Nationals

Sooners will face all 3 Heisman finalists

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Sooners will face all 3 Heisman finalists

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) So which of the three finalists for the Heisman Trophy really has been college football's best player this season? Check back with the Oklahoma Sooners after the Cotton Bowl and they could offer an educated opinion.

No. 12 Oklahoma (10-2) will complete a Heisman trifecta of sorts when the Sooners face No. 10 Texas A&M (10-2) in the Jan. 4 bowl game in Arlington, Texas. The Aggies are led by quarterback Johnny Manziel, who became the first freshman to win the Heisman this month and on Tuesday was named as the AP Player of the Year.

Oklahoma already has faced the other two players who finished in the top three in this season's Heisman balloting: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

``Yeah, I've thought about that, believe me,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday, addressing reporters for the first time since the Sooners closed the regular season with a 24-17 win over TCU. ``They're excellent players, all of them. They're always a challenge.''

Oklahoma will become the first team to face the top three finishers in the Heisman balloting since 1993, when Florida played Florida State and Heisman winner Charlie Ward, Tennessee and runner-up Heath Shuler and Alabama and third-place finisher David Palmer.

Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, a four-year starter for the Sooners, entered the season on most Heisman watch lists, but fell off with a couple of subpar early season performances. He never moved back into serious Heisman contention despite passing for 3,989 yards and 29 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

Jones, who has a 39-10 career record as a starter, said he is curious about seeing the player dubbed ``Johnny Football,'' but doesn't think he needs to measure himself against Manziel, who passed for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns with eight interceptions and rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.

``You play against so many good players throughout the year,'' Jones said. ``I don't know if it's necessarily a chip on your shoulder. It's just more of a way where you want to go out and you want to compete the way you know you can compete. If he has a great game, he has a great game. I don't really have anything to do with his playing and what he'll do on Jan. 4.''

Defensive tackle David King might, however, and said Manziel poses a different challenge to Oklahoma's defense than other quarterbacks, comparing him to last year's Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III of Baylor.

``We can't allow him to just run on us all day,'' King said. ``Obviously, that's what he's been doing and he's been very successful. That's a lot of how he won the Heisman. He's a playmaker. If it's not there, he's going to just run and teams have had a hard time stopping him. We just have to have our best game of the season by far in containing him and not letting him do what he wants to do all night.''

Stoops agreed.

``He has a great knack, even on his blind side, for feeling people getting close,'' he said. ``He'll spin a couple times and work his way out. It's something you have to work really hard at to contain him and keep him in (the pocket). Also, you don't want to be tentative and not rush. There's a fine line we'll work hard at trying to get pressure and keep him in there.''

Texas A&M was in the Big 12 Conference with Oklahoma until this season, when the Aggies made the move to the Southeastern Conference under coach Kevin Sumlin, a former Stoops assistant at Oklahoma. The Aggies, using a spread offense similar to those popular in the Big 12, rank third in the Bowl Subdivision in both total offense and scoring offense.

That success should put to rest the notion that Big 12 offenses couldn't hold their own against SEC defenses, Stoops said.

``It's interesting to me . they seem to have done pretty well in that league offensively,'' Stoops said. ``I think they lead that league in every single category and it hasn't hurt their winning. They won a bunch of games, too. They're doing pretty good against all those defenses.''

Oklahoma's only two losses this season - both at home - came against teams with Heisman finalists. Te'o had a key interception and 11 tackles as Notre Dame beat the Sooners 30-13, while Klein passed for 149 yards and rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown to lead Kansas State to a 24-19 win. Getting a third chance to beat a Heisman finalist - indeed, the guy who won the trophy - is ``extra motivation,'' King said.

``We have to sit around here for a month and watch ESPN and all they talk about is Johnny Football or Johnny Heisman or whatever they call him now,'' King said. ``We sit around and we get tired of watching it. The whole national media is scrutinizing our defense and that we can't stop the run. We're underdogs in this game. We have a lot to prove and, on Jan. 4, we'll be ready to play.''

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Can Nationals’ key six make it through three more wins?

Can Nationals’ key six make it through three more wins?

