Nationals

Notre Dame beats USC, heads to BCS title game

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Notre Dame beats USC, heads to BCS title game

Notre Dame is heading to the BCS championship game to play an SEC team to be determined.

The Fighting Irish stuffed Southern California 22-13 on Saturday night to finish a perfect season and lock up a spot in the national championship game.

The SEC title game next Saturday in Atlanta will most likely determine Notre Dame's opponent. No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia will play in that game, though Florida will make a case that it deserves to be playing the Fighting Irish.

In Tallahassee, Fla., the fourth-ranked Gators scored 24 straight fourth-quarter points behind Mike Gillislee and a hard-hitting defense to beat No. 10 Florida State 37-26.

The Gators (11-1) needed a USC upset of the Irish to work their way into the BCS championship game, because their loss to Georgia shut them out of the SEC title.

Ohio State (12-0) finished its bowl-banned season by beating rival Michigan 26-21. NCAA sanctions will keep the Buckeyes out of the postseason and might have cost Urban Meyer's first Ohio State team a shot at the national championship.

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No. 1 NOTRE DAME 22, USC 13

LOS ANGELES (AP) Theo Riddick ran for 146 yards and a touchdown, Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals, and Notre Dame earned a chance to play for its first national title since 1988.

Everett Golson passed for 217 yards as the Fighting Irish (12-0) completed their first perfect regular season since that title campaign.

Although they did little with flash on an electric night at the Coliseum, the Irish woke up more echoes of past Notre Dame greats with a grinding effort in this dynamic intersectional rivalry with USC (7-5), which has lost three of four.

Notre Dame's hard-nosed defense appropriately made the decisive stand in the final minutes, keeping USC out of the end zone on four plays from the 1 with 2:33 to play

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No. 2 ALABAMA 49, AUBURN 0

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - AJ McCarron passed for four touchdowns and Eddie Lacy ran for 131 yards and two scores in the most lopsided Iron Bowl in 64 years.

The Crimson Tide (10-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) clinched the Western Division title outright and a spot in the conference title game against No. 3 Georgia.

None of that will come as easily as this one. Auburn (3-9, 0-8) completed the worst season for any team within two years of winning an Associated Press national title in what might have been the last game for embattled coach Gene Chizik.

The biggest Iron Bowl margin was Alabama's 55-0 victory in 1948.

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No. 3 GEORGIA 42, GEORGIA TECH 10

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Aaron Murray threw two touchdown passes, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall each ran for a pair of TDs, and Georgia stayed right in the thick of the national championship race.

The Bulldogs (11-1) extended the domination of the Yellow Jackets, beating their state rival for the 11th time in 12 meetings. This one was a laugher from the start as the home team scored just over a minute into the game, built a 28-3 halftime lead and was up 42-3 before Georgia Tech (6-6) scored its lone TD.

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No. 4 OHIO STATE 26, No. 20 MICHIGAN 21

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Carlos Hyde ran for 146 yards and Ohio State's defense shut out Michigan in the second half to complete a 12-0 season.

It was a sweet win for the Buckeyes, just 6-7 last season with a loss to their archrivals in a transitional year in which they were facing heavy NCAA penalties. After Urban Meyer took the job as head coach a year ago, they were socked with a bowl ban after this season - and still ran the table.

Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) is ineligible for a BCS national title but still has an outside shot at finishing No. 1 in the final Associated Press Top 25 if other contenders lose. Michigan (8-4, 6-2) will now await a minor bowl bid.

Drew Basil matched his season output with four field goals and the defense did the rest, forcing three turnovers in the second half.

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No. 5 OREGON 48, No. 16 OREGON STATE 24

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - Kenjon Barner ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns despite leaving the game for a time with an injury and the Ducks kept alive their hopes for a spot in the Pac-12 title game and even an outside chance at the national championship.

De'Anthony Thomas, who helped picked up the slack while Barner was on the sidelines, ran for 122 yards and three scores for the Ducks (11-1, 8-1).

After Oregon's undefeated season was thwarted by a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford last weekend, the Ducks had to wait for UCLA's game against the Cardinal later Saturday to see who would be headed to the conference championship game. Both Oregon and Stanford started the day with one conference loss in the league's northern division.

