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Saban quickly turns to challenges of 2013 season

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Saban quickly turns to challenges of 2013 season

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) It's becoming a familiar January scene for Nick Saban.

The Alabama coach plastered a smile on his face for a series of posed photos next to the various trophies awarded to college football's national champions and then proceeded to talk about the challenges facing his team.

Maybe Saban let the Gatorade dry from the celebratory drenching before thinking about the 2013 season. Maybe.

``The team next year is 0-0,'' Saban, who is on a 61-7 run over the past five seasons, said Tuesday morning. ``Even though I really appreciate what this team accomplished and am very, very proud of what they accomplished, we need to prepare for the challenges of the new season very quickly with the team we have coming back. ``

It didn't take Saban long to refocus after Monday night's 42-14 demolition of Notre Dame that secured a second straight BCS title, the Crimson Tide's third in four seasons and the seventh straight for Southeastern Conference teams.

Shortly after the game, he was already talking about getting back to the office by Wednesday morning.

Alabama players, meanwhile, finally were able to voice the ``D-word.'' Center Barrett Jones said he had a Sports Illustrated cover from a couple of years ago after his last college game.

``It says, `Dynasty. Can anybody stop Alabama?' I'll never forget looking at that thing and wondering if we really could be a dynasty,'' said Jones, who mainly put it on the wall because he's featured. ``I think three out of four, I'm no dynasty expert, but that seems like a dynasty to me. I guess I can say that now that I'm gone. Don't tell coach I said that.''

The 2013 team will almost certainly be regarded among the preseason favorites to get back to the summit, even though three Tide stars - tailback Eddie Lacy, cornerback Dee Milliner and right tackle D.J. Fluker - could decide to skip their senior seasons and turn pro.

Saban also emphatically tried to end speculation that he might return to the NFL, where he spent two years with the Miami Dolphins before returning to the SEC.

It was a question that really made him bristle during the 30-plus minute news conference.

``How many times do you think I've been asked to put it to rest?'' Saban said. ``And I've put it to rest, and you continue to ask it. So I'm going to say it today, that - you know, I think somewhere along the line you've got to choose. You learn a lot from the experiences of what you've done in the past. I came to the Miami Dolphins, what, eight years ago for the best owner, the best person that I've ever had the opportunity to work for. And in the two years that I was here, I had a very, very difficult time thinking that I could impact the organization in the way that I wanted to or the way that I was able to in college, and it was very difficult for me.''

He said that experience taught him that the college ranks ``is where I belong, and I'm really happy and at peace with all that.''

As for the players, All-America linebacker C.J. Mosley has already said he'll return. So has quarterback AJ McCarron, who had his second straight star turn in a BCS title game.

``We certainly have to build the team around him,'' Saban said, adding that a late-game spat with Jones showed the quarterback's competitive fire. ``I've talked a lot about it's difficult to play quarterback when you don't have good players around you. I think we should have, God willing and everybody staying healthy, a pretty good receiver corps. We'll have to do some rebuilding in the offensive line. Regardless of what Eddie decides to do, we'll probably still have some pretty decent runners. But I think AJ can be a really good player, maybe the best quarterback in the country next year.''

The biggest question mark is replacing three, maybe four, starters on an offensive line that paved the way.

Amari Cooper, who broke several of Julio Jones' Alabama freshman receiving marks, and fellow freshman running back T.J. Yeldon give McCarron and the Tide a couple of potent weapons, even if Lacy doesn't return.

``I am going to try to win three or four,'' said Cooper, who had 105 yards and two touchdowns in the title game. ``This season was good, but I expected it to be even more. There is so much more that I can do.''

Saban emphasized the difficulty of repeating and said he showed the players a video of NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan saying that the first title isn't the hardest - it's the ones after that.

That's because, Saban said, ``you have to have the will to fight against yourself.''

Now, the `Bama coach has four titles, including one during his stop at LSU. Saban doesn't wear the championship rings but uses them for a different purpose.

``I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at,'' he said, cracking up the room.

Saban has already lined up another highly rated recruiting class and has the next wave of young talents waiting in the wings.

After all, he talked about the sign mentor Bill Belichick hung in the football building during their NFL days together: ``Do your job.''

Saban jokingly acknowledged that while he prepares for everything, the one thing he has never been able to anticipate is the Gatorade bath. He drew heat for a scowl after the first one, following the title game win over Texas when he got dinged in the head. Monday night's dousing went better.

``It's cold, it's sticky, but I appreciated not getting hit in the head with the bucket,'' Saban said. ``That was an improvement.''

No program has had this kind of championship run since Tom Osborne's Nebraska teams won it all in 1994, 1995 and 1997.

Saban remembers that second team well. The Cornuskers stomped Michigan State 50-10 in Saban's first game as head coach.

