Nationals

Steady K-State QB Klein a Heisman Trophy finalist

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Steady K-State QB Klein a Heisman Trophy finalist

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Collin Klein is the Heisman Trophy finalist who fits no mold.

He was lightly recruited out of high school and ultimately chose to attend Kansas State, a program that had fallen on hard times. He was turned into a wide receiver, and then went back to being a quarterback, where he sat on the bench and bided his time.

It finally came last year, when he led the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl, his bruises and bloody elbows and gritty toughness creating something that bordered on a cult following in the heart of the Flint Hills.

There's more to Klein, too, that stands out of the ordinary.

The guy plays the piano and the mandolin - how many college kids even know what a mandolin looks like? He's married to the daughter of one of the greatest players in Kansas State history, but when they gather for the holidays, they prefer card games to dwelling on the pressures of big-time football.

``He's a great story, and it's a story that will evolve over time, as we get old,'' said Kansas State wide receiver Chris Harper. ``It's a story about a guy that was humble, one of the most humble guys you'll ever meet.''

Harper certainly knows who would get his vote for college football's most prestigious award, and it wouldn't be Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, though he admits that both of the other Heisman finalists are deserving of everything that's come their way.

It would be the fifth-year senior who led a ragtag group of guys predicted to finish somewhere in the middle of the Big 12 to the second Big 12 title in school history and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. The kid from Loveland, Colo., with the nickname ``Optimus Klein.''

``In my vote, he should get it,'' Harper said of the Heisman Trophy, which will be awarded Saturday night in New York. ``Being a biased guy watching football, the dude - he's done some crazy things. I don't understand how he goes out there and has one bad game and he's already out of it. I didn't know it goes off of the last game you play. I thought it went off the whole season.''

Yes, therein lays the biggest knock against Klein.

Remarkably consistent all season, Klein had driven the Wildcats to the top of the BCS standings with two games left, a berth in the national championship game tantalizingly close. But he responded with a three-interception game in a loss at Baylor, and all those aspirations were dashed in just one night.

Most people thought Klein's Heisman hopes went with them.

But with Manziel and Te'o having already finished their regular seasons, Klein took the field last Saturday night with a captive national audience, needing to lead Kansas State past Texas to win the Big 12 title. He threw for 184 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 103 yards and two scores in a 42-24 romp on senior night.

``Well, I don't know about everybody else, but I don't know anybody who means more to his football team than Collin Klein,'' said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. ``I think he's grown in the program over the course of time. He's had a major impact, obviously. I think certainly the quality of play that he brings to the table, but as I've said so many times, the old adage, he's a far better person than he is anything else.''

Klein has accounted for 37 touchdowns this season, including at least three in eight games, and became the first quarterback in the BCS era to run for at least 20 TDs and throw for 10 in back-to-back seasons.

The only players to have done it even once won the Heisman Trophy: Auburn's Cam Newton in 2010, Florida's Tim Tebow in 2007 and Eric Crouch of Nebraska in 2000.

``I'm just honored with this opportunity that the Lord has provided me,'' Klein said. ``I'm so proud to represent K-State in this, because I feel like my road is very synonymous and in line with the K-State way. It's been a process; it's been a journey. There have been a lot of ups and downs.''

Mostly ups, though: Klein threw for 2,490 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, and ran for 980 yards. He already holds school records for career rushing TDs and touchdown responsibility, is second in scoring and third in total yards, passing efficiency and total attempts.

All the numbers certainly make a compelling case for Klein to do what Michael Bishop could not in 1998 - bring home the Heisman Trophy. Bishop, who led the Wildcats to the brink of the national title game, finished second in the voting to runaway winner Ricky Williams, the star running back at Texas.

``He's a great guy, and that's really the highlight of who he is, and his individual success is definitely a tribute to our team,'' Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown said. ``We definitely as a team feel like he's deserving of representing the Heisman candidate, but just having the opportunity is great in itself.''

