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Panthers looking for momentum, bowl berth at USF

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Panthers looking for momentum, bowl berth at USF

PITTSBURGH (AP) Mike Shanahan isn't picky. The Pittsburgh senior wide receiver will settle for a bowl game - any bowl game - if the Panthers can get eligible with a victory on Saturday at South Florida.

Yes, Birmingham included.

The Panthers (5-6, 2-4 Big East) have traveled to Alabama each of the last two Januarys for the BBVA Compass Bowl. There's a shot they could make it three straight if they find a way to beat the reeling Bulls (3-8, 1-5).

As monotonous as it sounds, considering the bumpy path the program has traveled during Shanahan's career, he'll take it.

``Well, it's a blessing to go anywhere, I guess,'' Shanahan said. ``But if we've got to go back there we'll try to win again. So, it'll be all right.''

Playing good football hasn't been an issue for Pitt this season. Playing good football consistently is another matter entirely.

The Panthers' emphatic 27-6 thumping of Rutgers last Saturday was their second win over a ranked team this season and the fourth time they've played a quality opponent tight.

Pitt came closer than anyone else did this season of unseating top-ranked Notre Dame, falling to the Fighting Irish in triple overtime earlier this month. Yet the Panthers have also lost to the likes of Youngstown State and Connecticut while looking uninspired in wins over Buffalo and Gardner-Webb.

``Every game there's a fine line and you have to play good football and do the things that lead to winning games,'' coach Paul Chryst said. ``I think it is a fine line and I've always believed that. I don't know if it's more now, than before.''

It's one the Panthers need to be on the winning side of one more time to assure themselves of a fifth straight bowl berth.

The extra month of practice a bowl game would provide could do wonders for the underclassmen who will lead the charge next fall when Pitt moves from the Big East to the ACC.

It would also provide a nice send-off to a senior class that saw the program go through four different head coaches - six if you count interims - and a conference move that precipitated a realignment craze that is changing the face of college athletics.

``I think it would be good to know that we could overcome anything and still get to another bowl game,'' Shanahan said. ``I've gone to a bowl game every year since I've been here, so I want to keep that streak going this season.''

Even if it means knowing just how close an OK season could have turned into a special one. The losses to Youngstown State, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville were all winnable games, ones the Panthers couldn't quite close on.

It's something Shanahan said the players try not to let get to their heads.

``I guess, when you look back a little this season there are a few games that could have gone either way,'' Shanahan said. ``There were some that we thought we should have won, but I don't know why we didn't win them. Maybe we just weren't ready to win those games.''

If the Panthers aren't ready to win on Saturday it will lead to a longer-than-expected offseason, though Chryst is optimistic his team is finally starting to get what it means to play consistently no matter the level of the opponent.

A .500 season and a lower-level bowl isn't quite the special season the Panthers envisioned in August. Then again, for Chryst and a program that's been in perpetual transition for two years, it's a start.

``Coach Chryst already told us that he'd take care of us seniors if we make it,'' Shanahan said. ``I don't know what that would entail, but I'm looking forward to it. So, we just need to go out with a win this week and see what happens with a bowl game.''

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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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