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Stingy Iowa St D gets final shot in Liberty Bowl

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Stingy Iowa St D gets final shot in Liberty Bowl

AMES, Iowa (AP) Iowa State might have the best defense no one outside of Ames has heard of this season.

The Cyclones held 11 of their 12 opponents below their season scoring average, and half of them at least 10 points under what they normally got.

Iowa State's shaky offense is the main reason why the Cyclones are just 6-6 heading into the Liberty Bowl against Tulsa (10-3) on Dec. 31.

So for the defense, a rematch of the season opener against the Golden Hurricane - who scored 12 points below their average - marks one last shot to show the nation just how strong they've been all season.

``Our goal is to hold teams to no points. Obviously holding teams below their average is a priority, but we also strive to do better,'' first-team All-Big 12 linebacker A.J. Klein said. ``We're just trying to play the best defense we can. If they score 30 points and they still win, it's what happens.''

Iowa State's 38-23 win over Tulsa nearly four months ago was the start of a remarkable run for a program that's often struggled defensively in the past. Though the Cyclones finished 36th nationally in scoring defense, they did so while playing eight teams that scored at least 31 points a game.

The Cyclones held Iowa to just six points at Kinnick Stadium, explosive Texas Tech to 24 points and TCU to just 23 in a road win.

The Cyclones gave Fiesta Bowl-bound Kansas State one of its toughest challenges of the season and held Baylor, the nation's fifth best offense, to a season-low 21 points.

Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia also failed to reach their season averages. Of course, the Cyclones lost all three of those games - but it certainly wasn't the defense's fault.

``I'd like to think we play with a chip on our shoulders, as if we have something to prove to people regardless of how the outside world sees us,'' Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott said.

The Liberty Bowl will be the final showcase for a number of Cyclones who've helped turn around the defense. Knott will miss the game with a shoulder injury, but Klein, senior lineman Jake McDonough, a first-team all-league pick by the coaches, and defensive backs Durrell Givens - back from injury for the bowl game - and Jeremy Reeves will all be playing for the last time at Iowa State.

``I want to go out a winner,'' Klein said. ``It's important to me, and it's important to the rest of the senior class.''

The offense, which scored just 25.2 points a game, appears to have the potential to be much better in 2013. Redshirt freshman Sam Richardson looks like he's has stabilized the quarterback position, which had three different starters this season. The Cyclones also have tremendous depth at running back, and they should be able to plug in replacements everywhere else with relative ease.

There will be much more uncertainty on defense, where a number of promising but unproven players will compete for playing time.

But it's a unit that is slowly establishing itself as the trademark of the program under fourth-year head coach Paul Rhoads, a longtime defensive coordinator, and current coordinator Wally Burnham.

``To have the coaches we have, and for them to be around for this amount of time, is unbelievable in college,'' Knott said. When you can do that, you set up a great system and groundwork for people to just come in like I did and like (Klein) did and just learn every single year and get better and get smarter and quicker and faster. If that continues, the sky is the limit for the defense.''

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Rangers

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Rangers

The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It’s hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The New York Rangers.

In February 2018, the Rangers did a very un-Rangers-like thing. The team sent a letter to their fans declaring the plan to rebuild the team. Now just over a year later, it did not take long for New York to make a splash in the offseason again.

The Rangers landed the prize of free agency in Artemi Panarin, added free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba, drafted Kaapo Kakko with the second-overall pick in the draft and traded for prospect defenseman Adam Fox. They also managed to avoid a restricted free agent standoff with Pavel Buchnevich.

All these moves combined put the Rangers among the most improved teams in the league. It did not take long, but New York was able to shift its team from a group of veterans not good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup to a team full of youth and potential.

The future certainly looks brighter for this team in the future than it previously had, but despite all the improvements there are still plenty of questions about the present roster.

While New York certainly got younger, star goalie Henrik Lundqvist did not.