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Bryce Harper to the Dodgers? Looking at the chances Harper ends up in Los Angeles

Bryce Harper to the Dodgers? Looking at the chances Harper ends up in Los Angeles

Winter has been coming for quite a while for the Washington Nationals. Specifically, Winter 2018. And much like last season of HBO’s beloved Game of Thrones, winter has finally arrived.

Bryce Harper has potentially played his final game in a Nationals uniform, and all fans can do over the course of the next few months is play the waiting game. Instead of sitting around twiddling our thumbs, however, we’re going to take a look at some of the major players who will be active in Harper’s free agency this winter.

We’ll do our best to gauge how genuine each team’s interest in the superstar is (spoiler alert: they are all very interested) and try to guess how good their chances are of landing him. 

Bovada updated their odds on Harper’s ultimate landing spot after the regular season ended, and they’ve got the Nationals as the fifth-most likely team for him to (re)join. Number one on that list was the Chicago Cubs.

Number two? The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Narrative

Some fans were surprised to see the Cubs top Bovada’s odds, and I expect even more will think the Dodgers at number two is curious. We don’t have years of subtle hints, personal connections, and conspiracy theories to link Harper with Los Angeles, like we did with Chicago. Still, there are a few dots here worth connecting. 

The most obvious (or, at least, the most recent) came this past August. After the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in July, Major League Baseball teams have the month of August to trade players who pass through waivers. These are referred to as revocable waivers, because even if a player is claimed, the team that owns his rights is allowed to pull him back. 

When a player is claimed in August, the claiming team has 48 hours to try to strike a deal with the original team. It’s essentially a formality for every player to be placed on waivers in August, knowing teams can revoke them at any point. Still, fans online were all over Twitter when it was reported that the mystery team to have placed a claim on Bryce Harper was none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers.

No deal ended up being reached between the Dodgers and the Nats, and it’s entirely possible the Dodgers only made the claim to keep Harper from going to another National League contender. Still, it’s hard to view the near-move as anything other than a sign of interest from the team with the deepest pockets in baseball.

That last line is important, as it plays into the narrative for Harper-to-LA as well. The Dodgers are the Yankees of the West Coast (and, in reality, probably have more money to spend than the Evil Empire). Ever since an ownership group including Magic Johnson acquired the Dodgers in 2012 for a staggering $2.15 billion, the Dodgers have flexed their financial might over the rest of the baseball world. 

Let’s also not forget one of Harper’s biggest “flaws,” his rooting interests in Duke, the Cowboys, and yes, the Los Angeles Lakers. Playing in L.A. for a team owned by the greatest player in Lakers history has to appeal to him on some level, even if it won’t end up being the most important factor.

There are plenty of connections to make with Harper and the Nationals, Cubs, and Yankees, but more often than not, free agents tend to follow the money. If the Dodgers are inclined to pay whatever it costs to sign Harper, then it’s hard to imagine another team topping them. That’s narrative enough for them to be considered strongly in the mix.

The Roster

Of course, there’s still the question of if the Dodgers actually would be inclined to pay whatever it costs. Just because a franchise can afford to sign someone doesn’t always mean it makes the most sense, from either a financial standpoint or roster construction.

The Dodgers, as mentioned earlier, have more money than God. According to Spotrac, their Opening Day payrolls in the last few seasons are outrageous.

2018 - $199.5 million (3rd in baseball)
2017 - $259.1 million (1st)
2016 - $268.7 million (1st)
2015 - $301.7 million (1st)
2014 - $246.3 million (1st)
2013 - $239.8 million (1st)

Those numbers are just plain silly. In 2015, the Dodgers spent more than twice as much on payroll than all but five teams. Outside of a flukey “low” spending season this past year, they haven’t just lead the league for five straight seasons, but have run away with it year in and year out. Spending more than $300 million in a season is wild.

So, obviously, the Dodgers can throw money at any problem (or player). They’re probably itching to get back on top of the heap after not even cracking $200 million in 2018. But does it make sense from a team-building perspective?

