No. 12 Oklahoma goes to TCU with Big 12 chance

No. 12 Oklahoma goes to TCU with Big 12 chance

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Oklahoma receiver Justin Brown and his teammates know the clear-cut scenario that will guarantee them getting into a BCS game.

That would include the Sooners being in the unusual position of having to pull for decades-long archrival Texas.

First things first for 12th-ranked Oklahoma (9-2, 7-1 Big 12), which plays its regular-season finale Saturday with a pre-noon kickoff at TCU.

``We have to go out there and take care of business,'' Brown said. ``We can't really worry about the Kansas State-Texas game. We have to make sure we can get this one. ... We can't start talking about BCS right now. We've got to just stay focused on TCU.''

The Sooners are assured at least a share of the conference title with a win over the Horned Frogs (7-4, 4-4), the two-time BCS buster that has done just fine in its first Big 12 season.

If the Sooners win their game, they should be back in Norman in time to watch Saturday night's game between No. 7 Kansas State and the 23rd-ranked Longhorns.

Wins by Oklahoma and Texas would make the Sooners outright Big 12 champs and send them to their ninth BCS game under coach Bob Stoops, even though another national title is out of reach.

``They play later at night. All I know is we've got to win at 11 o'clock and there's opportunities for championships,'' said Stoops, 148-36 in his 14 seasons at Oklahoma. ``Who knows what will happen in their game and who knows what will happen in ours. So, in the end, that's where it's at right now.''

The Sooners have won seven Big 12 games in a row since losing their conference opener 24-19 against the Wildcats on Sept. 22. That loss more than two months ago gave K-State the head-to-head tiebreaker if that's needed to determine which team gets the league's automatic BCS spot.

Their only other loss was 30-13 a month ago against No. 1 Notre Dame, which is already set to play in the BCS national title game.

Even while playing an FBS-high 28 freshmen, including starting quarterback Trevone Boykin and several key defenders, the Horned Frogs are headed to another bowl game under coach Gary Patterson after making the long-awaited move to a major conference.

TCU has won four Big 12 road games.

``We have a chip on our shoulder, we always play our best games on the road, know we have to got to go in there and beat the crowd,'' said cornerback Jason Verrett, the Big 12 leader in interceptions (six) and passes defended (19).

Strangely enough, though, the Frogs have lost all three of their conference games in their completely redone stadium that debuted this season. TCU had won 27 of 28 home games before that.

This is their last chance to shade in at least part of a very noticeable unblemished spot on their pyramid of goals - the square about winning conference home games.

``We've got to find a way to win at home,'' Patterson said. ``If I could have changed uniforms, probably would have. You have to request that before the season, but we would have worn white at home. It seems like we play better in white.''

TCU, which won 20-13 at Texas on Thanksgiving night, lost 23-10 in its last home game to Kansas State. The Wildcats moved into the No. 1 spot in the BCS standings after that, and stayed there only a week before a loss at Baylor that could greatly benefit OU.

The Sooners have a four-game winning streak, extending that by winning wild, high-scoring games the last two weeks. They won 50-49 with a touchdown in the final minute at West Virginia and then needed a tying touchdown with 4 seconds left in regulation last Saturday against Oklahoma State before winning 51-48 in overtime.

``It's hard to come back and be focused and be all into a game whenever you have these emotional games, I know for sure, because it's draining,'' senior quarterback Landry Jones said. ``It's exhausting to play in those games and it's hard to get back up for practice, it's hard to forget about that game and move on to the next opponent.

``I think we're going to have to do a good job of, yes, remembering this game but moving on to the next opponent, which is TCU,'' he said.

The Frogs have the Big 12's top overall defense, allowing only 324 yards a game. They give up 23 points a game, second in the league.

TCU was coming off its only losing season under Patterson when the Frogs won their 2005 opener at Oklahoma. The Sooners won the last matchup in 2008, and were already scheduled to play in Fort Worth this season even before the Frogs joined the Big 12.

When Stoops was asked how his team would bounce back after that emotional Bedlam victory over Oklahoma State, the coach said that wasn't even an issue.

``I don't know why it would. In the end, there's nothing to bounce back from. Everything's in front of us,'' he said. ``We've got a big game, an opportunity ... with championship implications. All of that in front of you. So if anything, I would think it'd give you some momentum.''

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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.




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


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.