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SEC holds national bragging rights yet again

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SEC holds national bragging rights yet again

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) With the majority of conference regular-season games in the books, the SEC again holds national bragging rights.

It appears that for the second year in a row the powerful SEC will be the only league in the country to send a team to the national title game.

The winner of next week's SEC title game will almost certainly face independent Notre Dame in the championship game, in search of the SEC's seventh consecutive national title.

But the SEC isn't the only team poised to make noise in the postseason.

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BALANCED BIG 12: Though the Big 12 still has one week of games left, it already has qualified nine of its 10 members for bowl games.

Only woeful Kansas won't go to a bowl game this season - a sign that the league is as deep as it's ever been.

Kansas State can win the league on Saturday with a win over Texas, and Oklahoma can swoop in and steal the title with a win at TCU and a loss by K-State. Whoever wins the Big 12 will be joined by a ton of familiar faces in December and beyond.

The league has three six-win teams; Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia. Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech already have reached seven wins.

The Big 12's 90 percent success rate with bowl eligibility is by far the best in the country - and perhaps proof that 10 really is the perfect number of teams for the league.

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PAC-12 IS BACK: The Pac-12 also had a strong season, perhaps stronger than many thought it could.

The league will send eight teams to the postseason, just one shy of what the SEC and Big 12 will provide during the bowl season. The Pac-12 also will likely get two teams into the BCS, with either Stanford or UCLA headed to the Rose Bowl and 11-win Oregon looking like a solid BCS at-large pick.

And the Pac-12 won't send any .500 teams to the postseason, as every bowl-eligible team has won at least seven games.

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BIG TEN BUST: The Big Ten is lucky it added Nebraska before the 2011 season.

Without the Huskers, the league wouldn't be sending a single 10-win team to the postseason.

The bowl ban on undefeated Ohio State left Nebraska (10-2, 7-1) as the only squad with at least 10 victories and the opportunity to get a few more. Northwestern is next with nine wins, but the Huskers will have to play a 7-5 Wisconsin team that finished just .500 in the league in this weekend's title game.

How bad has the Big Ten been this season?

The league has just six bowl eligible teams - one less than the Mid-American Conference.

The SEC has six teams that have won at least 10 games.

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AC-SEE YA: The ACC came into 2012 with a significant amount of buzz largely centered around the national title hopes of Florida State and the prowess of Clemson.

The Seminoles and Tigers each reached 10 wins, but each received a harsh dose of reality over the weekend from SEC rivals. Florida and South Carolina went on the road and beat the rival Seminoles and Tigers, respectively, by double digits on Saturday.

Florida State and Clemson both finished a league-best 10-2 overall. But thanks to sanctions at North Carolina and Miami, North Carolina State is currently the only other bowl-eligible team from the ACC with a winning record.

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EXTRA POINTS: Utah and Colorado have each played two full seasons in the Pac-12, and neither has racked up a winning record in league play yet. ... A BCS buster from a smaller conference never quite materialized. The Mountain West, Conference USA and the Sun Belt don't currently have any 10-win teams. The MAC has two 11-win teams, Northern Illinois and Kent State, and they'll meet Friday night in the league title game. But the Huskies lost to a bad Iowa team and Kent State lost to a very bad Kentucky team. ... Southern Miss (0-12) finished as the only FBS team without a win in 2012. UMass, Akron, Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico State all won just once.

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How the Caps upset the Lightning to win the conference championship

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Caps upset the Lightning to win the conference championship

It wasn't supposed to happen.

The Capitals celebrated too hard after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The Tampa Bay Lightning had been here before. Tampa Bay's roster was deeper. Their goalie was hotter. They had home ice advantage. They had easily won their first two series. Nicklas Backstrom was still injured. Washington wouldn't be able to stop the Lightning's power play.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.

For all of those reasons, many did not even give the Caps a chance. Washington overcame every obstacle in their way and was, for the most part, the better team through seven games defeating Tampa Bay to win the Eastern Conference for just the second time in franchise history.

The Capitals showed in their second-round win over the Penguins that these weren't the "same old Caps." They continued to prove that in the conference final when they stunned the Lightning to win Game 1 and Game 2 both on the road.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.

When Washington lost the next three, many thought that meant the real Lightning had awoken, but it was the Caps who rose to the occasion in Game 6 and Game 7 where they face elimination as they completely dominated Tampa Bay by a combined score of 7-0.

The Caps now advance to take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final. The Knights have lost only three games this entire postseason and will hope to carry that momentum with them into Game 1.

If there is one thing this Washington team has proven, however, it's that you should never count them out.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.

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Need to Know: Redskins' Jay Gruden and Alex Smith from the podium

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Associated Press

Need to Know: Redskins' Jay Gruden and Alex Smith from the podium

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, May 24, 64 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What Jay Gruden and Alex Smith had to say from the podium

After yesterday’s OTA practice, Alex Smith and Jay Gruden took the podium. Here are some of their quotes and my comments on them:

Smith was asked about getting together with his new teammates:

So I think every guy these last two days has enjoyed just getting back out there and losing yourself in the game, right? To be limited, it does make you miss it, and I think it makes you appreciate it, so that’s been nice. 

Comment: This is a guy who loves football and everything that goes with it. Smith would start playing games tomorrow if they were scheduled.

Gruden was asked how Smith has looked in these first two days of OTAs:

He’s got good command of the offense already. Great command in the huddle. He’s just getting a feel for the receivers, the players around him, how we call things, but overall, the first two days, I would say I’m very pleased with his quick progression and learning. I knew that wouldn’t be an issue with as much as he’s played in a similar-style system.

Comment: It did seem that Smith was in sync with his receivers, Jamison Crowder in particular. He and Paul Richardson connected on a deep pass after giving each other a look at the line of scrimmage. The encouraging thing is that he is coming from a similar offensive system, so the learning curve should not be too long. 

Smith had a great analogy when asked about similarities to the offenses he has run:

Both from West Coast worlds, so it’s kind of like they are all Latin-based languages, you know, but they are not the same. There are some similarities, structure of the playbook, of how we call things, things like that. There are a lot of similarities but it’s not the same language. I guess that’s the best analogy I can make

Comment: If terminology is the biggest obstacle for Smith to overcome it will be a smooth transition for him. 

Gruden was impressed with the running backs. 

“I’ll tell you what, just today in general, you could see the competition. You could see Rob Kelley step up. Samaje Perine’s had a couple big days. Byron Marshall, I mean, he had a couple great routes today. He’s running the ball between the tackles. [Kapri] Bibbs had some big runs yesterday. Obviously, Derrius Guice has come in here and fueled the fire a little bit.

Comment: I think that the Redskins are going to have to release some good running backs. Rob Kelly never really earned the nickname “Fat Rob” but he looked particularly lean and quick running the ball. He wants nothing to do with being on the roster bubble. Marshall moved quickly and showed his speed. Although Gruden wouldn’t say it, Guice clearly was the best of the bunch; his ability to change direction while maintaining his speed will serve him well. It must be noted that they are not in pads and not getting tackled so more definitive opinions will have to wait until we are in Richmond for a few days. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 19
—Training camp starts (7/26) 64
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 78

The Redskins last played a game 144 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 108 days. 

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