Sean Mannion threw for 311 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted four times for the Beavers (8-3).

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No. 6 FLORIDA 37, No. 10 FLORIDA STATE 26

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Mike Gillislee ran for two touchdowns and the Gators beat their rivals to stay in the national title hunt.

Florida regained the lead 23-20 on Gillislee's 37-yard run with 11:01 left in the final period on the first play after Florida State's EJ Manuel fumbled, his fourth turnover of the game. Gillislee finished with 140 yards rushing.

Florida (11-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) came into the game fourth in the BCS standings

Florida State (10-2, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) was hurt by five turnovers in the game. The Seminoles will play Georgia Tech next week in the ACC title game.

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No. 9 TEXAS A&M 59, MISSOUI 29

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Johnny Manziel threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two more scores in his last chance to make a Heisman statement.

The Aggies (10-2, 6-2 SEC) scored touchdowns on their first six drives to build a 42-7 halftime lead and coast to their first 10-win season since 1998.

About the only drama in this one came when Manziel was shaken up on a tackle at the end of a run in the first quarter.

But Johnny Football missed just four plays before returning with a brace on his left knee. And it didn't seem to slow him down one bit.

Manziel added 67 yards rushing and completed 32 of 44 passes on Saturday. He has thrown for 24 touchdowns and ran for 19 this season.

The win snaps A&M's three-game losing streak to Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC), and kept the Tigers from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.

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No. 11 STANFORD 35, No. 15 UCLA 17

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Stepfan Taylor ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns, Kevin Hogan passed for 160 yards and another score, and Stanford won the Pac-12 North and a rematch with the Bruins in the conference championship game.

The Cardinal (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) found out about 10 minutes before the opening kickoff that No. 5 Oregon (11-1, 8-1) had beaten No. 16 Oregon State 48-24, meaning they had to win to qualify for another shot at UCLA - a game Stanford will host next Friday.

The Cardinal, who have three straight 10-win seasons for the first time, beat Oregon 17-14 in overtime last weekend.

Brett Hundley was 20 of 38 for 261 yards and a TD with one interception while being sacked seven times for UCLA (9-3, 6-3). Johnathan Franklin, the Bruins' leading career rusher, was held to 65 yards on 21 carries.

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No. 13 SOUTH CAROLINA 27, No. 12 CLEMSON 17

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Backup quarterback Dylan Thompson threw for three touchdowns, Jadeveon Clowney had 4 1/2 sacks and South Carolina won its fourth straight over Clemson.

Thompson got the call for the Gamecocks (10-2) because starter Connor Shaw sprained his left foot last week against Wofford. And the Gamecocks sophomore made the most of it with TD passes of 13 and 6 yards to Bruce Ellington and 34 yards to Ace Sanders.

The Tigers (10-2) were grounded by Clowney, the Gamecocks star defensive end who set his school's single season-record with 13 sacks.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier won his 65th game in eight seasons, surpassing Rex Enright for most victories by a South Carolina coach. The Gamecocks finished with 10 victories for a second consecutive season, a first in program history.

Tajh Boyd was 11 of 24 for 183 yards and two crushing interceptions for Clemson.

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No. 14 OKLAHOMA 51, No. 22 OKLAHOMA STATE 48

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Landry Jones threw for 500 yards and three touchdowns, and Brennan Clay scored on an 18-yard run in overtime to lift Oklahoma.

The Sooners (9-2, 7-1 Big 12) never led during regulation, overcoming double-digit deficits in both halves. Backup quarterback Blake Bell tied it with 4 seconds left on a 4-yard keeper on fourth-and-1.

Joseph Randle ran for 113 yards and matched his career-high with four touchdowns for Oklahoma State (7-4, 5-3), which settled for Quinn Sharp's 26-yard field goal in overtime.

On the Sooners' second play, Clay got through traffic at the line of scrimmage and then broke through attempted tackles by Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary to score the winner and set off a celebration on Owen Field.

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PITTSBURGH 27, No. 21 RUTGERS 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Tino Sunseri passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns in his final home game as Pittsburgh overwhelmed No. 21 Rutgers 27-6 on Saturday.

