Leaving Big East together, Syracuse, Pitt to meet

Leaving Big East together, Syracuse, Pitt to meet

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Fresh from a bye week, Syracuse is ready to begin making amends for a season that so far has gone very wrong.

The first chance comes Friday night at home against Pittsburgh in a Big East game featuring two teams that will leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

The conference opener for the Orange (1-3) is a crucial game for coach Doug Marrone. Another loss like the 17-10 debacle at Minnesota two weeks ago and the Orange might just bid sayonara to those hopes and dreams of playing in the postseason for the second time in three years.

``We're a better football team than we were the last time we played,'' Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib said. ``We know that we've been in every game so far. Those games we lost we found a way to beat ourselves. No team has outright beat us yet. If we clean up some of these small things, we're going to be a good team.''

Among the areas that needed to be addressed during the off week were turnovers and penalties. Against the Golden Gophers, the Orange had four giveaways to bring the season total to 10 and were whistled for 10 penalties. Through four games, the Syracuse defense has produced only four turnovers (three interceptions and one fumble recovery), giving the Orange one of the worst turnover margins in the country (minus-1.5).

``Turnovers have hurt us,'' Marrone said. ``I think that's the first way you put yourself in jeopardy of losing a game. We've done that consistently in the four games we've played. Everyone understands that if we can clean those things up - not that it's going to guarantee us a win - it will give us a much better opportunity.''

The Orange will have to overcome a team that's won the last seven games in the long series, and the Panthers (2-2, 0-1 Big East) have been purring of late. After starting the season in dismal fashion - Pitt lost its opener, 31-17, to Youngstown State, which plays at the second level of Division I, and followed with a 34-10 setback at Big East foe Cincinnati - the Panthers have been impressive.

Pitt stunned then-No. 13 Virginia Tech 35-17, forcing the Hokies into four first-half turnovers while bullying them all over the field, then beat Gardner-Webb 55-10 two weeks ago. The Panthers produced a combined 1,163 yards of total offense in the two wins behind quarterback Tino Sunseri. The senior completed 71 percent of his passes (37 of 52) for 627 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception and ranks as the Big East's most efficient passer (15th nationally) with a166.80 rating.

The Pitt defense hasn't been too shabby, either. After failing to gain a turnover in the first two games, Pitt has registered seven - four interceptions and three fumble recoveries - during its modest winning streak.

``I think we really bought into the defense more the past two games,'' Pitt defensive back K'Waun Williams said. ``We always trusted the process, but seeing the way it worked in our favor the past two games was really beneficial for us.''

Marrone at least was happy that the Orange's rest came at an opportune time as he tries to fix the imperfections that have tarnished his fourth season.

``When you're struggling, a lot of people say, `We've got to get back out there,''' Marrone said. ``My philosophy has been when you're struggling, the player, in my opinion, is looking for answers. He wants to know, `Why are we 1-3?' You have to identify those situations, which the bye week gives you the ability to do.

``Now, you can answer those questions - if we do this right, we can win. When the players look and they see that and they realize that, then you have a chance to get better.''

The Orange figure to be better on the offensive line with the return of All-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh. He missed the first four games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and couldn't stop smiling as he pondered his return.

``It's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life,'' said Pugh, whose return will shift Sean Hickey over to the right side of the offensive line. ``I think it's actually made me a better player. It's kind of given me a different perspective. I'm just ready to get out there.

``I'm ready to play.''

Syracuse, which lost its opener by a point to Northwestern (42-41) and dropped its second game to Southern California (42-29) at MetLife Stadium, hasn't beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team in nearly a year. Its lone victory this season came against FCS power Stony Brook, a hard-fought 28-17 triumph last month in the Carrier Dome.

The good news is that the Orange's slate is clean in the conference.

``We know we have to win at least five of the next eight games to guarantee we get a bowl game,'' Pugh said. ``There's definitely a heightened sense of urgency, but you never want to put too much into a game.

``It's my first game back and I've never beaten Pitt, so I'm kind of a little amped for that. It's our playoffs now.''


