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SEC gives up control of national title race

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SEC gives up control of national title race

Breaking down the AP college football poll after Week 11 of the regular season.

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MAKING A STATEMENT

That Alabama lost really wasn't shocking. Surprising, sure, but not shocking. The Crimson Tide is tremendously talented, exceedingly well coached, but as LSU showed last week, vulnerable.

The Tide's run of 10 weeks at No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll ended Sunday with Oregon moving into the top spot and Alabama falling to fourth.

No, what was shocking about Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M beating Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa on Saturday was that for the first time in years the Southeastern Conference was no longer in control of college football.

It's been a while since that was the case. The SEC's streak of BCS titles started in 2006, when Florida made a late and controversial run to get into the championship game against Ohio State. The Gators validated that choice by pounding the Buckeyes 41-14.

The next season, a wild race full of upsets along the way ultimately put LSU in the title game, and the Tigers took their turn beating the Buckeyes.

Since then, though, the SEC has never had to worry about what was going on in other conferences. The SEC championship game in some years was a de facto national semifinal. In others, it was the last hurdle to clear before the BCS title game.

Now the SEC has been relegated to watching and hoping.

To many fans of other conferences, this development has been greeted with great joy. SEC fatigue hit a high-water mark last year when LSU and Alabama played for the BCS national title after playing in the regular season. It was as if college football didn't even exist outside the Deep South - which is what many SEC fans already suspected.

Of course, those basking in the glory of the SEC being at the mercy of teams from the Pac-12 (Oregon) and Big 12 (No. 2 Kansas State) and - gasp! - No. 3 Notre Dame might want to be careful to not spike the ball before the goal line.

``Two of the three national championship teams that I coached lost a game,'' Tide coach Nick Saban said, counting one at LSU. ``This team still has an opportunity to win the West and go to the SEC championship game and win a championship. There's still a lot for this team to play for.''

The unbeaten Wildcats (first in the BCS standings), Ducks (second in the BCS) and Fighting Irish (third in the BCS) have potentially tough games on their schedules. There's still a good chance Alabama (9-1) and No. 5 Georgia (9-1) will meet in the SEC championship with only one loss apiece.

If two of those top three drop a game, the SEC is on deck, and there's no reason to think the Tide or the Bulldogs can't win the BCS title game if they get there.

While the 10-team Big 12 seems to be more balanced, no conference has more heavyweights than the SEC.

Florida (9-1) is No. 7 in the AP poll. LSU (8-2) is No. 8 and Texas A&M (8-2) is ninth. South Carolina (8-2) is 12th.

The irony of the SEC's weekend is that while it was pushed to the periphery of the championship chase, it also became the first conference in the history of the AP poll to make up half of the top 12 teams.

What happened this weekend is why SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has been at the forefront of the playoff push in college football. The SEC has six teams that can compete with any in the country, and there's a chance none will get to play for the national title.

Slive finally got his way. The playoff is coming in 2014.

For now, though, the SEC's championship streak depends on Oregon State, Southern California, Texas and the rest of the teams in position to pull an A&M-like upset.

Yes, that's right SEC fans. Lane Kiffin could hold the key to the conference's national championship hopes.

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MOVING UP

Texas A&M jumped six spots to No. 9 in the rankings with its huge victory, and proved in its first season in the SEC it has no plans of conceding first place in the West to the league's recent superpowers, Alabama and LSU.

First-year coach Kevin Sumlin and Manziel have helped transform an underachieving team that went 7-6 under Mike Sherman in its last year in the Big 12.

The conventional wisdom was the Aggies might need a year or two to get settled into their new home, with a new leader. A&M was picked toward the bottom of the West.

Sumlin has the Aggies ahead of schedule and might just be national coach of the year.

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MOVING DOWN

Oregon State lost for the second time this season, this time at Stanford, and dropped two spots to No. 15 in the poll.

The loss could be a devastating one for the Beavers, who have been one of the most surprising teams in the country.

The Beavers (7-2) have not played in the Rose Bowl since 1965 and were in position to get there without even beating Oregon or winning the Pac-12. Just finish 10-2 and have Oregon reach the national championship game. The Rose Bowl is still very much a possibility, but now they'll probably have to do it the hard way and not lose another game.

Louisville was the other undefeated team to lose on Saturday, falling at Syracuse. The Cardinals dropped nine spots in the poll to No. 20.

