Nationals

Rutgers looks to cap season with bowl victory

Rutgers looks to cap season with bowl victory

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers accomplished one major goal this season, earning a share of the Big East title for the first time in school history.

Though a 20-17 loss to Louisville in the finale dashed the Scarlet Knights' hopes for the program's first BCS berth, the consolation prize of the Russell Athletic Bowl presents coach Kyle Flood and his players with an opportunity to add another accomplishment.

A victory over Virginia Tech on Friday would clinch a 10-win season, just the third since the program was credited with playing the first college football game against Princeton in 1869. It would also mark Rutgers' sixth straight bowl win dating to 2006.

``You got to move forward in life,'' Flood said. ``That (Louisville) game happened and we're not happy about it, but it happened. And now that's in the past. That game is a part of history and it is what it is. Now we move forward and we try to make more history. We have tremendous goals left for us to accomplish, and that's really where our focus is.''

The Scarlet Knights (9-3) lost their last two games, but they're still playing in the most prestigious postseason game in school history.

``The game on Friday, for me, is going to mean everything,'' said Khaseem Greene, a fifth-year senior linebacker who earlier this month earned AP All-America third-team honors. ``It is going to be a legacy, another chapter for me being closed and another chapter for this program, this family, being closed. It will definitely set us apart from everybody. It's going to determine if we're a good team or a great team.''

For Flood, it marks his first bowl game as head coach. He served as an assistant in Rutgers' six bowl games under his predecessor, Greg Schiano. Flood took over after Schiano left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late January.

With a win over the Hokies, Flood would become the only first-year coach to win 10 games in Rutgers history. Virginia Tech (6-6) is playing in its 20th straight bowl game.

There's a chance the Russell Athletic Bowl will be Rutgers' final game as a member of the Big East. The Scarlet Knights announced their plans to defect from the conference - of which they have been a member since 1991 - to join the Big Ten on Nov. 20. And while school officials are targeting 2014 as the arrival date, other developments could expedite Rutgers' departure.

If the Knights do remain in the Big East for the 2013 season, they should be one of top contenders to win the league's BCS bid in its final season as an automatic-qualifying conference. Rutgers graduates several defensive mainstays - including Greene, the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year - but could welcome back as many as 14 starters, including sophomore quarterback Gary Nova, leading rusher Jawan Jamison and leading receiver Brandon Coleman.

A victory this week in Orlando could set the tone for an important offseason.

``That will send the seniors off the right way and get the younger guys and guys in recruiting, just send a good vibe for next year,'' said Nova, who has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 2,566 yards, 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. ``We've got a lot of talent coming back.''

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2019 MLB Postseason Predictions: Where the Nationals stand

2019 MLB Postseason Predictions: Where the Nationals stand

A week after the Midsummer Classic, the Nationals' comeback June looks less and less like a fluke as Washington continues its push to the postseason and the NL East Wild Card race.

In the 2019 MLB Postseason fight, the Dodgers (62-33) of the NL West are predicted to finish the regular season as the top team in the league, while each wild card race remains fairly close. Right now, the NL Central Cubs (50-43) and NL East Braves (57-37) round out the current National League leaders, while the Nationals (49-43) and Phillies (48-45) are the two wild card teams. 

Washington, 1.5 games ahead in the wild card race, revived its playoff chances after a slow start to the season. The Nationals' comeback June propelled them back into a wild card position. But the NL wild card race is far from set, as the Brewers (48-46) are 0.5 games back from the Phillies (and the Cardinals (46-45) are 1.0 games behind). 

