alternated long runs of success in the series that have coincided with the ups and downs of the programs.

When the Fighting Irish and Trojans meet for the 84th time on Saturday in the Los Angeles Coliseum, Notre Dame will be playing for a spot in the national championship while USC will be trying to salvage a disappointing season.

The Irish appear primed to turn the rivalry back in their direction after a decade of USC ownership.

During Southern California's most recent dynasty, coach Pete Carroll's Trojans reeled off eight straight victories against the Irish from 2002-09, the longest winning streak by USC in the series.

In 2010, Brian Kelly's first season as Notre Dame coach, the Irish snapped that streak, 20-16, with the help of a memorable dropped pass that would have been a sure touchdown. USC came right back and won last season in South Bend, Ind., 31-17, to make it nine out of 10.

``Well, it's not a great rivalry right now,'' Kelly said this week. ``We haven't won enough games. They've had the upper hand on this. We need to make this a rivalry.''

From the mid-80s through the mid-90s, it was USC that was trying to make it a rivalry. As USC struggled to hold its place among the elite programs in college football, the Irish often contended for national titles under Lou Holtz and went 12-0-1 against the Trojans.

That number helps explain the relatively short tenures of coaches Ted Tollner (1983-86) and Larry Smith (1987-92) at USC.

Lane Kiffin is hoping his USC career is more like Carroll's than Smith's, but it has certainly been a tough season for the Trojans. They started the season, their first after a two-year, NCAA-imposed postseason ban, ranked No. 1, and with the presumptive Heisman Trophy front-runner in senior star quarterback Matt Barkley.

Maybe expectations were too high for a team that lacked depth and had some question marks on both lines. But few would have predicted that USC would head into its finale against Notre Dame 7-4 and unranked. Even more startling is that it's Notre Dame that will take the field Saturday as the unbeaten No. 1 team in the country, two victories from its first national championship since 1988.

The Fighting Irish started the season unranked. The last team to start out of the rankings and reach No. 1 was Missouri in 2007. The Tigers lost their final game before the bowls, falling to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, and lost a chance to play for the national title.

But maybe we shouldn't be so surprised about the Irish. Holtz, Dan Devine, Ara Parseghian and Frank Leahy all won national championships in their third season as Notre Dame coach, all beating USC along the way.

The picks:

THURSDAY

TCU (plus 7) at No. 18 Texas

Old Southwest Conference rivals, Frogs beat Horns once from 1968-95. ... TEXAS 32-27.

FRIDAY

No. 8 LSU (minus 12) at Arkansas

Before last year's big LSU victory, previous six meetings were one-score games. ... LSU 35-21.

No. 17 Nebraska (minus 14 1/2) at Iowa

Huskers clinch spot in Big Ten championship game with victory or Michigan loss. ... NEBRASKA 28-17.

Ohio (plus 10 1/2) at No. 23 Kent State

Golden Flashes already have MAC East title clinched. ... KENT STATE 34-27.

No. 24 Northern Illinois (minus 20) at Eastern Michigan

Huskies have MAC West title clinched. ... NORTHERN ILLINOIS 41-14.

SATURDAY

No. 1 Notre Dame (minus 7) at Southern California

USC QB Max Wittek tries to carve out spot in Trojans history in first start. ... NOTRE DAME 24-14.

Auburn (plus 31 1/2) at No. 2 Alabama

Nick Saban is merciful. ... ALABAMA 35-0.

Georgia Tech (plus 13) at No. 3 Georgia

SEC title game is locked up, but this is to keep Bulldogs' national championship hopes alive. ... GEORGIA 51-28.

No. 20 Michigan (plus 3 1/2) at No. 4 Ohio State

Perfection on line for Buckeyes in Urban Meyer's first game against Michigan. ... OHIO STATE 27-20.

No. 5 Oregon (minus 9 1/2) at No. 16 Oregon State

Ducks need to win and have UCLA beat Stanford to reach Pac-12 title game. ... OREGON 45-24.

No. 6 Florida (plus 8) at No. 10 Florida State

Both teams still in national title hunt. ... FLORIDA STATE 17-13.

Missouri (plus 22) at No. 9 Texas A&M

Last Heisman showcase for Johnny Football. ... TEXAS A&M 45-21.

No. 11 Stanford (minus 1 1/2) at No. 15 UCLA

Cardinal can clinch Pac-12 North with victory, set up rematch with Bruins in title game. ... UCLA 27-24.

UPSET SPECIAL

No. 13 South Carolina (plus 4) at No. 12 Clemson

Tigers could all but lock up BCS at-large bid. ... SOUTH CAROLINA 38-31.

BEST BET

No. 22 Oklahoma State (plus 7) at No. 14 Oklahoma

Big 12 title still a possibility for Sooners. ... OKLAHOMA 38-24.

UConn (plus 12) at No. 19 Louisville

Cardinals a win away from BCS-bid showdown at Rutgers ... LOUISVILLE 28-13.

No. 21 Rutgers (plus 2) at Pittsburgh

No easy games for Scarlet Knights ... RUTGERS 20-17.

No. 25 Mississippi State (plus 1) at Mississippi

Bulldogs have won three straight Egg Bowls ... OLE MISS 28-24.

Idaho (plus 39) at No. 25 Utah State

Took a while for everyone to realize it, but Aggies are really good. ... UTAH STATE 48-7.

Last week's record: 15-6 (straight); 5-9 (vs. points)

Season record: 197-43 (straight); 110-104 (vs. points)

Best bets: 5-7.

