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SEC feeling impact of No. 9 Texas A&M, Missouri

SEC feeling impact of No. 9 Texas A&M, Missouri

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) The Southeastern Conference's six-year streak of national championships could be in jeopardy.

And the SEC has expansion to thank for making it happen.

No. 9 Texas A&M and Missouri are making their presence felt since the SEC invited them into the fold.

The Aggies (8-2, 5-2 SEC) rolled into Tuscaloosa and knocked off defending champion Alabama 29-24 and now the SEC is by no means a lock to get into the BCS title game. The Tigers (5-5, 2-5) have beaten Kentucky and Tennessee, adding to the coaching chaos at those schools.

Auburn's Gene Chizik is one of several SEC coaches who aren't surprised by either school's impact. He said the signs were there even before they left the Big 12.

``If you go back to SEC media day and what I said there, I don't change one thing that I said then,'' said Chizik, a former Texas defensive coordinator who was also Iowa State's head coach. ``No one's teaching (coach) Kevin Sumlin how to coach football; no one's teaching Texas A&M how to play or win; no one's teaching Texas A&M about tradition.

``Missouri's had their ups and downs this year at times but they're another good football team. (Coach) Gary (Pinkel) does a great job. ... They're here to compete and they're here to win championships just like the rest of them. That's why I said it was a good fit.''

Actually, the Aggies have become quite comfortable in the SEC.

Texas A&M was picked to finish fifth in the seven-team SEC West and has raised a few eyebrows with just how well its playing.

``I don't think a lot of people expected Texas A&M to do what they're doing now,'' Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter said. ``They've got a real good quarterback (Johnny Manziel), a freshman coming out and running the ball like he did and beating the No. 1 team. It's real exciting.''

The Aggies are a game behind West-leading Alabama entering Saturday's contest against Sam Houston State. They are tied with the Crimson Tide for the league-lead in scoring at 36.3 points per game. Texas A&M stands alone in several other offensive categories, including rushing offense (236.3 yards), passing offense (295.6) and total yards (531.9).

Sumlin said his Aggies benefited from the disappointing close home losses to Florida (20-17) and LSU (24-19) and that knocked Texas A&M out of any national championship discussions.

``I think in a way we drew some confidence from those games because those were top-tier teams, not only in this league but in the country,'' Sumlin said. ``We didn't have the offense available in the first part of the year that we do now.''

Leading the way is redshirt freshman phenom Manziel, also known as ``Johnny Football.''

Manziel is second in SEC rushing (631 yards, eight touchdowns) and passing (1,917 yards, eight TDs, five interceptions).

``Obviously, he did a great job against us,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ``To a large degree some of those plays he was able to make made a huge difference in the game.''

Missouri's transition into the SEC has been tougher.

The Tigers lost their first four SEC games, but their two conference victories have contributed to Kentucky's Joker Phillips being fired and are part of the reason why coach Derek Dooley's future at Tennessee is uncertain.

Missouri's first SEC victory on Oct. 27 was a 33-10 rout of Kentucky, which also entered the game winless. The Wildcats fired Phillips on Nov. 4.

The Tigers' victory Saturday at Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) might have sealed Dooley's fate.

After seeing Missouri firsthand and watching Texas A&M last weekend, Phillips believes both schools just came in prepared to compete in the SEC.

``It's a really tough, tough league,'' said Phillips, who will coach Kentucky's final two regular games. ``All of them that are winning have quarterbacks. They don't have true freshmen quarterbacks, they have quarterbacks and I think that gives everybody a chance.''

Still, the Aggies' success is unprecedented in the SEC.

The conference's only other expansion was 1991 when then-independent South Carolina and Arkansas left the Southwest Conference to join the SEC. Both struggled in their 1992 debuts: The Gamecocks finished 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC; the Razorbacks were 3-7-1 and 3-4-1.

Some SEC coaches say Texas A&M's impact is good for the league.

They don't believe the Aggies' win at Alabama should cost the conference champion a shot at the national title - an argument based mainly on five SEC teams being ranked in the top nine and six in the top 12.

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier is one of those coaches.

He said one loss shouldn't hurt East champion Georgia (9-1, 7-1) or Alabama (9-1, 6-1), if the Tide can clinch the West with a win against Auburn. Spurrier said the strong conference schedule stacks up against the unbeaten records of Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame.

``Isn't that what the BCS is for, to sort of go by strength of schedule and all that?'' Spurrier said this week.

