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No. 1 Oregon tries to avoid Bama-like upset

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No. 1 Oregon tries to avoid Bama-like upset

No. 1 team in the nation, playing at home against a ranked divisional rival with two losses on its record and an elusive redshirt freshman quarterback directing its offense.

Sounds familiar.

Last week it was top-ranked Alabama losing to No. 15 Texas A&M to shake up the national championship race.

This week, new No. 1 Oregon hosts No. 14 Stanford, looking to avoid a repeat.

The Tide's loss has left the Ducks, second in the BCS, and No. 2 Kansas State, first in the BCS, on course to play for the national championship.

The Wildcats have what looks like an easier task this week - a game at Baylor (4-5).

No. 3 Notre Dame plays Wake Forest (5-5) on Saturday, hoping to stay unbeaten and take one of those spots if the Cardinal or Bears can pull an upset. No. 4 Alabama needs two upsets to get back into the front row.

The Ducks seem to be walking into a similar situation as the Tide last week. The Cardinal even have their own version of Johnny Football.

New starting quarterback Kevin Hogan has invigorated Stanford's offense, first in an easy victory against Colorado, and then in last week's huge win against Oregon State.

Hogan was 22 for 29 for 254 yards against the Beavers. He's not quite Johnny Manziel on the move, but he did run for 49 yards on 11 carries.

The Ducks have dominated the rivalry historically, but only recently with Stanford's rise to power has it become a huge game on the West Coast. A wild one, too.

Stanford beat the Ducks 51-42 in 2009. The last two seasons Oregon struck back with 52-31 and 53-30 victories in which the Ducks pulled away in the second half.

Oregon comes in with all sorts of injuries nagging its defense. The Ducks will likely be down to their third starting free safety, and they had five defensive linemen miss most or all of last week's game.

Stanford's defense - led by linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov - has been one of the best in the nation, ranking ninth in yards per play (4.48) and sacks (42).

``They're good against the run, they're good against the pass,'' Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said. ``I think it's a huge challenge for us offensively getting matched up against what will be the best defense we've faced so far. Lot of veteran players on that side of the ball that play very hard.''

But as the recent scores show, the Cardinal have yet to figure out a way slow Oregon's spread, which is operating better than ever behind another redshirt freshman quarterback, Marcus Mariota. The Ducks are the highest scoring team in the nation at 55 points per game, with at least 42 in every game.

Of course, Alabama hadn't allowed more than 17 point in a game before A&M came to town and put 29 on the Tide.

The picks:

SATURDAY

No. 14 Stanford (plus 20 1/2) at No. 1 Oregon

Ducks clinch Pac-12 north with victory ... OREGON 45-28.

No. 2 Kansas State (minus 11 1/2) at Baylor

Bears No. 2 in country on total offense, last in total defense ... KANSAS STATE 55-31.

Wake Forest (plus 23 1/2) at No. 3 Notre Dame

Irish finishing up ACC portion of the schedule ... NOTRE DAME 38-14.

Western Carolina (no line) at No. 4 Alabama

Biggest mismatch in this week's FCS-SEC challenge ... It could be ALABAMA 100-0 if Tide wanted it to be.

Georgia Southern (no line) at No. 5 Georgia

Eagles option often gives big boys headaches ... GEORGIA 48-24.

No. 6 Ohio State (plus 3) at Wisconsin

Buckeyes quest for perfection faces tough test ... WISCONSIN 28-24.

Jacksonville State (no line) at No. 7 Florida

Gators injured QB Jeff Driskel gets week off ... FLORIDA 42-10.

Mississippi (plus 18 1/2) at No. 8 LSU

Tigers hoping for BCS at-large bid, Rebels need win for bowl eligibility ... LSU 35-14.

Sam Houston State (no line) at No. 9 Texas A&M

Little more time for Aggies to bask ... TEXAS A&M 58-17.

No. 10 Florida State (minus 31) at Maryland

Seminoles can clinch ACC Atlantic Division ... 45-7.

BEST BET

North Carolina State (minus 17) at No. 11 Clemson

Tigers need Terps to pull upset to pass `Noles ... CLEMSON 45-21.

Wofford (no line) at No. 12 South Carolina

Gamecocks tuneup for Tigers ... SOUTH CAROLINA 38-17.

No. 13 Oklahoma (minus 11) at West Virginia

Mountaineers have gone from top-five to trying to get bowl-eligible ... OKLAHOMA 48-24.

California (off) at No. 15 Oregon State

Both teams have QB injury problems ... OREGON STATE 28-13.

