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Iron Bowl carries BCS title stakes - again

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Iron Bowl carries BCS title stakes - again

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Alabama's Barrett Jones summed up the Iron Bowl's significance hours before it got really meaningful nationally.

``It's the West, it's all our hopes and dreams, and also, it's Auburn,'' the Crimson Tide center said after Saturday's early game.

Then it got even bigger. For the fifth straight year, the Iron Bowl features a team squarely in the national title hunt. No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) almost certainly controls its own fate.

A victory over the Tigers (3-8, 0-7) would put the Tide into the Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 3 Georgia with the winner presumably playing in Miami for the BCS title. All the pieces fell into place hours after Bama's 49-0 victory over struggling FCS team Western Carolina.

Saturday night losses by Oregon and Kansas State ended Alabama's weeklong position on the outside looking in at the BCS chase after a loss to No. 9 Texas A&M. The twin defeats touched off the kind of celebration in Tuscaloosa normally reserved for big victories, with a YouTube video showing fans lining the Strip near campus.

The result is the Iron Bowl has the highest of stakes again, even if it's an apparent mismatch. Alabama won the national title in 2009 and 2011; Auburn in 2010.

Plus, the Tide was No. 1 going into the 2008 Iron Bowl but wound up losing to Florida in the SEC championship game and Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

Auburn is trying to avoid going winless in the SEC since going 0-6 in Doug Barfield's final season in 1980.

The slide has raised speculation about coach Gene Chizik's job security. Auburn President Jay Gogue has said he'll evaluate the program after the season. Tennessee fired Derek Dooley on Sunday and Kentucky's Joker Phillips won't return for next season.

Chizik continued to decline to discuss his status.

``You've asked me that pretty much every week and as I've said before it's very simple for me, we have a game against Alabama and it's the Iron Bowl and that's my No. 1 focus,'' he said. ``I'm not focused on anything else but that.''

There's no dodging his team's standing this week. The Tigers were installed as 34-point underdogs on Sunday.

``I've been in this game several different times,'' Chizik said. ``The circumstances of this game are certainly different than most of the other times I've played against these guys. Obviously that's out there in terms of you having a chance to knock somebody off, but being the rival that it is, being what the game means and has meant for a lot of years. That's really what we're focusing on.''

The Tigers beat FCS Alabama A&M 52-7 on Saturday, improving their mood with a romp over a Southwestern Athletic Conference opponent.

Tre Mason ran for 181 yards - including an 86-yard touchdown - and Onterio McCalebb added 104, the second time this season both have topped 100 yards in the same game.

Jones and Tide coach Nick Saban both maintain that Alabama expects a test despite the disparate seasons.

``It doesn't matter what Auburn's record is, who Auburn's coach is, they're always going to be ready,'' Jones said. ``Every time I've played against Auburn, it's been a hard-fought game, no matter what the record is. I know they're going to bring their best, and we have a tough week of preparation.''

Added Saban: ``You throw everything out the window in terms of records when you play rivalry games.''

Or maybe not. The Tide won 42-14 last season over an Auburn team that won eight games. That top-ranked Alabama team in 2008 won 36-0 in what proved to be coach Tommy Tuberville's final game, sending the Tigers to a 5-7 finish.

``Everybody understands what's at hand, that those guys, regardless of whatever they're going through down there are going to come and put up a good fight against us,'' Tide defensive end Damion Square said. ``And we're going to come and play Alabama football.''

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Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

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USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 25, 31 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Fan questions—The secondary

To be sure, there are reasons to be concerned about the secondary and we’ll get into those in a bit. But the popular notion that the secondary struggled last year is not accurate.

Do you want to go standard stats? They were ninth in the league in passing yards allowed and 10th in opponent passer rating last year.

Do you prefer more advanced analytics? They were sixth in defensive passing DVOA and 11th in adjusted net yards per attempt.

That’s not a great pass defense but it was a pretty good one. It should be noted that they also benefited from a solid pass rush; they were seventh in the league in sack percentage. Still, you don’t finish in the top third of the league in pass defense without at least a competent secondary.

The question is, will it remain competent? Kendall Fuller was indeed a key player, one of the best slot corners in the league. Bashaud Breeland was inconsistent, but he did shine on occasion. But the fact that he is still available as a free agent indicates what the league thinks of him, problems passing the physical notwithstanding. Those two will have to be replaced.

It is likely that Quinton Dunbar will take Breeland’s spot on the outside. That is at worst a lateral exchange if not an improvement. Dunbar has been working for three years to get this opportunity and there is confidence among the coaches and, perhaps more importantly, the players that he is ready.

Orlando Scandrick is the probable starter at slot. He is a downgrade from Fuller, no question about it. If he is healthy—a big if—Scandrick is good enough to get the job done. Don’t let the star he wore on the side of his helmet for so many years blind you to the fact that he’s a solid player.

The depth at slot consists of second-year player Josh Holsey, who played all of nine snaps on defense last year, and rookie Greg Stroman. That’s not ideal but most of the other teams in the NFL have a similar depth chart.

The wild card who could be the difference between this secondary being better than last year or worse is Fabian Moreau. He played only 59 defensive snaps as a rookie but he did show off his speed and hard-hitting style on some of his 349 special teams snaps. During the offseason practices that were open to the media, Moreau was mostly Josh Norman’s backup at left cornerback. The feeling is that he won’t remain a reserve. We will have to see how things sort out during training camp.

There should be some improvement at safety if Montae Nicholson figures out how to stay on the field in his second year. If he struggles with injuries again and Deshazor Everett has to line up alongside D.J. Swearinger for a good chunk of the season, the safeties are no worse off because that's what happened last year. 

The bottom line is that a secondary that was good last year may take a step down in 2018 but the decline should not be steep. And if Moreau can be the player the organization thought he could be when they used a third-round pick for him, it could be just as good if not better.

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

Tandler on Twitter

I tweeted this in response to a discussion about the relative popularity of the NFL and NBA. Albert Breer’s tweet on the TV ratings for the leagues’ respective drafts was the nexus of the discussion.

Timeline  

Redskins cornerback Josh Holsey was born on this date in 1994.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 31
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 45
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 59

The Redskins last played a game 176 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 76 days.

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.