Ray Graham ran for 113 yards and a score for the Panthers (5-6, 2-4 Big East), who kept their hopes for bowl eligibility alive while drumming the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers (9-2, 5-1) will play No. 19 Louisville on Thursday with a Bowl Championship Series berth on the line, though the Scarlet Knights head home with little momentum after the Panthers dominated in their last game Heinz Field as a member of the Big East, racing to a 21-0 halftime lead and coasting.

Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova passed for 157 yards with a touchdown and an interception but the Scarlet Knights were never in it on a day the Panthers played like the team with everything on the line.

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CONNECTICUT 23, No. 19 LOUISVILLE 20 3OT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Chad Christen's 30-yard field goal in the third overtime gave Connecticut the victory.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson set up the Huskies' winning score by intercepting Teddy Bridgewater's pass intended for DeVante Parker in the end zone. The Huskies ran three plays for 12 yards before Christen's second OT kick gave Connecticut (5-6, 2-4 Big East Conference) its second straight win.

Louisville (9-2, 4-2) dropped its second straight but still has a chance for a BCS bowl bid by beating first-place Rutgers (9-2, 5-1) on Thursday.

Bridgewater completed 30 of 53 passes for 331 and two touchdowns but was sacked four times and broke his left wrist. He is expected to play against Rutgers.

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No. 25 UTAH STATE 45, IDAHO 9

LOGAN, Utah (AP) - Chuckie Keeton passed for two touchdowns, Kerwynn Williams rushed for 110 yards and senior Will Davis returned an interception 59 yards for a touchdown as Utah State secured its first outright conference title in 76 years.

The Western Athletic Conference champion Aggies (10-2, 6-0) also earned their first 10-win season.

The Aggies intercepted three of Taylor Davis' passes in the first half and forced him to fumble. Williams' 52-yard run set up Keeton's 3-yard TD pass to Kellen Bartlett early in the third quarter for a 28-9 advantage for the Aggies.

Williams added a 14-yard TD run in the fourth after opening the scoring with a 19-yard TD reception. Lou Groza Award finalist Trey Farquhar kicked field goals of 38, 46 yards and 52 yards - his 11th career field goal of 50 yards or more for Idaho (1-11, 1-5).

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MISSISSIPPI 41, No. 25 MISSISSIPPI STATE 24

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Bo Wallace threw for 294 yards and five touchdowns, Donte Moncrief caught three TD passes and Mississippi snapped a three-game losing streak in the Egg Bowl.

The Rebels (6-6, 3-5) also earned bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009.

Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4) made a field goal late in the second quarter to tie the game at 17-17 going into halftime. But the Rebels reeled off 24 straight points in the second half to push past the Bulldogs.

Moncrief caught seven passes for 173 yards and tied a school record with three receiving touchdowns. Jeff Scott added 111 rushing yards.

Chad Bumphis led Mississippi State with six catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Russell completed 18 of 33 passes for 268 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

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Mike Rizzo on how the Nationals plan to approach the nearing trade deadline

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Mike Rizzo on how the Nationals plan to approach the nearing trade deadline

With the MLB trade deadline only two weeks away, Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo expects the team to be more focused on acquiring players than trading away any - and that includes third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose contract expires at the end of season.

"Obviously, we’re always listening and we’re always talking to people," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "But I don’t anticipate moving Anthony Rendon, no."

Rendon's contract extension of $18.8 million going into the 2018 season will expire at the end of this season, and while Rizzo and the Nationals have made it clear they are actively working to re-sign him, a deal has yet to be made.

Rendon's agent Scott Boras told NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas during the All-Star Break that he and the [Nationals team owners] Lerners have "always worked out things -- usually."

“There are times that they make decisions and we make decisions, and I think they’ve been very good decisions for all parties involved," Boras added at the time. "When they sit down and look at where their franchise is going, that’s a direction they have to give us. Obviously, they have to make those decisions. Rendon is a superstar and that is a major decision in their franchise. I don’t ask. I just go and prepare for our meetings and we talk and kind of listen to what they tell us they want to do. It’s really in their corner as to how we go from there.”

Rizzo told the Junkies that the Nationals plan to keep Rendon, though acknowledged the calls for him from other teams do keep coming in.

