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Northern Illinois wins MAC and BCS lobbying begins

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Northern Illinois wins MAC and BCS lobbying begins

DETROIT (AP) After two straight Mid-American Conference titles, Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren figures his team is worthy of a major reward.

The Huskies are hoping to play in a BCS bowl - and although their chances appear slim, Doeren wasted no time promoting his team's credentials.

``You look at the top 16 teams in the BCS, and you aren't going to find a team that plays as consistently as we do, wins every game they are supposed to win, and plays as well as we do in every phase of the game,'' Doeren said.

``We got big plays on offense when we needed them tonight, we got big plays on defense, and our kicker made every kick we needed. I don't know anyone else who brings all of that.''

Jordan Lynch ran for three touchdowns, including a 2-yarder in the second overtime, and Demetrius Stone's interception in the end zone gave No. 19 Northern Illinois a 44-37 victory over No. 18 Kent State in a stirring MAC championship game Friday night.

Both teams were hoping a win would boost them into the top 16 of the BCS rankings and give them a berth in one of college football's marquee bowls. Kent State was No. 17 in those standings coming in. The Huskies were No. 21 and need an unlikely jump.

Northern Illinois could pass Kent State and UCLA, which is 16th in the BCS rankings but lost the Pac-12 title game to Stanford on Friday night. Texas is 18th and plays at Kansas State on Saturday, while Boise State is 20th and plays at Nevada. But Michigan is 19th and doesn't play at all this weekend.

The Huskies (12-1) dominated for much of the night, but the Golden Flashes (11-2) tied it at 34 in the final minute of regulation.

Kent State trailed 27-13 earlier in the fourth before scoring two touchdowns in a 15-second span.

It was 34-all at the end of regulation, and after the teams traded field goals in the first overtime, Northern Illinois needed only two plays to reach the end zone. A 23-yard run by Akeem Daniels set up Lynch's final TD.

Kent State reached the 9, but on fourth down Spencer Keith had to scramble to his right and throw a desperation pass that was picked off by Stone in the end zone.

``That was a great football game, but it is going to be hard for us to swallow for a few days,'' Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said. ``Lynch is just an extraordinary football player, and we had a lot of trouble tackling him. We're not the first team he's done that against.''

Northern Illinois won its second straight MAC title, the first team to do that since Central Michigan in 2006-07.

Lynch threw for 212 yards and ran for 160, but it almost wasn't enough. Northern Illinois' three previous trips to the MAC title game were decided in the final minute, and this one took even longer.

Down by two touchdowns, Kent State rallied in stunning fashion. Keith's 5-yard touchdown run with 4:53 remaining in the fourth quarter capped a 96-yard drive. Then Lynch fumbled on what looked like a botched exchange with Daniels, and Zack Hitchens picked up the ball for the Golden Flashes and went 22 yards to the end zone.

``It was two great players making a mistake, and as soon as they got off the field, I told them that we were going right back to them on the next drive,'' Doeren said.

Lynch weaved his way to a 9-yard touchdown run with 3:12 remaining, but Kent State again had an answer. Keith scrambled to his left and threw a 19-yard scoring pass to Tim Erjavec with 44 seconds to play.

It was the first MAC championship game to go to overtime - a thrilling finish for a league that doesn't always get much attention. This year's title game had more at stake because of the BCS implications, and the league embraced a Twitter-friendly buzzword that seemed particularly appropriate Friday night.

``I love the word `MACtion' that everyone is using,'' Doeren said. ``You've got great teams and great coaches in this league - we prove that every year - and we just went out with a huge target on our backs and won every game. That's a great accomplishment.''

The Huskies haven't lost to a MAC opponent since Oct. 1, 2011. Their only defeat this season was against Iowa in the season opener.

With Northern Illinois leading 17-13 in the third quarter Friday, Lynch led the Huskies on a 10-play, 75-yard drive and capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run. The highlight of that drive was Lynch's 44-yard run to the Kent State 4. On the play, Lynch broke the major-college record for yards rushing by a quarterback in a single season. He finished the game with 1,771 yards. The previous mark was 1,702 by Michigan's Denard Robinson in 2010.

The Golden Flashes got off to the start they wanted, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. But that was a bit deceiving. Kent State's touchdown came after A.J. Sebastiano fumbled on a punt return, giving the Golden Flashes the ball at the 22. Dri Archer's 15-yard scoring run made it 7-0.

Kent State took advantage of a short field again after a Northern Illinois punt bounced backward and was downed at the NIU 36. Freddy Cortez kicked a 37-yard field goal.

It was all Huskies for the rest of the half. They tied it at 10 on a 14-yard pass from Lynch to Martel Moore in the second quarter. Dechan Durante then made an acrobatic interception, reaching over receiver Chris Humphrey to pick off Keith's pass near the sideline.

Northern Illinois drove 58 yards in 12 plays and took a 17-10 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Daniels.

The Huskies outgained Kent State 245-50 in the half and 524-260 for the game.

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should not expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that his the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side. But since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat the whole offense will be harder to defend

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

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

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

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