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South Carolina, Florida, WVU on rise in AP Top 25

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South Carolina, Florida, WVU on rise in AP Top 25

Breaking down the AP college football poll after Week 6 of the regular season.

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MAKING A STATEMENT

Signature victories, statement games, surprisingly easy wins and one stunning upset.

Nine ranked teams lost Saturday and the Top 25 underwent an extreme makeover Sunday, with South Carolina, Florida and West Virginia moving into the top five.

No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon held their spots at the top of the rankings. Alabama is a unanimous No. 1 again.

No. 3 South Carolina, off a 35-7 victory against Georgia, moved up three spots. No. 4 Florida jumped six spots after beating LSU 14-6. No. 5 West Virginia moved up three with a 48-45 victory at Texas.

No. 6 Kansas State, No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 8 Ohio State also moved up. LSU dropped five to No. 9 and unbeaten Oregon State is No. 10.

Florida State fell from No. 3 to No. 12 after losing 17-16 on a last-minute touchdown at North Carolina State.

The last time nine ranked teams lost in one week was Oct. 18, 2008.

No team was more impressive than South Carolina.

Coach Steve Spurrier has the Gamecocks ranked higher than they have been in 28 years.

``Have we ever been that high before? How about `84?'' Spurrier asked during his conference call with reporters Sunday. South Carolina reached No. 2 late in the 1984 season.

``Well, we've still got a ways to go,'' he added.

The ball coach loves to talk about doing things they've never done before at South Carolina. It's what led him to take over a program with no Southeastern Conference championships after overgrown expectations at Florida drew him to the NFL.

Behind pass-rushing terror Jadeveon Clowney and hard-running Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks have emerged as the leading contender in the SEC to knock off Alabama - if South Carolina can get a crack at the Tide.

They don't play in the regular season, but could meet in the SEC championship game.

But that's a long way away - especially with South Carolina heading to LSU next Saturday and Florida the week after. The Gamecocks finish, as usual, with No. 16 Clemson.

``I would say we probably have the toughest schedule of those other teams,'' Spurrier said of the national title contenders.

The Gators haven't been in the top five during the regular season since 2009. That was the end of the Tim Tebow era. Year 2 under Will Muschamp is starting to feel a bit like Urban Meyer's second season at Florida. Those Gators won the national title.

As for West Virginia, this just about sums it up: In the last two weeks, the Mountaineers have allowed 108 points and won both games.

Next up for the Geno Smith and the Mountaineers is another trip back to Texas, this time Lubbock to face Texas Tech (4-1).

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MOVING UP

Speaking of Meyer, Ohio State moved up four spots to No. 8 in the rankings after a 63-38 victory against Nebraska in Columbus, Ohio.

Everybody knows by now the Buckeyes are playing only for pride because of an NCAA postseason ban, one they probably could have avoided if Ohio State officials had self-imposed it last year and not waited for the NCAA to weigh in on the tattoo scandal.

No doubt every Buckeye is now regretting that decision.

In a year when the Big Ten looks down, Ohio State seems capable of going undefeated. No. 25 Michigan is the only other Big Ten team ranked this week.

The Big Ten has said it will present Ohio State - or Penn State, for that matter - with a Leaders Division trophy if it wins the division.

There's one more trophy available for Ohio State, though it's a long shot.

The AP has been crowning a national champion since 1936, and the Buckeyes could conceivably finish No. 1 in the media poll, though it would likely take just about every other team losing at least once.

The last sanction-strapped team to make a similar push was Auburn in 1993, which went 11-0 under Terry Bowden and finished No. 4.

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MOVING DOWN

Florida State, No. 9 LSU and No. 15 Georgia all took tumbles in the rankings after spending the whole season ranked in the top seven.

The Seminoles' loss was the most stunning and most damaging. But maybe we should have seen it coming. Since 2007, Florida State has lost six road games to unranked teams when it was ranked.

The latest was probably the most disappointing because the Seminoles seemed primed to make a run at playing in the BCS championship game. The ACC is without another dominant team. Clemson is the only other ranked squad from the conference, and Florida State already beat the Tigers.

The Wolfpack hadn't shown much against their best opponents, especially defensively. But they shut out EJ Manuel and Florida State in the second half.

``They fought for the inches and made the inches and we didn't,'' coach Jimbo Fisher lamented.

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IN AND OUT

No. 21 Cincinnati (4-0) and No. 22 Texas A&M are ranked for the first time this season, and No. 24 Boise State and No. 25 Michigan are back after falling out earlier.

In between is No. 23 Louisiana Tech, which hasn't been ranked in the Top 25 since 1999.

``It shows we have some credibility in our program,'' La. Tech coach Sonny Dykes said Sunday.