LSU coach Les Miles agrees with Spurrier.

``Some teams do not play the style of schedule we play week in and week out in this conference,'' Miles said. ``The team that stands on that podium (after the SEC championship game) should have a chance to play for the national championship.''

Thanks to expansion, that's now out of the SEC's control.

---

AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., Brett Martell in Baton Rouge, La., Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., and John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., contributed to this report.

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Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

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USA TODAY Sports

Early returns show solid Redskins squad, with potential for more

More than 100 days remain before the Redskins take the field in meaningful NFL action.

Any and all excitement needs to be tempered, significantly, because what happens on a practice field in May without pads does not represent what will happen in September, October and beyond. 

Still, the Redskins group that took the field this week for OTAs showed promise. 

New quarterback Alex Smith looked crisp, connecting with a variety of wideouts and commanding the huddle. New wideout Paul Richardson made the best play of the session when he streaked down the field past rookie cornerback Greg Stroman and hauled in a deep pass from Smith. The play showed Smith's ability to identify open receivers downfield, as well as Richardson's ability to go up and grab a contested catch. Even Stroman, the seventh-round rookie, positioned himself well, he just fell victim to a perfect pass and tremendous athleticism.

That was only one play in a two-hour session. Again, don't take too much from May, when players don't wear pads or engage in any of the violence that the NFL is predicated upon. But the OTAs do serve a purpose, both for players and coaches, and there were nuggets to absorb and try to project for the fall. Here they are:

  • Jay Gruden made clear he's not concerned about the health of his offensive line. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are recuperating from offseason surgery, but Gruden believes both are on track for when things start to matter. It's a good thing the coach isn't concerned because this was the 'Skins line in OTAs (left to right): Geron Christian, Shawn Lauvao, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, John Kling. Should that lineup take the field this fall, there will be trouble. 
     
  • The Redskins lost Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland this offseason, and the secondary depth will be something to watch throughout training camp. At OTAs, newly signed veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick lined up opposite Josh Norman in the team's base 3-4 defense. In nickel and dime coverage, Quinton Dunbar lined up opposite Norman and Scandrick moved to the slot. As things progress, it will be interesting to see if Dunbar surpasses Scandrick in base coverage, and what becomes of 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau. Stay tuned.  
     
  • Rookie running back Derrius Guice looked every part of the first-round talent many judged him to be before draft season rumors caused him to slide to the late second round. Guice cuts with authority and is able to see holes before they form and patiently wait to hit the open space. Guice also looked fine in pass-catching drills, one area that was a question coming out of LSU (but that says more about LSU's prehistoric offense). Watching the Redskins offense work, it seems clear Guice will be the heaviest used runner this fall.
     

  • That said, don't count out Robert Kelley. He looks leaner and plenty quick, showing a few impressive runs during the session. Byron Marshall also looked good, and Gruden pointed out his success in his post-OTA press conference. The running back group will have plenty of competition all the way through Richmond. 
     
  • Jonathan Allen has switched jersey numbers from 95 to 93. Rookie Daron Payne is now wearing 95. Payne and Allen both went to Alabama, both are huge, and both play defensive line. The number switch will take some getting used to. 
     
  • Zach Brown missed the OTA session as he was moving, and interestingly in his spot with the starting defense was Josh Harvey-Clemons. The second-year pro out of Louisville showed impressive speed in coverage, and remember he played safety in college and performed quite well. He has ball skills and great size to be a coverage linebacker. Some were surprised when the Redskins kept JHC last season at the cut to 53, but his development appears to be paying off for the organization. 
     
  • Another linebacker that made a play was Zach Vigil. He impressed for the Redskins late last season and was running the Washington second-team defensive huddle. At one point, Vigil broke through the line of scrimmage and blew up a run play. That prompted D.J. Swearinger to yell from the sideline, "OK Zach. OK ZACH!"
     
  • Speaking of Swearinger, the Redskins defensive captain seemed in midseason form when it comes to yelling encouragement on the field. Nobody hypes up the defense like Swearinger, particularly when the secondary makes a big play. On one pass Dunbar made a nice diving play to break up a pass, and Swearinger and Josh Norman got very fired up, shouting and jumping around. The entire defense responded. Little stuff like that helps disrupt the monotony of offseason work. 
     
  • Jamison Crowder looks jacked and quick. The end. 

 

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.