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Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

NBC Sports Washington

Reflections on Rich Tandler and a life well lived

I haven’t felt this way since my father passed last April. I’m not comparing the two, at all, but there were some similarities.

Rich Tandler had life experience. Few people accomplish what he did; total life reinvention. 

Think about that. 

After raising his two successful children and a lifetime in the restaurant business, Tandler created a blog. That blog became big enough to eventually become a full-time job, and over time, put him on television and send him all over the world. 

That’s wild. 

We get so caught up in the “startups” and “disruptors” from Silicon Valley that we missed a true internet success story in Rich Tandler. Our world has become extra cynical. The loudest snark wins, especially on the internet. 

Tandler didn’t trade in those currencies. 

He provided good, quality information. He provided insight and analysis from six decades of obsessing over a football team. 

And fans loved him for it. 

The outpouring from folks that read "Need to Know" or listened to the podcast has been incredible. I’ve been flooded with messages from people, and one overwhelming response is that while they didn’t really know Tandler, they feel like they did.

Well, I was lucky to know him pretty well. And his persona on air was the same way off air. 

Tandler helped me a in a lot of ways. I can be impulsive and have a temper, Tandler would calm me down. Whenever I had something important to say, news to break or a sharp angle of criticism, I would run it by Tandler first. Sometimes, maybe often, I would say too much, and he would reign me in. 

Tandler loved pointing out mistakes. If the universe gave honorary degrees for pointing out minor math errors in salary cap blog posts, Tandler would have a Ph.D. 

He was smart and he was sharp. Good natured but feisty. 

He could dish it out plenty in a media room full of alphas. And he literally dished it out; Tandler controlled all the plastic utensils and paper plates that every media member used at Redskins Park. When we were running low on forks, Tandler would put out some not too subtle calls to action. 

I think for a while he considered the podcast an annoyance, but somewhere along the way, we had a breakthrough. He realized its potential, and everywhere we went, listeners came up and told us how much they enjoyed it. 

That made an impact on RT. And seemingly overnight, he was all in. That’s when things really started to gain steam. Wherever I am in my career, Tandler played a huge role in it. 

But that kind of doesn’t matter now. We will keep the pod going but it will never be the same. Not better, not worse, but way, way different. Same thing with writing and TV. The show will go on, but it won't be the same. It will never be the same. 

In the hours since I learned of Tandler’s passing, I’ve done some reading. I drank a bunch. And I ended up landing on some YouTube videos. 

The one I kept going back to was Jimmy V’s famous ESPY speech. Before he died, Jimmy V implored us all to think, laugh and cry every day, and that would lead to a good, full life. 

If there was ever a dude that laughed, it was Rich Tandler. 

His belly laugh was contagious, and his wit was superior. There were the wacky Tandler’s Got Jokes, and the sly one liners about players, plays and our road antics. 

It wasn’t all laughter either. Tandler was smart as hell, and he was always thinking about new ways to present content for Redskins fans. 

Seriously, our organization employs an army of young and talented digital-first thinkers. And Tandler generated more web traffic than all of them. He constantly tried to figure out why people would read something, or the optimal time for us to drop a new podcast. 

Where I’m an idea guy, Tandler was all execution. I’m a terrible planner and constantly late. Tandler would be on time and busting my chops about our lack of schedule. It’s just how we operated. 

As for crying, Tandler wasn’t much of one. I did see him tear up from laughing a few times, and once because it was real windy when we were taping a segment and something got in his eye. 

I’m not much of a crier either. I’m glad that Jimmy V was, but it’s just not me. 

Thinking about Tandler though in the last 36 hours, there have been some truly hard moments. He was kind and gracious. A true gentleman. 

He never took personal shots at the team we cover, or their front office. Plenty do. He would certainly say when things were bad, and say it loudly. He was binary in a world full of context. 

He was a good dude. He was my coworker, my partner and my friend. 

And damn if it isn’t getting dusty in here all of a sudden. 

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."