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Nunes, No. 17 Stanford still a mystery

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Nunes, No. 17 Stanford still a mystery

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) No quarterback in the country has had to manage expectations the way Josh Nunes has had to this season succeeding the NFL's No. 1 overall pick.

In the last three weeks alone, the redshirt junior quarterback outplayed Heisman Trophy hopeful Matt Barkley to upset Southern California, shouldered the blame of a stunning loss at Washington and rallied No. 17 Stanford (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) from a two-touchdown deficit for a thrilling 54-48 overtime win against Arizona that quieted questions about Andrew Luck's successor

``It's not that we learned,'' Cardinal coach David Shaw said. ``It's maybe that other people learned he's a tough kid. He bounces back, he doesn't listen to the noise. He's steady.''

Nobody said filling Andrew Luck's shoes would be easy.

Fair or not, Stanford's streakiness this season has been tied directly to its new quarterback. Both are still somewhat of an unknown heading to seventh-ranked Notre Dame (5-0) on Saturday, with the exception of one undeniable fact.

As Nunes has gone so far, so has Stanford.

Nunes overcame a pair of first-half interceptions to throw for 215 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 win against USC, including a 37-yard strike to tight end Zach Ertz for the winning score, vaulting the Cardinal to as high as No. 8 in The Associated Press college football poll.

He followed that by completing 18 of 37 passes for 170 yards and an interception in Stanford's 17-13 loss at Washington, often underthrowing receivers on short routes or misfiring completely. The offense converted 5 of 18 third downs, never scored a touchdown and looked lost for the first time since Luck left.

Fans and media began to criticize Nunes enough for Shaw to open his weekly news conference defending his quarterback. Nunes rewarded his coach's loyalty with his best performance yet, throwing for 360 yards and two touchdowns and running for 33 yards and three more scores against Arizona on Saturday.

``I definitely have confidence now,'' Nunes said. ``The guys up front did what they needed to do as well as the guys downfield. I definitely used last week (at Washington) as a stepping stone forward and learned a lot of things to work on. I feel like I did a better job this week, but there are a lot more things we need to correct.''

Notably, consistency.

Coaches and teammates have insisted that, more than anything, Nunes needs time and experience to adjust to the starter's role. After all, he went almost four years since his last start at Upland High School in the Los Angeles area until beating out Brett Nottingham and Kevin Hogan this season.

Nunes has shown flashes of Luck-like ability to in big moments.

He scrambled for a pair of key first downs against the Trojans. On the final drive of regulation against Arizona, he ran for 16 yards on third-and-7 from midfield, threw 17 yards to Ertz on fourth-and-9 from Arizona's 20 and ran for the tying touchdown on a read option with 45 seconds remaining.

``If you told me a year ago that we'd call multiple run plays for Josh Nunes, I'd laugh at you,'' Shaw said. ``The bottom line is he's a tough kid. He's not afraid of it. He doesn't back down from challenges.''

The road ahead will not ease up any.

While Stanford has beaten Notre Dame by at least two touchdowns the last three seasons, this appears to be a more a difficult trip to South Bend. Not to mention matchups at No. 2 Oregon and a home date against No. 10 Oregon State later this season.

The Fighting Irish improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2002 with a 41-3 romp over Miami on Saturday. Notre Dame's 587 yards of offense was a season high, and its 376 yards rushing was its most since Nov. 11, 2000.

Asked if Nunes' turnaround performance against the Wildcats will do enough to quiet critics before Notre Dame, Shaw shook his head and smiled.

``Probably not,'' he said. ``And once again, I don't care. He doesn't care. We're a team. We're tight in our locker room. We support him through everything, and he understands that. We hold him accountability for what his job is. But at the same time, we know he's more than capable. And I think he showed that.''

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

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