Redskins

Swinney again has Clemson on verge of 11 wins

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Swinney again has Clemson on verge of 11 wins

ATLANTA (AP) Dabo Swinney again has Clemson on the verge of an 11-victory season, a milestone reached by only three teams in school history.

Reaching 11 wins might convince Swinney to call his No. 14 Tigers great. It's a title he's willing to place on No. 9 Louisiana State, which will face Clemson on Monday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Clemson (10-2) is coming off a 27-17 loss to in-state rival South Carolina. It finished the 2011 season at 10-4, when a lopsided 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl kept the Tigers from 11 wins.

Swinney said LSU (10-2) deserves to be called great because the Tigers won a recent national championship (2007) and played for the title last year. He's not as generous when describing his own team.

``LSU is a great team,'' Swinney said. ``We're not a great team, not yet. We think we're on our way from a program standpoint. LSU is a great football team. They're a great program and they've earned that with the consistency that they've played with. They played for a national championship less than 12 months ago and were a play or two away from being in it again this year.

``They represent where we want to go from a program standpoint to that type of national competitive consistency, so it's a great opportunity for us.''

Clemson finished 12-0 in its 1981 national championship season. It was 11-0 in 1948 and 11-1 in 1978. No other Clemson team has won more than 10 games.

``So 11 wins in Clemson history has been a pretty rare thing,'' Swinney said. ``And to be at the doorstep of that for the second year in a row is pretty special.''

Swinney knows it would mean more to reach 11 wins, especially against one of the Southeastern Conference's most prominent teams.

Clemson scored at least 37 points in 10 of its 12 games. The exceptions were its two games against SEC teams - a 26-19 opening win over Auburn at the Georgia Dome and a 27-17 loss to South Carolina in its final regular-season game.

Now with another SEC opponent there are more questions about Clemson's ability to maintain its typical high-scoring pace against a more physical SEC defense.

``I could see how a team outside the SEC could play with a chip on their shoulder because a lot of people say we're the best conference,'' said LSU safety Eric Reid. ``I know they're going to come out with that sort of intensity from the jump and we're going to have to match it.''

Swinney has tried to prepare his team for LSU, which ranks eighth in the nation in total defense, with especially tough bowl practices.

``LSU is a very physical team, have big guys up front and big backs,'' defensive end Malliciah Goodman said Friday. ``So you just have to prepare to be physical with them for four quarters. That's the thing that we've been doing like coach Swinney talked about with practices, just having that mentality of it's going to be a four-quarter physical battle. You have to prepare your mind that way and fight that way.''

Clemson ranked sixth in the nation with its average of 42.3 points in its spread offense, utilizing quarterback Tajh Boyd and the speed of running back Andre Ellington and such receivers as DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.

Swinney said he does not agree with those who say a spread offense can't hold up in a test of physical teams.

``I mean, people get caught up in you have to get an I-formation to be physical,'' Swinney said. ``That's the furthest thing from the truth. But it's like saying that you can only run the option if you're a triple-option team or something. We have elements of everything in our offense. And we pride ourselves on being a very physical football team. We do it a little bit differently than maybe LSU.''

Defensive tackle Josh Watson said a win over LSU could help change the national perception of Clemson's program.

``This is a huge game, just for momentum in the offseason but also to take a step as a program to get into the elite teams in the nation,'' Watson said. ``We're about 10 plays from being undefeated this year and we want to step into that top tier of teams and be recognized as a top 10 team every year, in the preseason and at the end of the season. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best, and LSU is one of the best teams in the country.''

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

JUPITER, Fla. -- Police in Florida have charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution, saying they have videotape of him paying for a sex act inside an illicit massage parlor.

Jupiter police told reporters Friday that the 77-year-old Kraft hasn't been arrested. A warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified.

The charge comes amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in the area surrounding Palm Beach County. About 200 arrest warrants have been issued in recent days and more are expected.

The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this month in Atlanta. The team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update: A spokesperson for Robert Kraft issued a statement, denying Craft's involvement. "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity," a spokesperson said, via Michael Del Moro. "Because this is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further. 

This is a developing story. Visit NBC Sports Boston for the latest Robert Kraft news and updates. 

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Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fans on the sidewalks at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches are held back by wire fence, just a few feet away from players clicking past in spikes on concrete. It emulates two priorities: access and the idea the team’s managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, had when he was a kid at spring training.

