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Miller's Heisman chase could be Ohio State's bowl

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Miller's Heisman chase could be Ohio State's bowl

For Braxton Miller and No. 7 Ohio State, the Heisman could be their championship trophy.

The Buckeyes' quarterback has grown up fast in Urban Meyer's spread offense. A sophomore in his second season as a starter, Miller is averaging 311 yards total offense per game (16th best in the nation), including 130 a game on the ground (seventh in the nation).

He has accounted for 20 touchdowns, and carried the Buckeyes and their shoddy defense to a 7-0 record. They might be the best team in unimpressive Big Ten, but because Ohio State did not self-impose a bowl ban last year - before the NCAA handed down punishments for the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal - the Buckeyes' 2012 season will end with the Michigan game on Nov. 24.

While conference and national championships are off the table, the Heisman is very much in play.

``I would have no problem putting Braxton Miller on my Heisman ballot,'' said Mark Snyder from the Detroit Free Press. ``He still plays the games, still has to perform at the level worthy of the award and he had nothing to do with the reason the Buckeyes are sanctioned.''

Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph and Columbus Ledger-Enquirer said: ``He's blameless, so I won't blame him.''

There is also precedent for a player on a bowl-banned team winning the Heisman. Houston quarterback Andre Ware did it in 1989, when he threw for 4,699 yards, 44 touchdowns while directing the Cougars and their run-and-shoot offense to a 9-2 season in the Southwest Conference.

Chris Huston, a Heisman historian who runs www.Heismanpundit.com and does a weekly straw poll of 11 voters, said the sanctions might even work to Miller's advantage with voters.

``They might credit him for keeping the program afloat in tough times,'' Huston said.

Miller is a close third behind West Virginia's Geno Smith and Kansas State's Collin Klein in the straw poll released Tuesday.

The biggest problem the postseason ban poses for Miller is it keeps him and the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten title game on the final Saturday before Heisman ballots are due.

In recent years, the final weekend of games has become a time for closing arguments in the Heisman race. The last four Heisman winners all played, and played well, during what has become known as championship weekend.

Miller won't play at all, which could provide an opportunity for another contender to make a decisive final impression.

Maybe the most fascinating part of Miller's Heisman candidacy, though, is the way it will be treated by Ohio State.

Meyer has tried to subtly to downplay Miller's Heisman-worthiness, while still talking up his guy.

``I think he's one of those freaks of nature that has a lot of ability and great things can happen to him,'' Meyer said back in September. ``But there won't be billboards posted anywhere or anything like that.''

Last week, the message changed a bit.

``I don't think Braxton's a Heisman candidate right now,'' Meyer said. ``I think he's certainly to watch. He's got the ability. But then again, I don't know who is. We're only halfway through the season. In about two or three games I think you can start talking about that. I'm not talking to Braxton about it. We're trying to win some games, so ...

``I think at the right time, he will be a candidate if he continues to play very well.''

Coaches with championships to play for don't delve that deeply into Heisman questions in October.

But Meyer understands that if Miller can make a serious run at the big bronze statue, and get an invite to New York city for the awards ceremony on Dec. 8, it keeps the Buckeyes in the headlines even though they won't be preparing for a bowl game.

And what's better to add to a trophy case, anyway, a Heisman Trophy or whatever they give you for winning an Outback Bowl?

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CHAMPIONS BOWL

SEC and Big 12 officials are expected to decide by the end of October where their new marquee bowl game will be played.

The choice has come down to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans or the Cotton Bowl, now played at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The SEC has had a long and prosperous relationship with the Sugar Bowl and the city of New Orleans. Atlanta is the conference's eastern hub and the site of its championship game. New Orleans is its western home base, and the place it goes to party after the season.

The Big 12 has been sending teams to the Cotton Bowl for a long time, but the city of Dallas has not always been embraced by all the conference's members. Most of the northern members of the Big 12 voted against moving the league offices to the Dallas area out of Kansas City, Mo., after the Big Eight became the Big 12 in 1996. Of course, two of those members - Missouri and Nebraska - are now gone.

If the choice simply came down to venue, Jerry Jones' billion dollar stadium would win in a landslide over the perfectly functional - but not nearly as audacious - Superdome.

Cowboys Stadium holds close to 90,000. The Superdome can hold about 76,000. More tickets equals more revenue.

But fans love going to New Orleans. No city does big sporting events better.

Ultimately, there will be no loser. Whichever group doesn't land the Champions Bowl will still end up in the semifinal rotation for the new playoff system starting in 2014.

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HEISMAN WATCH

They call him Johnny Football, and in the next few weeks we'll find out if Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel can also be called a serious Heisman contender.

A dual-threat quarterback running coach Kevin Sumlin's spread, Manziel is second in the nation in total offense (392 ypg) for the 20th-ranked Aggies.

On Saturday, No. 6 LSU comes to College Station. After that, the Aggies play three road games in three weeks against Auburn, No. 15 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama.

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QUICK HITS

- Arizona State coach Todd Graham received plenty of criticism for leaving Pittsburgh after just one season. It's time to give Graham some praise for leading a team with only eight returning starters to a 5-1 start. There is much heavy lifting to come, though. ASU's schedule is backloaded, starting Thursday night when No. 2 Oregon comes to Tempe.