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IN AND OUT

Kent State is the latest Mid-American Conference team to crack the AP Top 25. The Golden Flashes (9-1) are No. 25 and in the rankings for the first time since Nov. 5, 1973, when they were No. 19 and the poll only went to 20.

Now let's see if Kent State can stay in longer than its MAC-mates.

Ohio was the first MAC team to get into the rankings this season, and the Bobcats then lost their next game to Miami, Ohio.

Toledo got into the rankings last week and promptly lost to Ball State.

The Golden Flashes are at Bowling Green on Saturday.

Michigan is back in for the third time at No. 23. Also, falling out was Mississippi State.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Oregon is No. 1 for the first time since 2010, when the Ducks had a seven-week stint atop the AP poll on their way to losing the national championship game to Auburn.

That was the first time Oregon had ever reached No. 1.

Kansas State's No. 2 ranking matches the best in program history, accomplished five times previously. The Wildcats were second four times in 1998 and once in 2000.

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ODDS AND ENDS

Oregon received 45 of 60 first-place votes this week. Kansas State got 14 and Notre Dame received one. ... Only two games matching ranked teams this week, both in the Pac-12. Oregon, dealing with a string of injuries to its defense, hosts No. 14 Stanford. The Ducks would clinch the North Division with a victory. No. 21 Southern California is at No. 17 UCLA. The winner wins the South Division. ... Texas Tech tied Michigan for No. 23 in the rankings.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

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Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

After already making significant changes to their roster, the Wizards may not be done this offseason, as they have been in talks with the San Antonio Spurs about a potential trade for superstar Kawhi Leonard, according to a new report by ESPN

Read this from Adrian Wojnarowski:

Still, the bidding war among Boston, Philadelphia and the Lakers never materialized. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Toronto and Washington are among teams who've talked with San Antonio, league sources said.

The Wizards certainly make sense as a Leonard suitor. They are in the East, meaning the Spurs could trade Leonard to them and not have to worry about facing him as often. Plus, they have a solid group of tradeable assets and ones that seem to fit the Spurs model.

Otto Porter is a versatile, young player under team control who plays an unselfish style and would likely embrace playing in a small market. He also has a salary ($26M in 2018-19) that isn't far off from Leonard's ($21M in 2018-19), so the money could be easily matched.

The Wizards also have Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre, Jr., two young and up-and-coming players. Plus, they have draft picks, though ones that are unlikely to convey as lottery selections.

The Spurs have reportedly been more interested in getting players that can help now rather than draft picks to rebuild. That makes sense, as they still won 47 games last year despite Leonard only playing in nine of them due to injury.

The question in any Wizards and Spurs talks would be whether they would want one of Washington's All-Stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. It would be tough to imagine the Wizards parting with either guy for Leonard, who carries some risk not only because of his quadriceps injury but also because he can opt out of his contract and leave after next season.

Just because the Wizards have talked to the Spurs doesn't mean they are serious contenders for Leonard, but it does show they are serious about improving their roster this summer. If they got Leonard and didn't part with Wall and Beal, that would be some team.

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Orioles reportedly have deal in place to trade Manny Machado to Dodgers

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Orioles reportedly have deal in place to trade Manny Machado to Dodgers

When Manny Machado returns from the 2018 MLB All-Star Break, he will not be donning a Baltimore Orioles uniform. 

The All-Star shortstop is expected to be traded from Baltimore to the Los Angeles Dodgers, barring any last-minute changes, according to multiple media reports. 

That being said, the Machado trade talks remain fluid and both the Phillies and Brewers are still trying to work a trade for the 26-year-old third baseman, according to Jon Heyman. The Diamondbacks are also reportedly trying to lure the four-time All-Star to the desert, while the Yankees decided to pull out of the Machado sweepstakes just prior to the All-Star festivities in Washington, D.C. 

While the details of the trade have yet to be revealed, the Dodgers will reportedly include top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz in the Machado trade, according to Heyman.

According to Jim Bowden, when regular-season play returns, Machado will be in the National League, although which team he plays for is still up in the air.

With the Orioles sitting a historically awful 39.5 games out of first place at the All-Star Break, trading Machado is the first major step toward a complete overhaul. The Orioles drafted Machado out of Brito High School in Miami, Fla., with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. Since then, Machado has drawn comparisons to iconic third basemen Brooks Robinson and Alex Rodriguez, despite being moved to shortstop full-time this past season, and is widely considered one of the three best position players in professional baseball.

Machado is currently batting .315 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs.

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