Nationals

Oregon, K-State to meet in Fiesta Bowl

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Oregon, K-State to meet in Fiesta Bowl

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Oregon and Kansas State were atop the BCS standings just two weeks ago, each needing two wins for a likely trip to the BCS championship.

Those plans were derailed quickly with a loss on the same day, but they ended up with a nice consolation prize: A trip to the desert to face each other in the Fiesta Bowl.

And it should be a doozy.

Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS standings, two of the nation's best offenses, a pair of Heisman Trophy contenders - yep, the Fiesta Bowl has done it again, pulling off a marquee matchup for the second straight year.

``(It's) not just the rankings, but type of teams, the kinds of exciting plays and players that they put on the field,'' Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said Sunday night. ``We're thrilled.''

The fans should be too, again.

The 2012 Fiesta Bowl was certainly a memorable one: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford, Nos. 3 and 4 in the BCS, dynamic teams with two of the nation's best quarterbacks in Brandon Weeden and the Cardinal's Andrew Luck.

The game matched the hype, with the Cowboys outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime, giving the Fiesta Bowl a much-needed boost after nearly losing its BCS status due to financial improprieties and a dud of a game in 2011.

This year's game has the potential to one-up 2012.

Oregon (11-1) and its swarm-of-bees offense has been one of the nation's best teams under coach Chip Kelly, reaching the BCS title game in 2011 and winning the Rose Bowl for the first time in 95 years last season.

This year, the Ducks are loaded with fleet-footed players, rolling up yards in big chunks, scoring in bunches.

They have one of the most dynamic players in the country in running back Kenjon Barner, a Heisman Trophy hopeful, and quarterback Marcus Mariota had no trouble handling the pressure of running Oregon's potent attack as a freshman.

Oregon, No. 5 in the AP Top 25, finished the season second nationally with 50.8 points per game, fourth in total offense at 550 yards and will be making its fourth straight BCS bowl appearance. The Ducks also played at University of Phoenix Stadium when they lost to Auburn in the 2011 BCS title game.

``It's an amazing challenge,'' Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. ``They're extremely talented and well-coached collectively. Offensively, they go faster than the speed of light, so to speak.''

Snyder hasn't done too bad for himself in the Little Apple.

Orchestrator of what may be the biggest turnaround in college football history his first go-round in Manhattan, Snyder came out of retirement to re-energize K-State again in 2009 - in the stadium named after him, no less.

He led the Wildcats to the Pinstripe Bowl in 2010 and followed, after a 7-0 start, with a 10-win season and a trip to the 2011 Cotton Bowl.

This season, No. 7 Kansas State (11-1) opened some eyes by trouncing Miami in its second game and started to draw national attention by knocking off Oklahoma in Norman on Sept. 22. Behind the do-everything quarterback Collin Klein, another of the Heisman favorites, and a tough defense, the Wildcats kept piling up wins to become No. 1 in the BCS standings on Nov. 11 for the first time in school history.

The Wildcats averaged 40.7 points per game, 10th nationally, and have an opportunistic defense that led the nation in turnover margin at plus-21.

Kansas State is playing in its second BCS bowl, with the 2004 Fiesta Bowl.

``Obviously, the job that Bill Snyder has done in Kansas State, his first tour, now his second tour, he'll go down in history as one of the greatest college football coaches this game has ever seen,'' Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. ``He is a model for how to run your program does an outstanding job.''

Originally scheduled to play each other this season before the game fell through, Kansas State and Oregon were atop the BCS rankings after defending national champion Alabama lost to Texas A&M on Nov. 10.

All the Wildcats and Ducks had to do was win their final two games and they would almost assuredly play in the BCS title game.

They ended up losing on the same day, turning the BCS on end.

Kansas State fell flat under the pressure, run over 52-24 by unranked Baylor. The Ducks couldn't get their high-flying offense going against Stanford and lost 17-14 in overtime.

That moved Notre Dame up to No. 1 and put the SEC back in the BCS championship picture.

With its win over No. 3 Georgia this weekend, the Crimson Tide earned a spot in Miami on Jan. 7 to face the Fighting Irish for the national title.

Kansas State bounced back to beat Texas 42-24 on Saturday night, sending Wildcat fans rushing onto the field after the school earned its third conference championship in 117 years.

Oregon closed out its regular season a week earlier, rolling over No. 16 Oregon State 48-24 in the Civil War to keep its BCS bowl hopes alive.

The losses prevented the Wildcats and Ducks from playing for a national championship, but they sure gave the Fiesta Bowl a boost with another matchup that could be the 1A to the title game.

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

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USA Today Sports

Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

Wizards releasing Chasson Randle opens roster spot, possibilities

The Washington Wizards released guard Chasson Randle Monday. The additional space – the Wizards had one vacant roster slot even with Randle – brings up the question of what the team may do next. For now, don’t expect a blockbuster move.

Head coach Scott Brooks briefly addressed the move ahead of Monday’s game against the Orlando Magic.

“He’s a terrific young man, a very good player,” Brooks said of Randle. “Just gives us more flexibility. Who knows what we might do with it. He’s definitely an NBA player.”

Randle, who Washington signed to the active roster on Oct. 30, likely clears waivers, and then would rejoin the Capital City Go-Go, Brooks said. It’s been a back-and-forth scenario for Randle between the Wizards and their G-League squad this season. The 6-foot-2 guard was on the Go-Go roster when Washington’s season tipped off and assigned to the G-League squad at the time of Monday’s release. Randle scored 37 points in the Go-Go’s inaugural game. He did not enter a game for Washington.

The Wizards were forced to add a player by Oct. 30, a date that marked two weeks from the time Washington traded Jodie Meeks to Milwaukee. League rules require a minimum of 14 players on the roster.

That two week timeline applies to the current scenario. For now, the Wizards save a bit on the luxury tax payment by waiving Randle, who was signed to a $1.24 million non-guaranteed contract. Considering he'll likely be back in the building, Randle returning to the Wizards roster is a consideration.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, adding Randle cost the Wizards approximately $239,000 in luxury tax payments. Washington saved approximately $8 million by dealing Meeks.

As Brooks acknowledged, the open spots create greater flexibility.  In wake of the Timberwolves trading disgruntled All-Star Jimmy Butler to the 76ers, multiple reports at least tangentially mentioned the Wizards’ as part of the mix.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Washington balked at including Bradley Beal. SI.com’s Chris Mannix reported teams are keeping tabs on the 3-9 Wizards in case role players like Jeff Green, Markieff Morris or Kelly Oubre Jr. become available should the slow start continue.

Randle’s release limits Washington’s backcourt depth, but the top four options are healthy entering its five-game home-stand. In theory two-way contract player Jordan McRae could be recalled from Capital City, but the wing guard is dealing with a groin injury, according to a source. McRae should be available later in the week.

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