Upset specials: 7-5.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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Looking for a free burger? Sit close to Redskins QB Alex Smith

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USA TODAY Sports

Looking for a free burger? Sit close to Redskins QB Alex Smith

Pro tip: If you see new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith in a restaurant, try to sit close by.

Talk to teammates and media from San Francisco or Kansas City, the two cities Smith played in before coming to Washington, and stories like this emerge. His reputation for generosity and random kindness is as consistent as his ability to move the football with his legs and not throw many interceptions.

His foundation is heralded as one of the best in the NFL, where more than 90 percent of funds raised actually go towards charity, significantly higher than the national average. Once traded from Kansas City, Smith wrote a letter on The Player's Tribune thanking fans:

Thank you to the Chiefs Kingdom for being some of the craziest, most dedicated fans in the country. And thank you to the Kansas City community and all the friends my family and I have made during our time with you. To see all the farewell donations that have been made to the Alex Smith Foundation — all in increments of 11 — has been really special. It’s a tremendous gesture that my family and I have been very touched by. We appreciate you. We’re better people because we were fortunate enough to spend the last five years with you.

So what might have Smith ordered at Bareburger DC? Let's take a guess from their online menu. 

  • The Buckaroo - Beef, aged cheddar, smoked brisket, wild mushrooms, smoke sauce, brioche bun - After spending a few years in Kansas City, Smith might have acquired the taste for brisket on burgers. Who knows.

  • El Matador - Beef, queso fresco, guacamole, spicy pico de gallo, pickled jalapeños, green leaf, brioche bun - Smith is a SoCal kid, so maybe he needed the guac and bold flavors of his youth. 

  • Impossible Burger - American cheese, caramelized onions, dill pickles, green leaf, special sauce, brioche bun -The Redskins mission is getting to the playoffs, and many oddsmakers view that as impossible. Maybe Alex wanted to embrace it?

  • So Cal - Turkey, aged cheddar, guacamole, pickled red onions, alfalfa, sprout bun - Again, Smith is from Southern California, and this burger sounds pretty healthy. You don't get to look like this picture below by eating too many Buckaroos. 


Here's the truth: Smith is cool and bought a bunch of random people dinner. What's cooler: He doesn't have or use social media to broadcast when he does random nice acts. 

This week he and the Redskins travel to Richmond for training camp, and things will get serious about football and the 2018 season. Enjoy the fun stuff for now. 

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10 Questions in 10 Days: After Kerrigan and Preston, do the Redskins have enough pass rush?

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10 Questions in 10 Days: After Kerrigan and Preston, do the Redskins have enough pass rush?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

No. 5: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

No. 4: After Josh Norman, what's the plan at cornerback?

No. 3: After Kerrigan and Preston, do the Redskins have enough pass rush?

Ryan Kerrigan does not get the national respect he deserves. Year after year, Kerrigan proves to be one of the best sack specialists in the NFL. Last season, he finished tied for fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks, and ranks in the Top 5 for sacks over the last three years. 

Kerrigan is durable and more than capable, and gives the Washington defense an anchor at outside linebacker. Opposite Kerrigan comes Preston Smith, a fourth-year player that has shown a ton of potential and the ability to take over games. 

Smith is yet to go for double digit sacks in a season, but going into a contract year, this might be his best shot. He also contributes in other ways; an ability to tip passes and grab interceptions, force fumbles with his long frame, and even enough speed to keep up in some pass coverages. 

Kerrigan is a high-end Mercedes Benz. Smith is a 3-series BMW with a chance at the M3 engine. After that, the cars don't look so good. 

Make no mistake: Free agent addition Pernell McPhee could be a great value signing for Washington. If he stays healthy.

He hasn't played a 16-game season since 2014, and last year, he started just five games and logged only four sacks. His frame is much bigger than a typical 3-4 outside linebacker, which means he might help more against the run in base defense. McPhee graded out well by Pro Football Focus last year, and plenty of scouts think he can deliver this fall. Again, if he stays healthy. 

After McPhee comes second-year man Ryan Anderson. He delivered zero as a rookie. Zero. 

Plenty of players, however, make a big improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. Maybe Anderson is that player in 2018. 

A second-round pick in 2017, Anderson played sparingly in 14 games last year and delivered just 11 tackles. No sacks. Coaches said Anderson was not in NFL shape when he arrived as a rookie, but that excuse won't fly this time around in training camp.

The Redskins need Anderson now, in a way the team did not last year. 

Going to camp in 2017, outside linebacker had strong depth. Kerrigan, Smith, Trent Murphy and Junior Galette were the veterans Anderson could learn behind. Now Murphy is in Buffalo and Galette is unsigned. 

There is some hint that Galette could still land back in Washington. The team does not have a true speed rusher, and Galette would change that immediately. Kerrigan is a brute force tactician, and Smith is an athletic handful, but neither possess the speed of Galette. 

That signing seems like a long shot, and odds are the Redskins will need a lot from Anderson or McPhee. Or both. Neither Kerrigan nor Smith has ever missed a game in their career, a remarkable feat, but hardly something the organization should rely on. 

Improved play along the interior of the defensive line will help the outside by a large margin. If Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis collapse pockets from the inside, then Kerrigan and Smith will feast off the edges. 

That could trickle down for McPhee and Anderson as well. But much as the defensive line improves with more depth and rotating players, so too does outside pass rush. Washington made a smart move to bolster their interior defensive line this offseason, but it left the defense a little leaner on the outside. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

#REDSKINSTALK PODCAST

Don't forget to subscribe to the #RedskinsTalk podcast, hosted by JP Finlay.

Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below.