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Louisville can claim Big East by beating Rutgers

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Louisville can claim Big East by beating Rutgers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) A rough November for Louisville still can end positively for the slumping Cardinals.

A victory at first-place Rutgers (9-2, 5-1) on Thursday night would not only snap a two-game losing streak, but give Louisville (9-2, 4-2) the Big East championship and the conference's berth in the Orange Bowl. The Cardinals hold all the tiebreakers: so a win and they're in.

Over the past two weeks, Louisville has looked like anything but a team that controlled its own destiny.

Louisville lost to Syracuse on Nov. 10. In the Cardinals' triple-overtime loss to Connecticut on Saturday, star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater broke his wrist. The setback knocked Louisville out of the Top 25.

With their reprieve, coach Charlie Strong wants the Cardinals focused on what they can win, not what they have lost.

``What we really have to understand is we have a chance to go win a conference championship,'' Strong said Monday. ``We have a chance to go play in a BCS bowl game and also have a chance for a 10-win season.''

With the Big East's first-ever championship game coming next season, Thursday's contest will serve as a de facto title contest.

Though Strong said he didn't expect this game to carry such importance when the season started, he knew it was a possibility as Louisville and Rutgers entered the month unbeaten in league play.

Disappointed as the Cardinals were after Saturday's loss because of the missed opportunity to tie the Scarlet Knights - who fell 27-6 at Pittsburgh - they were consoled by remaining within a game of the league leaders.

``After the game we were wrapping everything up and coach gave us a little light by saying that Rutgers lost,'' wide receiver Damian Copeland said.

Having Bridgewater available is another ray of hope in Louisville's quest to end its slump.

Bridgewater broke his left wrist while being sacked by Connecticut linebacker Sio Moore in the second quarter but returned with a cast on it to rally Louisville from a 10-0 deficit in the fourth and force overtime. He threw an interception in the third OT to set up the Huskies' game-winning field goal in a 23-20 victory.

Though the injury prevents the sophomore from taking snaps under center and eliminates Louisville's play-action options, he can direct the offense from the shotgun, pistol and offset formations. Senior Will Stein, who relieved Bridgewater while he was being treated and took a snap from under center near the goal line in overtime, could be used as well.

``These past two practices he's just been going through his reads, just relaxing and trying to get back as close to 100 percent as he can,'' Stein said of Bridgewater.

No matter who plays quarterback, Louisville needs a better rushing attack than it has shown the past two games. The Cardinals have combined for 75 yards during the losing streak, including just 27 on Saturday.

``We have to run the football, that's who we are,'' Strong said. ``If you look at Saturday, we were not effective at all.

``We have to get our run game going. You're going to have to move people and just come off and attack people and make sure we have the right plays called. It's about doubling guys and just moving them out of the way.''

Louisville also aims to stop a couple other troubling streaks against Rutgers. The Cardinals have trailed in the past eight games and Saturday was their second straight in which they fell behind early.

Their most recent deficit carried last more than three periods and put Louisville on the brink of being shut out before Bridgewater rallied the Cardinals in the fourth quarter to set up overtime. That's not a luxury they can afford at Rutgers and with so much on the line.

At least the Cardinals know they can win in New Jersey. Louisville has won the past two against Rutgers including a 40-13 rout in Piscataway two years ago.

Making it three in a row depends on how well the Cardinals can put their recent struggles behind them. In spite of everything that has happened, they still can achieve their preseason goal of winning the conference.

``Our confidence isn't shaken,'' Strong said. ``We've won nine games and have dropped the last two, but confidence is not an issue. But you always want to talk about confidence because when you go on the road. ... you have to walk in there knowing you can win the football game.''

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 27, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Here is my sunrise view from this morning:

Looking at next year’s free agents

This post was originally published on March 18. 

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens. 

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard). 

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility. 

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon. 

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup. 

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight. 

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019. 

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