The Bulldogs (5-0) are third in the nation in scoring at 53 points per game and are a serious threat to bust into the BCS from the Western Athletic Conference a la Boise State. The Bulldogs have won three road games, including games at Virginia and Illinois for which they were paid $1.6 million dollars to visits.

The biggest hurdle comes Saturday against Texas A&M in Shreveport, La. The game was originally scheduled the opening week of the season, but it was postponed because of severe weather.

``We'll find out where we are as a program,'' Dykes said. ``We'll find out how we handle the spotlight.''

Falling out of the rankings after losing were TCU, Nebraska, Northwestern, UCLA and Washington.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

No. 10 Oregon State is in the top 10 for the first time since 2001, when it was No. 10 after the first week and ended the season unranked.

The last time the Beavers were ranked in the top 10 later in the season was 2000, when they finished No. 4 in the country and beat Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.

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ODDS AND ENDS

The Big East has three ranked teams (Cincinnati, Rutgers and Louisville), and the best news for the rebuilding league is they are all schools that are staying put next season, when Boise State also joins. ... Louisiana Tech is headed to Conference USA next season. The league tweeted out: ``Congrats to our future C-USA member!'' ... Unbeaten Ohio University from the Mid-American Conference just missed being ranked, 79 points to 82 for Michigan.

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MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

LAS VEGAS—One of the more intriguing storylines of this year’s Stanley Cup Final centers on a couple of men who make their living behind the scenes: Brian MacLellan of the Caps and his counterpart with the Golden Knights, George McPhee.

They’ve known each other for 40-plus years, dating back to their time as bantam teammates in Canada. And, starting Monday, they’ll be on opposing sides, with hockey’s Holy Grail at stake.  

Caps fans, of course, are familiar with McPhee’s work. He served as GM in Washington from 1997-2014 and drafted 13 players who are currently on the Caps’ roster. McPhee was also the Caps’ rookie GM the last time the franchise appeared in the Final 20 years ago.

But here’s what Caps fans might not know about the connection that MacLellan and McPhee share:

  • They were born in a few months apart in 1958 in Ontario.
  • They captured the Canadian Jr. A championship as members of the 1977-78 Guelph Platers.
  • Both were on scholarship at Bowling Green from 1978-1982.
  • They played together with the New York Rangers in 1985-86.
  • And, finally, they worked side-by-side in Washington from 2000-2014. After working his way up from the scouting ranks, MacLellan replaced his managerial mentor, who had been let go following a disappointing season.

 

“It's kind of a weird experience,” MacLellan said. “We kind of have been texting back and forth how strange it feels to have this line up the way it has. It's a little awkward, but it's going to be a fun experience, I hope.”

At one point, MacLellan got choked up when talking about his relationship with McPhee, who’ll become the first GM in the expansion era to face a former team of which he served as GM.

“We played junior together and then we both went to Bowling Green on scholarships, so we lived together,” he said, fighting back tears. “It was fun.”

MacLellan also acknowledged that the two weren’t as tight—for a time, at least—after he replaced McPhee four years ago. McPhee also hinted at some strain, though he said the two men had dinner at the most recent GM’s meetings.

“Not as close, I don't think,” MacLellan said of his relationship with McPhee following McPhee’s dismissal. “A little bit of communication here and there. But I think it just took a little time for things to evolve. I think he needed a break from the game, needed a break from how it went down for him here and it just took time.”

When the two negotiated during last year’s expansion draft, which saw McPhee pluck promising you blueliner Nate Schmidt from Washington’s roster, MacLellan said the two old friends keep things “businesslike.”

“He was all business,” MacLellan said. “He wasn’t giving in on anything.”

Although McPhee drafted most of the core players who delivered the Caps to this year’s Final, MacLellan also deserves credit for getting this team over the second round hump. Among his first acquisitions were defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, a pair of vets that helped shore up a shaky defense. MacLellan also added forwards T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller via trade in recent seasons and, this year, added defenseman Michal Kempny, a particularly shrewd move that bolstered a blue line that needed a little tightening.

As weird as the next few days will be for MacLellan as he faces his old friend, it figures to even more strange for McPhee, who will look down from the GM’s suite on Monday and see not one, but two teams that he built on the ice. McPhee also pilfered a handful of current and former front office employees from Caps, including Goalie Coach Dave Prior, while building the Golden Knights.

Indeed, the history between MacLellan and McPhee runs deep. But for the next couple of weeks, they’ll put aside their decades-old friendship as their clubs battle for the NHL’s ultimate prize.
 

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What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

Just four more wins. It hardly seems possible.

For only the second time ever and for the first time in 20 years, the Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. And they could actually win it.