“You want to be able to see your favorites,” Lerner said Friday.

When Lerner, 65, comes to West Palm Beach, he still does that. He stops in the clubhouse to distribute handshakes and hugs. Running into Anthony Rendon on a crosswalk near the fields really lit up Lerner, who is still using a cane following an amputation of his lower left leg in 2017 necessitated by the diagnosis of spindle cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Not in West Palm Beach is a player Lerner had a close relationship with. On the day Manny Machado was introduced in San Diego, Bryce Harper remained, to the astonishment of many, unemployed. 

Lerner last addressed Harper’s free agency when he sat for radio interviews, Dec. 10, the day Patrick Corbin was introduced. He said the Nationals were no longer in the mix for Harper. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract which had an expiration date: when free agency began, it would be retracted. Harper declined, vaulting the baseball world into a months-long saga filled with tension, misinformation and growing exasperation.

“Nothing’s certainly changed on our end; we’ve moved on, as I said back then,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington. “We had to. There was no way we could wait around. Bryce I’m sure will make his decision, hopefully in the next few days. But, we filled out our roster and like I said, we wish him nothing but the best. There’s always that -- the door’s cracked a little bit. I have no clue at this point what they’re up to. I mean, we really haven’t heard from them in a couple months.”

The prospect of a wait was of prime concern before the season ended. Washington used its personal window to negotiate with Harper, producing a lucrative baseline offer, with the aforementioned end date. Not long after, Corbin received a six-year, $140 million from the organization, which stood throughout the offseason as the benchmark in both length and total value prior to Machado’s decision. If Harper accepted the Nationals original offer, they would not have been able to pay Corbin, according to a source.

The organization moved forward plugging holes at catcher, second base and in the bullpen. It deemed the current outfield foursome as more than satisfactory. Also looming was the possibility of another year over the competitive balance tax, something that prompted the team to start shuffling finances late last season when it was clear the playoffs were not an option.

“It’s a pretty severe penalty if you go over and it’s been our goal all year to stay under that,” Lerner said.

Which complicates the future. Anthony Rendon is entering the final year of his contract. Rendon and the team are open to an extension, which has been discussed here and there for 18 months. Rendon reiterated his position when speaking with reporters earlier this week. Lerner turned his visual affection for Rendon into words Friday. 

“We love Tony to death,” Lerner said. “He’s certainly one of the greatest players in the game today. He’s an even finer person. His activities with the youth baseball academy back in D.C. are phenomenal. He does it under the radar. It’s very important to him. Just a great example of the way a professional athlete should conduct himself. Like I said, he’s one of my favorites for a reason.”

Washington rose perennial losers upon coming to Washington to an organization with annual prominent expectations. It chose not to retain manager Dusty Baker, instead hiring Dave Martinez in an attempt to push the team beyond the first round. Martinez’s arrival came with the edict that something more than division titles and first-round bow outs were now necessary for the team. The Nationals finished 82-80 last year during a season filled with injuries, under-performance and often mediocre fundamental baseball. Lerner suffered through with the irritation of a typical fan.

“I have my routine [following losses]. I go into a closet and scream a little after,” Lerner said with a laugh. “No, no. That’s one thing that’s good about baseball. You’re going to play the next day. But I go home. I’m totally depressed. I won’t turn on the sports news or anything and get up the next morning, it’s a new day, get up and go after it again today. When I’m sitting down there, I’m very passionate as a fan. I’m yelling at the umpires like everybody else. I want to win. I hate losing exhibition games let alone regular-season games.”

Enter 2019. The Nationals are amid the favorites in a taught National League East. Short-term fixes frame the team’s mainstays. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin possess the three long-term commitments in the clubhouse. Rendon may be next. The Nationals want to retain that talent level, avoid the tax and put together a team with a chance to win the division or more. Harper’s talent made that possible when here. His price made it difficult going forward. They decided to try it without him. 

“Our goal every year is certainly to make the playoffs,” Lerner said. “In reality, we look back where we are in the world and where our needs are. It’s not just…certainly, we don’t want to go crazy with free agency. But we said when we first got the team, we’re going to build up the minor leagues, we’re going to get to a point where we can start to dabble in free agency, which we did with Jayson Werth, and when we find a need or a special player, we’re going to go after that player if it makes monetary sense for us. Our philosophy has never changed but, certainly, our goal is to make the playoffs and hopefully deep into the playoffs.”
 

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