``I'm thinking, we're never going to win a game,'' Saban said. ``We'll never win a game here at Michigan State. I must have taken a bad job, wrong job, no players, something. I remember Coach Osborne when we shook hands after the game, he put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, `You're not really as bad as you think.'''

So take heart, college football.

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Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Football is back on TV as the new season of HBO's Hard Knocks premiered Tuesday evening. It’s the first time in the documentary's 15 seasons that the show will follow two teams, the Los Angles Chargers and Los Angles Rams. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from episode one. 

Anthony Lynn tested positive

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn revealed in the opening scene that he had tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year. Lynn is the third known NFL head coach to have contracted the virus, joining New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Peyton and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

Justin Herbert shines

The Chargers first-round draft pick was the star player of episode one showing off his arm skills. He nailed almost every one of his targets during accuracy drills. The episode didn’t show too much of any player, but the former University of Oregon signal-caller stole the show in small amount of camera time he had

Rams head coach Sean McVay

Sean McVay’s introduction to the show had fans jealous of the panoramic views from his home in Los Angeles. McVay’s jokes were also a highlight of the episode. 

COVID-19 precautions and safety

Training camp is off-limits to fans in order to decrease potential exposure of the virus for players and staff. With that in mind, Hard Knocks is fans and media members first look at what an NFL training camp in 2020 looks like. From the frequent testing to the outdoor facilities that both the Rams and Chargers have invested in, it's a different type of training camp. It’s also a different type of Hard Knocks, but because of our desire for anything football-related, it has the potential to be one of the best seasons yet.
 
It will be tough to top the excitement of episode one but with two teams in action, there's no shortage of storylines. Episode two airs on HBO next Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET. 

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Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

The Wizards closed out their 2019-20 regular season on Thursday with a much-needed win, as they finished the year 25-47 and their time in the NBA's restart bubble 1-7. 

Those final eight games, though, were about much more than wins and losses. The team was evaluating their young players as they look ahead to next season when the expectations will be raised significantly.

Just looking at those eight games, here are some awards and superlatives for what we saw...

Most valuable: Thomas Bryant

This is a very easy call, it was a unanimous vote. Though Bryant wasn't the only young player who looked good in Orlando, he was by far their best player overall.

Bryant leaves the bubble with eight-game averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. Those are big-time numbers, even if they were compiled on a team that went 1-7. Bryant took on a larger role in the offense and increased his volume while remaining efficient. He shot 53.2 percent overall and 40.5 percent from three.

Bryant took a big step forward. He was healthy after dealing with a foot problem earlier this season, and delivered. The Wizards have a legitimate starting center they can pencil in for next season, hopefully with the green light to take more threes.

RELATED: WIZARDS FINALLY WIN IN BUBBLE

Most improved: Jerome Robinson

This was one of the more unexpected, yet pleasantly surprising developments for the Wizards in the bubble. Robinson, who had spent his entire career to this point backing up really good players, finally got a chance to spread his wings. And, boy, did he.

Robinson found a newfound level of consistency, averaging 14.8 points while shooting a solid 36.7 percent from three. He reached double figures in scoring in seven of the eight games after only doing that four times in his previous 88 NBA appearances. 

Given the small sample size, and the stakes, it probably isn't enough to truly guarantee him a role going into next season. But he has absolutely earned a chance to compete for the back-up role behind Bradley Beal.

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Most intriguing: Troy Brown Jr.

Brown had a tremendous start in the bubble, but slowed down late as he was thrown into the fire as the starting point guard. Though he struggled in that role, it was an invaluable experience that he can take a lot of lessons from.

Overall, though, Brown made clear improvements in his game. He thrived with a greater share of the play-making duties and was able to showcase his skills as a passer and ball-handler.

It was enough to warrant some focus by the Wizards' coaching staff next season. Though they will have John Wall and Beal coming back, they have to find a way to incorporate Brown's strengths. That may come in a bench role as the primary ball-handler in the second unit.

Needs most improvement: Admiral Schofield

Not all of the Wizards' young players displayed growth in the bubble games and included in that group is Schofield, the team's 2019 second round pick. Unfortunately for him, it was all juxtaposed with the breakout performance of Bol Bol, whom the Wizards passed on to select Schofield out of the University of Tennessee.

Schofield averaged only 2.7 points in 12.6 minutes while shooting 29.4 percent from the field. He looked uncertain on the floor and continues to sort of float between roles with no defined path towards stability in the rotation.

Keep in mind, though, Schofield is just starting out his NBA career. He was a second round pick and those guys take time. He has the physical tools, the work ethic and the smarts to make it in this league. But there is no question this will be an important offseason for the guy.

Best moment: Moe Wagner vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The most memorable image from the Wizards' time in Orlando was definitely the ejection of the league's reigning MVP in their penultimate game. Antetokounmpo has since been suspended by the league for it.

He lost his cool and headbutted Wagner, who now has another notch on his belt in his neverending quest to get under the skin of his opponents. He is a pest and an effective one at that.

Stay connected to the Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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