They’re not there yet. The Vegas Golden Knights have cruised through the playoffs thus far and continue to shock the hockey community with their postseason run. Washington’s players need to think about how to beat Vegas, not what happens after.

But while the players cannot and should not look ahead, for fans, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to dream about that moment when Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup over to Alex Ovechkin.

Winning the conference is always a huge achievement that should be celebrated, but this year is different than 1998’s run. Back in 1998, the Caps played against a Detroit Red Wings team that is one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They were the defending champions after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers the year before. Washington suffered the same fate as the Flyers, losing in just four games.

This year is a battle between two more evenly matched teams. Picking the Caps to win this series is not outlandish or crazy at all. This year, they could actually do it.

So before the puck drops for Game 1 and all dreams are pushed aside for the realities of what may happen, allow a fan a chance to think about what seeing the Washington Capitals actually hoist the Stanley Cup would actually mean.

Breaking news: Washington is not Canada and the Capitals are not an original six team. Hockey is not ingrained in the culture of D.C. the way it is in Canadian cities or in places like Boston and Detroit. Unlike in Vegas where the success of the team in its inaugural season has caught the city by storm, the Capitals won only eight games in their first year. Eight wins doesn’t exactly help a team grow roots in the community.

If you’ve been a fan of the Capitals long enough, chances are you’ve seen some pretty tough times. There have been plenty of playoff disappointments in this team’s history even before the current era. There was also the rebuild that began before the lockout that saw a very bad team play in front of a half empty stadium for several years. And they would not have even gotten to that point without the “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982.

But through it all, that small group of hardcore fans kept coming back. Some may have wavered from time to time, but they came back because being a hockey fan is different than other sports.

It’s hard to be a sports fan in any city with an NFL team and not follow football. Football may not even be your sport, but there is almost on obligation to following it because coverage and interest in football is so prevalent. It’s hard to avoid.

You have to seek out hockey

Hockey at times has been viewed as more of a niche sport than mainstream. Before the age of Alex Ovechkin, if you were from Washington and you were following the Caps, it was because you loved both.

So why did those Caps fans keep coming back after so much heartbreak? Because despite all of the disappointing seasons we always walked away telling ourselves, this will just make it that much sweeter when they do win.

One day, it will all be worth it.

That’s why we watch sports, isn’t it? We watch with the knowledge that sometimes, our hearts will be broken but it’s OK because the good will always outweigh the bad. And the worse the bad times are, the better the good times will feel afterward.

We kept telling ourselves that for a long time, but admittedly some years were tougher to get past than others. It’s hard to keep believing when you’ve seen your rival beat you nine times out of 10 in the playoffs heading into this year’s postseason. It’s hard when a team cannot seem to overcome its playoff history despite having one of the best players of all-time on its roster.

When Ovechkin was drafted, the question we all asked ourselves was not whether he would bring a Cup to Washington, but how many? He brought new fans with him, he brought excitement with him, he brought validation with him…at least initially.

But with every passing year, doubt began to creep into our minds. The upset loss to Montreal in 2010 stung, but Ovechkin was still 24. There was still hope that one day, he would still win the Cup.

Now at 32 years old, many did not know what to expect from the Great 8 this year. When would decline start to show in his game?

Ovechkin is part of why we want the Cup so badly. We want to see the best player in this franchise’s history honored. We want to see the player who transformed hockey in Washington from niche sport to mainstream take his proper place in the sport’s history. No one wants to hear him described as one of the best players to never win a Cup because he should be remembered as one of the best players, period.

But that’s not all of it.

This is about all those times we told ourselves this would all be worth it someday. This is about how we used to cope with the sting of another postseason heartbreak by thinking about what it would feel like when it was finally our year. This is about how we stuck with the team when the stadium was half empty. This is about the blue jersey in our closet with the eagle on the front and the black one hanging next to it with the capitol building on the front. This is about all the 5, 12, 32 and 37 jerseys. This is about replacing Esa Tikkanen as our lasting Stanley Cup memory.

When the Washington Redskins have a rough year, those fans who can remember them think about those three Super Bowl wins. When the Washington Wizards fall short, those fans who can remember it think about the championship in 1978. Even if you’re too young to remember the Super Bowls or NBA championship, those banners still give your team a sense of validation. They have their little piece of history to be proud of.

That’s what this would mean. A Stanley Cup would be not just for the players, it would be for the fans who stuck it out through thick and thin, those fans who despite everything still supported their team. This win would be about the Capitals forever earning their spot in the heart of Washington sports alongside the Redskins and Wizards.

This would be about never having to tell ourselves again that someday all the love we pour into this team will pay off.

A Stanley Cup would mean finally getting to experience a championship and realizing, yeah, it was all worth it.

Let’s go Caps!

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