None of the team’s pending free agents on Spotrac are outfielders, so there’s no obvious hole to fill. One of the strengths of the Dodgers is their positional versatility, which adds to their depth but makes it harder to evaluate their offseason outlook. Cody Bellinger started 50 games in the outfield in 2018, and appeared in 81, but while his versatility is a nice bonus, he’s ultimately an athletic first baseman, and he certainly wouldn’t get in the way of Harper playing for that reason.

That said, if the Dodgers retain Brian Dozier at second, then Max Muncy would need to play first, which pushes Bellinger to the outfield. Plus, Chris Taylor can play second, shortstop, third, and the outfield.  You can see where the headache comes in.

Still, for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume Bellinger is off the table for outfield playing time, but bear in mind that Taylor could find his way out there on occasion.

Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernandez, and Matt Kemp are the remaining outfielders. Puig, Pederson and Hernandez are in their arbitration years, and almost certainly will be kept around at reasonable deals. It’s hard to evaluate the three of them relative to each other. Each hit 20-25 home runs, and each hit between .248 and .267. Pederson has struggled to live up to his immense talents, and the same could be said for Puig. Hernandez is yet another Dodger who plays all over the diamond.

Then you have Kemp, who would have been easy to rule out entering 2018 but then proceeded to have one of the best comeback seasons in baseball. He hit .290 and made his first All-Star game since 2012, and he’s owed a ton of money next season.

None of that includes Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers’ best prospect and one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. He probably already should have been an everyday Major League outfielder in 2018, and there’s no way Los Angeles can continue to keep him in the minors next year. He needs to play every day, and certainly will get that chance.

Ultimately, the Dodgers have a ton of bodies to play the outfield already. That said, Puig and Kemp will no longer be under contract after next season, and outside of Verdugo there are no clear-cut future standouts in the Dodgers outfield. The fit for Harper, position-wise, is fairly weak compared to the other contenders. 

At the end of the day, however, none of their current guys are necessarily better than Harper, and if the Dodgers are willing to deal with a crowded outfield for one season, things shore up nicely in 2020 and beyond. A future outfield with Verdugo and Harper would be pretty appealing to any team, especially considering how relatively cheap Verdugo will be until he hits free agency.

The Odds

Call it a gut feeling, but at the end of the day, I just don’t see Harper in Dodger blue. There are plenty of factors in which they are one of the top three choices for him, but they aren’t a clear leader in any. The Cubs have more personal connections, the Phillies are more of a positional fit, and the Nats are the “hometown” team. The one area in which they stand out, however, is possibly (probably) (okay almost definitely) the most important: money.

It will be telling to find out what their best offer ends up being, but for now, I think the +500 odds are actually pretty spot on. I’d take issue with the Cubs being so much further ahead of them as the betting favorites, but they should probably be ahead of the Dodgers at least. I just wouldn’t have them so far out ahead of the pack. 

The Dodgers have a lot going for them. Harper has always wanted to play in a big name city for a big name franchise, and he has always wanted to be the highest-paid player in the game. Plus, getting to play for Magic Johnson doesn’t hurt. The Dodgers can offer all those things. The only question remaining is if they want to?

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2018 Power Rankings: Patriots prove they still got it, Rams remain top dog

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USA Today

2018 Power Rankings: Patriots prove they still got it, Rams remain top dog

In a thriller in Foxboro, the Patriots handed Kansas City its first loss of the season.

It wasn't pretty but the Rams slipped past the Broncos to remain the lone unbeaten in the NFL.

Remember when the Lions beat New England on Sunday Night Football and folks were ready to bury the Patriots? Yeah... how did that 'hot take' work out?

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 7 NFL POWER RANKINGS

Will the real Redskins please stand up? A win over the Panthers moved the Skins up three spots. Give the Redskins this, they are consistently unpredictable.

The Ravens are on the rise and Marcus Mariota is happy the Titans won't have to play Baltimore again.

So the Cowboys have an offense now? Or does Jacksonville not have an elite defense anymore?

And the Bears let Brock Osweiler throw for 380 yards. Yes. You read that correct. 380 yards. 

How far will the Bears drop because of that dreadful defensive performance? 

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 7 NFL POWER RANKINGS