Minnesota (plus 19 1/2) at No. 16 Nebraska

Huskers win plus Michigan loss gives Nebraska division title ... NEBRASKA 45-17.

No. 21 Southern California (minus 4) at No. 17 UCLA

Winner clinches Pac-12 South ... USC 35-28.

UPSET SPECIAL

Utah State (minus 3) at No. 19 Louisiana Tech

Spread tells all you need to know about under-appreciated Aggies ... LOUISIANA TECH 40-38.

No. 22 Rutgers (plus 6 1/2) at Cincinnati

Rutgers is in control of Big East race, for now ... CINCINNATI 21-16.

Iowa (off) at No. 23 Michigan

With or without Denard Robinson, Wolverines should be fine ... MICHIGAN 24-14.

No. 23 Texas Tech (plus 10 1/2) at Oklahoma State

Cowboys looking for fourth straight against Red Raiders ... OKLAHOMA ST. 38-31.

No. 25 Kent State (plus 2 1/2) at Bowling Green

Hard to stay ranked in tough MAC ... KENT STATE 34-28.

Last week's record: 19-2 (straight); 11-9 (vs. points)

Season record: 182-37 (straight); 105-95 (vs. points)

Best bets: 5-6.

Upset specials: 7-4.

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

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Zach Brown says Redskins defense will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor during joint practices

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USA TODAY Sports/@TerrellePryor

Zach Brown says Redskins defense will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor during joint practices

Terrelle Pryor made a number of highlight reel catches last year during training camp, and it appears the Redskins defense didn't like it. 

Washington's marquee free agent signing last season, Pryor came into Richmond with sky-high expectations. Throughout the training sessions last August, Pryor put on one-handed displays at the Jugs machine and often made big catches in team drills. It's also important to remember there was never any live tackling during these drills, leaving defenders at a distinct disadvantage. 

Zach Brown remembers the scene quite well, and thinks it will look very different this summer when Pryor comes to Richmond as a member of the New York Jets. 

"That’s going to be something right there. The boys are gonna have it out for him. We can put hands on him now," Brown said on Inside the Locker Room on the Team 980 (full audio here).

Brown explained that Redskins coach Jay Gruden would not allow the defense to hit Pryor last year, even when the wideout did some showboating. 

"Jay ain't here to protect you anymore," Brown said.

The Redskins linebacker explained that he tried to explain to Pryor that the one-handed catches from training camp would not translate in the NFC East, where players get hit hard. It doesn't seem like Pryor listened, as he finished the season with only 240 receiving yards on 20 catches in nine games. 

"The boys were already hot for what he was doing last year," Brown said. He added, "Try to one-hand something while you’re with the Jets, you’re gonna catch a forearm."

One incident that supports Brown's comments came when Bashaud Breeland got thrown off the practice field last training camp. Breeland got mad that he wasn't allowed to get physical with Pryor at the line of scrimmage, and the scene blew up. Breeland eventually got sent off the field after arguing with coaches. 

The Jets visit the Redskins for three days of practices beginning August 12th. The two teams then square off in the second preseason game on August 16th. 

Brown will get his chance at Pryor, assuming the wideout plays. Pryor finished the 2018 season on the injured reserve, but is expected to be fine once training camp begins in New York. 

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

We're just a couple of weeks away from the midway point of the 2018 Major League Baseball season, which means many casual fantasy baseball players have collectively turned their attention to the gridiron. This is good news for those of you still interested, because outside of the truly competitive leagues, it's about to get much easier to navigate the waiver wire and make winning trades.

That said, we'll still be here all season long, providing advice for anyone looking to gain a competitive edge in their fantasy leagues. There's a lot to digest in the upcoming week, as many teams (including the Washington Nationals) will play a full seven game slate. It's an especially great time for stars in baseball, as a whopping six players are on pace to record seasons with 8.7 Wins Above Replacement or higher, but there's still plenty of great options beyond the obvious guys.

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 12 (6/18-6/24)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Max Scherzer

We won't often include a guy on the level of Mad Max in our recommendations, but consider this a statement against the other pitchers. With Stephen Strasburg on the DL, Gio Gonzalez is really the only other startable option in the rotation, and while he's a fine play against the Orioles, he's not a sure thing. Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball, so when in doubt, it's easy to fall back on his name. For now, feel free to use Gonzalez if needed, but the only clear, recommendable one this week is Scherzer.