Lundqvist had an up-and-down season last year. His first half of last season was good enough to get him to the All-Star Game. He struggled in the latter half of the season and finished with a save percentage of only .907 and a GAA of 3.07. He is not a goalie who seems to do well taking a backseat, but Alexander Georgiev played well enough to earn more playing time. All of this makes it difficult to determine just what the split between the two netminders is going to be heading into this season.

In front of the crease, the additions of Trouba and Fox look like they will give the Rangers two new top-four defenseman to plug in. That should certainly help a team that ranked 23rd in the NHL last season in goals against per game with 3.26 and could potentially take some of the pressure off Lundqvist.

Mika Zibanejad returns as the team’s top center after what was easily his best season in the NHL with career highs in goals, assists and points. He was seen as a second-line center going into last season, but certainly took advantage of the larger role offered by New York. The concerns over whether he can handle a top-line role may not be as prevalent as last year, but I still seem him as a poor man's No. 1 center.

The offense is also likely to lose some of its depth before the start of the season due to salary cap constraints.

The Rangers sit with just $1 million remaining in projected cap space and still have RFAs Brendan Lemieux and Anthony Deangelo left to sign. When looking into what the team's options are for freeing up space, you have to wonder if players like Chris Kreider and Vladislav Namestnikov -- who are both entering the final year of their contracts -- could both be moved before the summer is over.

Panarin is a great addition and undeniably a superstar, but he cannot carry a team by himself. When he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and became the offensive focal point of the team, he was only able to lead the Blue Jackets to a single playoff series win in his two seasons there. That was a much deeper team than the Rangers appear to be if they should lose Kreider or Namestnikov.

Money decisions will continue to loom over this team even after a decision is made on those players. The cap situation was dire enough that the Rangers bought out the remaining two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract. While he was underperforming, the combined buyouts of Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner will leave New York with $5,394,444 of dead cap space in 2019-20 and nearly $7.5 million of dead cap space in 2020-21. These are not just bad contracts that can be packaged in a trade and sent away, that is dead cap space that the team is stuck with. That is a massive amount for a team that sure looks like it wants to compete for the playoffs sooner rather than later.

You still have to count the Rangers among the most improved teams this offseason, but the hill they had to climb and still must continue to climb may have been much steeper than many anticipated. There is still a lot of work left to do in Manhattan.

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Orioles Roundup: Orioles allow 13 unanswered runs in loss to Red Sox

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Orioles Roundup: Orioles allow 13 unanswered runs in loss to Red Sox

The O's continue to struggle against their AL East foes, including the Red Sox. The bats stayed hot, but the arms were unable to slow down the Boston lineup in Fenway. Here are the news and notes surrounding the team.

PLAYER UPDATES:

SP Ty Blach allowed five runs on five hits in 5.1 innings, walking three and striking out six. The Orioles' hot start is the only thing that saved him from being saddled with the loss.

OF Trey Mancini continued to torture the Red Sox, knocking in two runs with an early single to extend the Baltimore lead to 5-0. Mancini remains one home run shy of his first 30-homer season.

3B Renato Nunez crushed a three-run bomb in the first inning to start the scoring in Sunday's game, though it wound up his only hit of the afternoon.

C Chance Sisco has his afternoon end early after being hit in the groin by a foul tip. Team doctors are still evaluating the injury, and they hope to have more information by Monday. Manager Brandon Hyde is optimistic Sisco will avoid an Injured List stint.

INJURIES: 

C Chance Sisco: Groin, Day-to-Day

OF Dwight Smith Jr.:  Calf, expected to return in late August 

RP Josh Rogers: Elbow, out indefinitely

SP Alex Cobb: Back, out until 2020

DH Mark Trumbo: Knee, expected to return in September 

COMING UP:

Monday, 8/19: Royals at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Tuesday, 8/20: Royals at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Wednesday, 8/21: Royals at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Source Credit: Rotoworld 

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