- For all of Wisconsin's issues, you can just about guarantee the Badgers are heading toward their second consecutive Big Ten title game, with a chance to go to a third straight Rose Bowl. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the Legends Division title, and Purdue, Indiana and Illinois a combined 0-8 in the league, Montee Ball and the Badgers (5-2, 2-1) should be able to get to Indianapolis with two more league victories. They play Minnesota this week and are at Indiana on Nov. 10. That should do it.

- The only winless teams left in FCS are Mid-American Conference rivals Massachusetts (0-6) and Eastern Michigan (0-6), and, stunningly, Southern Mississippi (0-6). The Conference USA champions and were expected to contend again under new coach Ellis Johnson, but instead will need to win out to avoid the program's first losing season since 1993.

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LAST WORD

``I know I've got time to fix it and I know I can.'' Texas coach Mack Brown, whose team is coming off a 63-21 loss to Oklahoma.

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AP sports writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, and Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed.

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

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Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

The initiative to get Otto Porter Jr. more attempts from three this season is not off to a great start.

That right there is called an understatement. Because it would be one thing if Porter only took a couple of them, but he literally took zero against the Heat on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

Yes, one of the NBA's best three-point shooters didn't even get off a single attempt from long range. That is simply hard to justify, especially after a preseason in which the team had a stated goal to shoot more threes than ever before.

It wasn't just threes. The often deferential Porter was even more gun shy than normal. He only took seven total shots in the 113-112 loss and topped out at just nine points.

Porter, in fact, had just one field goal attempt until there was 1:19 remaining in the first half, when he got two of them on the same play thanks to a rebound on his own miss.

Porter still affected the game in other ways, per usual. He had 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocks and finished +1 in +/- rating.

But for Porter to reach the next level as a player, he has to add volume to his efficient scoring numbers.

"We will look at the film and figure it out," head coach Scott Brooks said. "It's not like we go into the game wanting to only shoot 26 threes [as a team] and Otto shoot zero."

Brooks continued to say the problem is a combination of several things. More plays could be called for Porter and his teammates could look for him more often.

But ultimately, it's up to Porter to assert himself and take initiative. Granted, that may have been easier said than done against the Heat, who boast one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball in Josh Richardson. They are a scrappy team with athletic and hard-nosed defenders on the wing.

For Porter, though, that shouldn't matter. Ultimately, his share of the offense is up to him. The ball is going to swing around often enough for him to create his own opportunities.

Porter only taking seven shots is a bad sign considering Thursday was a better opportunity to get shots than he may receive in most games. The Wizards added Dwight Howard this summer and last season he averaged 11.2 shots per game, 3.4 more than Marcin Gortat, whom he replaced in the starting lineup.

It won't be easy, but the Wizards need Porter to take matters into his own hands.

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Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

The Caps looked like they were in good shape in the third period on Wednesday. With a 3-2 lead in the final frame against a New York Rangers team that had played the night before, Washington looked like they were starting to wear down the blue shirts and tilt the ice in their favor.

But everything changed just before the midway point of the period.

Nathan Walker, in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 4, chased down Neal Pionk behind the Rangers net as Pionk went to collect the puck. Walker put his arms around the Rangers’ defenseman to slow him up and he was called for holding.

“That was the safest thing possible for me to do is to wrap him up and take him in the corner like that,” Walker said to NBC Sports Washington on Friday. “Personally, I didn't think it was a good call on the ref's side, but that's the way it goes.”

Just over a minute later, Chris Kreider deflected a shot that was going wide past Braden Holtby for the power play goal to tie the game at 3.

A third period mistake that tied the game from a player in and out of the lineup could have been a devastating moment for Walker, but head coach Todd Reirden was adamant after the game that he did not want Walker to lose his aggressiveness or change the way he plays as a result of Wednesday’s mistake.

“I insert him to be aggressive and his intensity was something we needed,” Reirden said. “I thought he won a lot of puck battles earlier in the game and at different points. He's pursuing the puck trying to force a turnover and it ends up as a call against. That's I think a tough call in that situation, but we're able to pick him up and if there's a guy on our team that we want to rally around and try to come back for, it's someone like that with a work ethic and just commitment and dedication and how he is as a teammate.”

Luckily for Walker, the Caps were still able to get the win thanks to Matt Niskanen’s overtime goal. Those were nervous moments for him watching as the team tried to overcome his mistake.

“It's definitely nerve-wracking for sure,” Walker said. “You kind of feel like you're the reason why they got back into the game. I personally thought we were all over them in the third period up until they got that goal. I think we still played really well, but obviously the play with the lead is a lot nicer than playing tied up 10 minutes to go in the third. It was nerve-wracking, but it was good that the guys came through and we got the two points at the end of the day so that's the main thing.”

The fact that Walker’s mistake did not end up costing the team will make it easier for Reirden’s message to sink in. It’s his aggressiveness that makes him valuable. One mistake should not make him change that aspect of his game.

Said Reirden, “It's something that if he stops hunting pucks and creating havoc up ice then he's just a very average player that's going to find himself in and out of the league.”

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