‘’[An offer] would have to be something that wouldn’t make sense for us to turn down and probably wouldn’t make sense for them to acquire," Rizzo said on trading Rendon.

Rizzo said the Nationals' front office is prepared to add some players to the roster.

"We’ve been most recently in acquire mode, because, you know, we’ve had the chance to win the last eight seasons and I think we're in that mode again," Rizzo said.

Though, of course, he wouldn't actually rule out making any trades that send some players out of DC.

"We're an aggressive front office, we're an aggressive ownership group, and if there’s a deal to be made that would help us prepare for meaningful games in September and beyond, we’ve shown in the past that we’re capable of doing that and we're not afraid to make a trade," he said.

The Nationals take on the Orioles for game 2 of the Battle of the Beltways Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. 

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role in Washington?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role in Washington?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at one of the biggest questions on the team’s defense, can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role?

When the Caps acquired Jensen at the trade deadline and immediately re-signed him for four years, the implication was clear. Suddenly, Matt Niskanen and his $5.75 million cap hit became expendable.

With the team expected to be hard up against the salary cap in the offseason, the salary would need to be moved. Sure enough, Niskanen was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas.

Gudas is a good pick up for the third-pair, but this trade is a move that only makes sense if you have a top-four defenseman to replace Niskanen on the right. Gudas, Jensen and John Carlson’s are the team’s three right-handed shots. Carlson is obviously cemented on the top pairing and Gudas is headed to the third. That leaves Jensen as the only real option on the second pair. After seeing him struggle since coming to Washington at the trade deadline, it is fair to be a little worried.

Jensen showed last season that he can be a top-four defenseman in the NHL while with the Detroit Red Wings. He was a healthy scratch on opening night, but he made sure he was not scratched again by the Red Wings and averaged 20:48 of ice-time over 60 games before he was traded.

Sure, a lack of defensive depth helped, but Jensen’s play was what earned him that spot more than anything else and it is why Washington traded for him and re-signed him before he ever played a game for the Caps.

But when he got to Washington, Jensen started struggling. An in-season trade can often be difficult with players forced to adjust to a new team and new system. Jensen certainly will not be the last trade deadline acquisition to struggle to make that transition.

“I think there was a period of adjustment where coaches were asking him to play a different system in a different way than he’s played,” Brian MacLellan said at the team’s breakdown day. “The good games were really good, I thought. And the down games were him trying to figure out system stuff and individual stuff that they were wanting him to do on the ice.”

In Detroit, defensemen do not shift too much from side to side. The blueliners have their side and they skate straight up and down the ice. In Washington, however, defensemen are constantly switching sides during play and you are expected to cover whatever side you are on when the puck begins moving back down towards the defensive zone.

Jensen is a right-shot defenseman and was not at all comfortable playing on the left. That is not uncommon. There are a lot more left-shot defensemen than righties and often if you see a player playing his off-side, it is a lefty playing on the right. Righties just are not expected to play on the left all that often because there are fewer of them. For Jensen, even having to shift over to the left within a play proved difficult.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele used this to his advantage in a regular season game against Washington in which he turned Jensen inside-out.

When you watch closely, this play is less about the fancy stickwork of Foegele and more about a defenseman who does not look comfortable at all playing on the left.

It is important to clarify what we are talking about here. The Caps are not asking Jensen to be a left defenseman. That would not be a great situation and there would be no guarantee he would ever get to the point where he could be a top-four defenseman playing on his off-side. The team’s system simply allows for defensemen to cycle from side-to-side situationally. When the opposition transitions down the ice, you may not have the opportunity to switch back to your original side and are instead expected to defend that transition from whichever side you are on. This would largely apply to quick transitions. Adjusting to that is not at all impossible and Jensen’s ability to do so will be absolutely critical for the team’s success next season.

The Niskanen trade certainly looks like a shrewd move by MacLellan as it not only saved the team money, but also upgraded the bottom pair. The move only makes sense, however, if and only if it did not leave the team with a hole in the top-four. In that case, the team will have gotten worse defensively, not better.

With a full offseason and training camp to prepare, Jensen should look far more comfortable within the system. As last season’s camp with Detroit showed, he can be prone to slow starts, but we should know by Thanksgiving if Jensen is starting to feel at home with Washington or if the defense is in serious trouble.

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