 Here are the MLB playoff standings if the season ended Monday:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Division Leaders
Houston Astros (West)
New York Yankees (East)
Minnesota Twins (Central)

Wild Card
Tampa Bay Rays (55-40, +1.5 Wild Card Games Behind)
Oakland A's (53-41, - WCGB)

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Division Leaders
Chicago Cubs (Central)
Los Angeles Dodgers (West)
Atlanta Braves (East)

Wild Card
Washington Nationals (49-43, +1.5 WCGB)
Philadelphia Phillies (48-45, - WCGB)

2019 MLB POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS
(As of July 15)

All three projections for the playoffs have the Dodgers finishing at the top of the league, though Baseball Reference has Los Angeles winning a whopping 110 games––at least seven more wins than either FiveThirtyEight or FanGraphs projects. 

Baseball Reference predicts the Nationals and Diamondbacks will be the NL Wild Cards, with the Athletics and the Rays as the AL Wild Cards. FanGraphs also has the Nationals making the playoffs as a wild card, while FiveThirtyEight lists the Nationals as having a 56% chance of making the playoffs at all. 

FanGraphs is the only site that lists the Nationals' chance at winning the World Series as above 2.5% (5.8%), while it also gives Washington an 82% shot at making the playoffs overall (and a 63.7% chance to win the wild card). 

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10 Questions for training camp: Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

10 Questions for training camp: Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

The Redskins spent a ton of money to fix their safety position this offseason, shelling out $45 million guaranteed for Landon Collins.

There's only one problem, however, as a modern NFL defense requires two safeties.

Assuming health, Collins will undoubtedly start at safety. What player lines up next to him will bring concerns regardless of the direction the Washington coaching staff leans.

The leading contender for the job is Montae Nicholson, a third-year pro out of Michigan State. As a rookie, Nicholson looked like a potential draft steal, especially early in the season when he showed speed, pop and a nose for the football. His rookie season ended after just eight games though due to injuries and a concussion.

Going into this second year in 2019, Jay Gruden heaped significant praise on Nicholson, and compared his importance to the defense as Jordan Reed was to the Redskins offense.

Things didn't go well.

Nicholson never seemed to understand the new scheme in place, where he and DJ Swearinger occupied sides of the field instead of a more traditional strong and free safety role. Nicholson has the track background to play a real center field, and seemed bewildered at times playing close to the line of scrimmage.

As the 2018 campaign staggered along, Redskins team president Bruce Allen traded with Green Bay for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, effectively benching Nicholson. Clinton-Dix wasn't much better in D.C., and eventually he signed with the Bears as a free agent this offseason.

There was also a late-season arrest for Nicholson outside of a Loudon County bar. While charges eventually got dropped, the Redskins suspended Nicholson for the final few games of 2018.

Add all of that up, and it's hard to believe Redskins' brass when they speak about how much they trust Nicholson and expect great things from him. Still, the NFL is no place for hurt feelings, and both the franchise and the safety need to turn the page from an ugly 2018 and hope 2019 fares better.

The reality is the Redskins don't have many options if Nicholson can't reclaim his starting role. Troy Apke showed next to nothing in an injury-plagued rookie season last year. Deshazor Everett has been with the Redskins for four seasons and has been a valuable special teams player, yet, when the team has needed somebody to fill a revolving door at either safety spot, he rarely gets a chance.

Odds are there isn't more help coming.

The draft came and went without Washington adding a safety. Same with the second wave of free agency.

Maybe a veteran safety with legit speed emerges on the marketplace - an unexpected training camp cut - but the Burgundy and Gold can't count on that. It's also possible veteran defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can make the Redskins 53-man roster and help at safety in passing situations.

Remember, however, that DRC retired from football last year halfway through the season. Let's see him get through the grind of two-a-days in Richmond before considering the 33-year-old part of the solution.

Add all of that up and it's very clear the Redskins need a lot from Nicholson.

Collins should help Washington immediately, as a leader and as a sure tackler. He's had some elite seasons in the NFL, but that last happened in 2016.

Collins on his own as the last line of defense will help the Redskins, but not to the tune of an average salary of $15 million.

Collins paired with a healthy and fully engaged Nicholson could be special. But that requires Nicholson to be both healthy and fully engaged. Time will tell on that.

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