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San Jose State tops Bowling Green in Military Bowl

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San Jose State tops Bowling Green in Military Bowl

WASHINGTON (AP) Among the accomplishments this season for San Jose State: It's no longer a school anyone would want to schedule for homecoming.

The No. 24 Spartans have their first 11-win season since 1940, capping a comeback year with a 29-20 win over Bowling Green in the Military Bowl. In the national rankings for the first time since 1975, San Jose State (11-2) finished with a seven-game winning streak and put aside the distractions surrounding the recent departure of coach Mike MacIntyre.

``I don't think we've ever been respected like we should have been,'' defensive end Travis Johnson said. ``They've looked at San Jose State on the schedule and been like, `OK, you know that's a beatable game.' And that's something we all wanted to change. No one ever wants to be looked at as someone who's easy to beat.''

The Spartans were 1-12 just two years ago and were rebuilt by MacIntyre, who left this month for a better payday at Colorado. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer coached the bowl game but was passed over for the full-time job in favor of San Diego's Ron Caragher. Baer plans to follow MacIntyre to the Buffalos.

``I didn't cry, but I wanted to,'' said Baer, asked about his postgame speech to the team. ``I stood tall, took a couple of deep breaths. It's been a little emotional the last few days.''

The only quibble is whether the 2012 Spartans should have bragging rights as the best team in school history ahead of the 1938 and 1940 teams, which both went 11-1.

``A couple of them have contested it, but that's all right,'' Baer said with a laugh. ``We'll play `em.''

Bowling Green (8-5) had a similar turnaround, improving from 2-10 in 2010 under coach Dave Clawson to get back in the postseason. The Falcons, like the Spartans, shouldn't be mistaken for a soft spot on the schedule any time soon.

``A year ago we made a nice step that we went from being awful to average,'' Clawson said. ``I felt this was a team that could make that next step, and we won three more games. ... We found a way to get from five to eight. Now we have to find a way to get from eight to 11.''

Coaching aside, the difference Thursday was that San Jose State had the better quarterback, David Fales, who led the nation in completion percentage in the regular season. The dart-throwing transfer started strong and finished stronger in the wind and cold at RFK Stadium, completing 33 of 43 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns.

Fales led the drive that set up Austin Lopez's 27-yard field goal with 4:43 remaining, and De'Leon Eskridge's 1-yard run with 2:34 left provided the insurance. Fales was an unknown when he arrived on campus in the spring, but he quickly became the offensive leader the Spartans needed.

``He was like that puzzle piece that was able to make everything come together,'' Johnson said.

Fales went over the 4,000-yard passing mark for the season, hitting Kyle Nunn for a 33-yard score to give the Spartans a first-quarter lead and finding the stutter-stepping Chandler Jones for an 18-yard reception that put San Jose State back in front, 19-13, in the third quarter.

Bowling Green retook the lead in the fourth quarter with a 68-yard drive, finished off by John Pettigrew's 1-yard run with 10:26 remaining.

But Fales went 7 for 10 on a 68-yard march that got well within range for Lopez, who had a perfect season - making all 17 of his field goal attempts. The Spartans then forced a turnover that led to Eskridge's clinching touchdown.

``We didn't generate enough yards, didn't generate enough points,'' Clawson said. ``At some point you have to score points to win games. We struggled with that all year. When we played the better teams on our schedule, that's where we came up short.''

The Military Bowl was set to pit Army against an ACC team, but Army wasn't bowl-eligible and the ACC had a short supply of bowl-eligible schools. As a result, there was little excitement for the game in the nation's capital. The upper deck of RFK was virtually empty during the second half of the MAC-WAC matchup, and the attendance was announced as 17,835.

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter:http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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