HOUSTON -- Going 1-0 is taxing.

Ask the Nationals pitchers. Just make sure to talk with the select few being used. 

Washington is trying to finish a World Series win behind six pitchers. Maybe six-and-a-half, at most seven, if Tanner Rainey and Fernando Rodney are included. No matchup guys. No bullpen depth. Just a formula of tying the yoke to one of four starters that day, then Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle when necessary.

The question is if those six people can make it through three more wins.

A few things have made this approach viable. One is the starting rotation being populated with guys accustomed to a lot of innings. Washington finished with two of the top five in innings pitched this year (Stephen Strasburg at No. 2 and Patrick Corbin at No. 5), in addition to Max Scherzer, who routinely leads the league in innings pitched. Another is a willingness to accept varied roles and workload in the bullpen. The idea of a “closer” has been tossed outside. A person to obtain key outs is inserted into the game at the most crucial -- and beneficial -- time. 

“I think it’s Huddy,” Sean Doolittle said when asked why the bullpen has worked this way. “I think when you have an anchor like that at the back of the bullpen, it kind of lets guys slide into certain spots in front of him. And when he can go multiple innings and come in early in the game with runners on base -- that’s tough. Not a lot of guys who pitch in that closer’s role are comfortable doing that. But he has experience pitching in so many different roles, he brings that versatility to our group.”

Corbin has helped. He came out of the bullpen again Tuesday to wipe three more outs away and help the Nationals earn a 1-0 series lead. He appears likely to start Game 4 in Nationals Park after pitching his “bullpen session” in Game 1 of the World Series. Among the questions for Corbin, and Davey Martinez, is if Corbin is available for one out Wednesday night in Game 2. Picture left-handed Michael Brantley up with two runners on base and two out in the seventh inning. Brantley’s career OPS against left-handed pitchers is 125 points lower than it is against right-handed pitchers. Martinez said he would speak to Corbin late Monday to see what’s next.

Doolittle was already prognosticating after Game 1. Tomorrow may always be just a day away, but it might as well not exist in this current formula.

“Regardless of the score, the situation, I think we all expected to be in there in some capacity,” Doolittle said. “And I think guys are willing to go multiple innings -- we’ll figure tomorrow out tomorrow. Stras is going to give us a good start and we feel good about having him out there, and he’s going to go as long as he can. We’ll piece it together after that. I think that’s how we’ve thought about it here for a while.”

And, is there enough juice for the six pitchers to handle the current day, eventually turning “tomorrow” into a parade?

“Oh my gosh,” Doolittle said. “Are you kidding me? YES. Yes. We just had a few days off. Us old guys got to put our feet up and rest a little bit. Then we had a couple really good workouts before we came down here. But, at this point in the season, you’re feeding off adrenaline so much. We’re all a little bit tired, sure. Not a lot of guys have been here before. This is the latest they’ve ever played. But when you’re out there, there’s so much adrenaline, there’s so much energy you’re just feeding off that so much. I think we are absolutely in a good spot physically and mentally for the rest of the series.”

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Legendary gymnast Simone Biles to throw the first pitch for Game 2 of the World Series

Legendary gymnast Simone Biles to throw the first pitch for Game 2 of the World Series

Gymnastics legend Simon Biles is scheduled to throw the first pitch for Game 2 of the World Series in Houston, Major League Baseball announced.

Biles, a Houston native, won four gold medals and one bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She won the most gold medals as a female gymnast at a single Olympics in American history and became the fifth-ever quadruple gold medalist in women's gymnastics at a single Olympics.

This isn't Biles's first time at Minute Maid Park. She threw out an awesome first pitch for the Astros in 2016.

The Houston Astros brought in Brian McCann and Evan Gattis for Game 1's first pitch, both former Astros catchers and members of Houston's 2017 championship team. Between Biles, McCann and Gattis, it looks like Houston is hoping their first pitch participants can rub off championship energy.

McCann and Gattis did not bring enough good luck for Game 1, however, as the Nationals came out on top in a thrilling 5-4 victory to take a 1-0 series lead.

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