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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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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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