One Nationals position player to start: Adam Eaton, OF

Consider this your reminder to not get cute and just start Adam Eaton whenever he's healthy. When he can manage to avoid time on the disabled list, he's consistenly been one of the best players in Washington, and an absolute must-start in fantasy. Yes, he's hitting "just" .286 in five games since returning from the DL, but there's no reason to believe he won't bounce back to one of the top hitters in the National League once he gets back in the swing of things. As long as he's hitting at the top of the Washington lineup, he'll be one of the top run producers in baseball.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Erick Fedde

We likely would have advised against starting Fedde regardless of matchup, given his relative struggles in his two starts with the Nats this season. He's got a nice 9:2 strikeout-to-walk rate, but the ERA sits at an unsightly 5.91. What makes matters worse is the matchup; Fedde is once again slated to face the vaunted New York Yankees lineup. In New York, he allowed two home runs in just five innings, and while Nats park isn't the hitter's haven that Yankee Stadium is, the sluggers in their lineup make for a daunting matchup in any city.

Fedde probably isn't owned in most leagues, and there's no reason for that to change, even with his spot in the rotation likely secure as long as Strasburg isn't throwing.. 

One Nationals player to sit: Daniel Murphy, 2B

Nats fans were understandably rejoicing when Daniel Murphy returned to the lineup last week. It's always fun when one of your stars is back on the field after missing so much time. Still, like most players who haven't face in-game pitching in several months, Murphy has been slow to re-adjust at the plate. He's recorded just two hits in 15 at-bats, has only walked once, and has yet to notch an extra-base hit of any kind. His OPS is below-.200, and while no one should expect that to last, there's no need to rush him back into your lineups either.

It would be pretty tempting to slot Murphy into your 2B or middle infield spot now that he's healthy, since you likely drafted him to be one of your studs, but given his lengthy absence, the nature of his original injury, and his slow start since returning, it's probably a good idea to leave him on your bench for a week or two. Once he starts driving the ball again, he can start to return value for you, but there's no reason to let him drag you down in the meantime.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

Given that the rotation is currently in a state of flux, we can't confidently say any starter will get two starts. Fedde looks like the most likely candidate, but as we outlined above, he's still a pitcher you want to avoid for now.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

One of my favorite sleepers this week is Domingo German. One of the most surprising stats in all of baseball right now is that among starting pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, German has the second best swinging strike rate, behind only Max Scherzer. Swinging strike rate is a great stat to use when projecting future strikeout potential, and German's 15.9% is mighty impressive. German has a start at home against the Mariners and on the road against the Rays, so while it's not a cakewalk week, it's not especially daunting either. As an added bonus for those in points leagues, German is RP-eligible, giving you some extra roster flexibility.

The walks are a little high (21 in 53.3 innings) which has let to an elevated WHIP and ERA, but it's a good rule of thumb to follow the strikeouts when identifiying quality fantasy pitchers, and considering most of the two-start guys this week are obvious studs who are certainly already owned in your league, German is the exact type of option you should be looking to stream.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: John Hicks, C/1B (Tigers) 

This is a sneaky move, the kind that could easily get overlooked in most fantasy leagues but could provide a great return on investment. With Miguel Cabrera's unfortunate season-ending biceps injury providing an opening in the everyday lineup in Detroit, Hicks (who is catcher elgibile) will be taking most of the team's at-bats at first base going forward. While he's probably not worth rostering as a first baseman in most leagues, catcher is a notorious black hole in fantasy baseball in recent years, and this season might be the wost yet.

Hicks will maintain catcher eligibility all season long, yet he'll play the far less demanding first base every day, giving him less wear and tear on his legs, less concern with running the pitching staff, and most importantly, regular at-bats in a surprisingly not-atrocious lineup. Hicks isn't the type of guy you'd refer to as a league-winner prior to Opening Day, but he could make a real impact on a championship roster in the second half of the season.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Jake Junis, SP (Royals) 

Junis isn't the type of pitcher that I'd classify as a must-drop, but you shouldn't hesitate to move on if there's a clear better option on the waiver wire. Junis started the season strong and looked like a legitimate breakout player, but he's allowed six earned runs in each of his last two starts. A poor two-start stretch isn't the end of the world, which is why I'm not suggest that everyone jump ship regardless of team context. That said, he doesn't have the pedigree of a top pitching prospect, and he plays for one of the five worst teams in baseball, meaning you can't expect many wins even when Junis is throwing well.

At the very least, you prbably should leave Junis on the bench for the time being, and again, if there's an option you've been eyeing on the waiver wire, now is the time to strike. Don't feel bad if that means leaving Junis behind to free up a roster spot for your team.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Nice Threads: MLB reveals All-Star jerseys
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- On the Farm: Latest Nats prospect report