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No. 1 Notre Dame has underdog in its DNA

No. 1 Notre Dame has underdog in its DNA

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) The rankings say Notre Dame is No. 1 going into the BCS championship against Alabama. Plenty of folks aren't buying it, starting with the oddsmakers who currently have the Crimson Tide as about a touchdown favorite for the Jan. 7 meeting in Miami between two of college football's proudest programs.

The Fighting Irish aren't sweating the point spread. In fact, it's pretty much business as usual for Notre Dame, which has a chance to become the first team since 1984 to start the season unranked and end it as national champions.

``Everybody thought everybody was better than us,'' defensive tackle Louis Nix III said Monday. ``Oklahoma was better than us. USC was better than us.

``We get it. We know how everyone thinks. We're just Notre Dame. Overrated Notre Dame. No one gives us credit for anything. Just the luck of the Irish, I guess.''

History suggests that being the underdog in the BCS title game hasn't been a bad thing. Of the 14 BCS championship games played since the system was implemented in 1998, seven have been won by the underdog.

Alabama was a slight underdog last year after losing to LSU in the regular season, and then shut out the Tigers with the national title on the line.

In the 2005 championship game between Texas and Southern California, Vince Young and the Longhorns felt as if they were being talked about as nothing more than a speed bump on the road to USC's coronation as one of the greatest teams in college football history. Plus, Young was still seething over coming in second to USC's Reggie Bush in the Heisman Trophy voting.

The result: Texas 41, USC 38, and a performance for the ages by Young.

The following season, Ohio State reached the national championship game with a perfect record, No. 1 ranking and a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Troy Smith. Florida was the Buckeyes opponent and the question was: Did the Gators even belong in game?

Urban Meyer, the Gators' coach, made sure his players got that message. Even if it meant stretching the truth a bit. After a month of being told that nobody thought they had a chance to beat Ohio State, the Gators routed the Buckeyes 41-14 to start the Southeastern Conference's run of six straight BCS championships.

It's impossible to quantify what, if any, effect being the underdog has actually had on any of those ``upsets.'' Any team that gets to a championship game must be good in the first place.

Whether Notre Dame can or will use the slights - real or perceived - as motivation remains to be seen.

``I've used the technique before during my time as a head coach,'' Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said about playing the underdog card. ``I don't know that that is pertinent because it's a one-game deal. It's all or nothing.

``Both teams have different dynamics to deal with because of the long layoff. Preparation is more important than any kind of fire and brimstone speech that I can bring to them.''

Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said the coaches don't even need to bring it up. The Fighting Irish have played all season like a team with something to prove.

``I think it's a little bit part of our kids' DNA now,'' he said. ``We don't have to use it as much as maybe early in the year when we went on the road to Michigan State and they were ranked eighth and nobody was thinking we were very good. I think we've kind of just built it into who we are. Everybody likes telling us what we're not good at - which is fine by us. One of our strengths is knowing what we're not very good at. We try to play to our strengths and play away from our weaknesses.''

It's a style that has led to more than a few close calls on the way to Miami.

Notre Dame beat Purdue and BYU by three points each. The Irish needed three overtimes to beat Pittsburgh by a field goal and went to overtime against Stanford, too. In both the Pitt and Stanford games, Notre Dame caught a few breaks. A missed field goal here, a questionable call by the officials there.

Meanwhile, except for its upset loss to Texas A&M, Alabama has rarely been challenged on its way to a third BCS title game appearance in the past four seasons.

The Tide is outscoring its opponents by an average of 28 points per game. Notre Dame's average margin of victory is 16 points per game, as the Irish have leaned on Heisman Trophy finalists Manti Te'o and a stellar defense while they developed first-year starting quarterback Everett Golson.

``I understand why people say Alabama's going to win,'' said Nix, the 325-pound anchor of Notre Dame's defensive front. ``Great offensive line. Good quarterback. Great guys on the edge. They've been in the national championship twice in the last three years. I would probably pick Alabama, too.

``At the end of the day it's all about what's on the scoreboard.''

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

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Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”

“Chokers.”

And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Ian Mahinmi's season...

Player: Ian Mahinmi

Position: Center

Age: 31

2017-18 salary: $15.9 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.9 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 55.6 FG%, 00.0 3P%, 70.3 FT%, 55.6 eFG%, 107 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 1/12 vs. Magic - 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, steal, assist, 7-for-8 FG, 3-for-4 FT

Season review: After missing 51 games in the 2016-17 season, the first of his four-year contract with the Wizards, center Ian Mahinmi managed to stay healthy for the entirety of 2017-18. He appeared in 77 games and gave the Wizards a good look at the player they signed to a $64 million deal in free agency.

Mahinmi was a mainstay in the Wizards' rotation as their backup center. While Marcin Gortat started all 82 games at center, Mahinmi at times got the nod late in games as head coach Scott Brooks favored his defense.

Though Mahinmi was available all season, he still fell short of the numbers he put up in his last year in Indiana, in 2015-16. Mahinmi's minutes per game were his fewest since 2010-11, and his points and rebounds were his fewest since 2013-14. 

Mahinmi's numbers were affected by his low minutes, as he could never quite crack the top six or seven spots in Brooks' rotation. His numbers per 36 minutes, however, were on par with how he played in Indiana before the Wizards signed him to a big contract.

2015-16 per 36: 13.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.3 spg

2017-18 per 36: 11.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 1.2 spg

That, of course, only means so much. Mahinmi may have been relatively efficient with his minutes, but the consistency wasn't there to convince Brooks and the coaching staff to increase his role.

It will be interesting to see what the team plans for Mahinmi next season, as this summer could bring changes to their frontcourt. Both of their starting big men - Gortat and Markieff Morris - have one year left on their contracts. If Gortat in particular is dealt, that could open the door for Mahinmi to earn more playing time.

The Wizards could also add to their frontcourt through the draft. If they get a rim-protecting big man in the first round, that could be bad news for Mahinmi's playing time. Like several Wizards players, Mahinmi's role is up in the air entering this summer.

Potential to improve: Finishing around rim, consistency, limiting fouls

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

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