Nationals

There's chaos in the ACC's Coastal Division

There's chaos in the ACC's Coastal Division

There's no other way to say it: The ACC's Coastal Division is a mess.

A month is left in the season, and - for better or worse - the race remains wide open.

The preseason favorite is having its worst season in two decades. Last week's leader absorbed a 41-point beating from the first-place team in the other division. What could be the division's most complete team isn't allowed to win it.

And the struggles in the Coastal - and the rest of the league, really - aren't helping the ACC's two best teams in the BCS rankings.

No. 9 Florida State and No. 10 Clemson, both in the Atlantic Division, are in the top 10 of the human polls used by the BCS. But they each have an average computer ranking of No. 21 and are considered longshots to climb back into the national championship picture, in large part due to the mediocrity of their conference mates.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn't worried that the rest of the ACC is dragging down his team's ranking.

``When it's all said and done, we will be where we need to be,'' Swinney said.

But there's no escaping this: The team that advances out of the Atlantic Division and reaches the ACC championship game won't get much of a strength-of-schedule boost from their opponent in Charlotte. Not when the Coastal has nobody in the Top 25 and four two-loss teams topping the standings.

Yet the coaches don't see that as a negative - but a positive, because for the most part, everyone still has a shot.

``I'm glad it's a muddled mess that we're muddling in it,'' Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. ``That's a good thing. That's November and meaningful games.''

Since the ACC went to its bidivisional format in 2005, the Coastal generally has been the stronger of the two divisions. But Coastal teams are 5-7 so far against those in the Atlantic with six matchups remaining. Three of those are this week, so that record realistically could slip to 5-10.

In each of the past five seasons, the Coastal champion has reached a BCS bowl. But that figures to be a long shot this year. The winner is assured of having at least two, and probably three, conference losses - just the second time that's happened.

So while Florida State and Clemson rule the Atlantic, there doesn't seem to be anybody in charge in the Coastal. Duke, North Carolina and Miami are 3-2 in league play while Virginia Tech at 2-2.

``You look around, and everyone has their own issues,'' Virginia coach Mike London said.

Virginia Tech, the overwhelming preseason favorite, has struggled to establish the run and its defense has been surprisingly leaky at inopportune times - two factors that have them with their worst record through eight games since 1992. Yet the Hokies will share the division lead with a win at Miami on Thursday night.

Georgia Tech, picked to finish second, has won just once since Sept. 15, giving up 40 points in four of its last five games to fall into fifth place and jeopardize its streak of 15 straight bowl berths.

North Carolina might be the division's best all-around team, but the Tar Heels can't win it because of their one-year bowl ban and a new ACC policy doesn't allow ineligible teams to claim regular season or division titles.

``That was our No. 1 goal going into the season, was to win the Coastal Division,'' first-year coach Larry Fedora said. ``Whether or not we're recognized, it's still about our football team and what our goals are and what we can accomplish. We can't worry about what happened outside. It has nothing to do with this football team right now.''

Duke had first place all to itself last week and - in what could be seen as an illustration of the gap between the divisions - the Seminoles handed the Blue Devils a 48-7 beating.

Miami failed to reach the league title game in any of its previous eight seasons in the conference, but the Hurricanes remain very much alive despite a young defense that has given up at least 415 total yards to each of the seven Bowl Subdivision teams it has faced.

And last year's surprise story - Virginia - is losing all those close games that went the Cavaliers' way during their charmed 2011 season. As a result, they're the only team in either division winless in league play.

``You look at the frustration of being where we are right now ... a couple of games that we've lost have been within a touchdown. You win those games, it puts you kind of back in that having won some conference games and being .500 or slightly above .500,'' London said.

So, which Coastal team has the best shot to play in Charlotte on Dec. 1?

The winner of this week's Virginia Tech-Miami game would seem to have the inside track because both teams have manageable paths down the stretch. The Hokies' final four ACC opponents - which include the last-place teams in both divisions - have a combined conference record of 9-11. The Hurricanes' is 5-8.

Had the Tar Heels been eligible, they would seem to be in control because their final three league opponents are a combined 4-9. And, as topsy-turvy as this season has been in the Coastal, it's hard to rule out Duke - which finishes against Georgia Tech and Miami.

``Every time you win in November, the next game's bigger, because there's a real prize out there, and that's a serious prize,'' Cutcliffe said.

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AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C.; Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, S.C.; and Hank Kurz Jr. in Charlottesville, Va., contributed to this report.

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach… and if that leads us to Bryce Harper’s potential landing spot, then I present to you the yummiest reasons he should stay with the Washington Nationals.

In a video from TMZ, a paparazzi follows Harper to baggage claim and implores him for any hints toward where he is signing this offseason. The only true answer he got was that Harper likes a place called Steak 48 in Chicago. This surf-and-turf hot spot in the River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago has the audacity to serve “Maryland STYLE lump crab cakes.” Really, Bryce? Will the real thing convince you?!

On that note, let’s start off with the seafood we have to offer. This is the Mid-Atlantic, after all.

How can you work here April-September without eating local crabs in some form? I think that’s impossible. You can choose from hard shell or soft shell, but no shame in either game.

Live Chesapeake blue crabs can be bought at Captain White’s Seafood and other vendors on The Wharf off Maine Avenue. Otherwise, you can sit down and have them steamed for you at Quarterdeck, Ivy City Smokehouse, Bethesda Crab House or Captain Pell’s.

If Harper is more of a soft shell guy, all of those places also serve out-of-the-park crab cakes, but you can’t go wrong with Hank’s Oyster Bar, Old Ebbitt Grill, Chris’ Marketplace, or Clyde’s.

If the star really wants to dive in to local taste, he should eat Chesapeake Bay oysters from the largest estuary in America. My personal favorite selection is at Whaley’s (seafood tower on me, Bryce), but Rapphanock Oyster Bar, The Dabney, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black’s Bar & Kitchen can’t be beat.

I find it hard to believe the team hasn't had an outing at The Salt Line, the lively seafood spot just a short throw from Nats Park where teammate Ryan Zimmerman is an investor and co-owner.

Now that we’ve satisfied Harper’s iron intake, let’s break down his protein. In order to keep the superstar here, I want to make sure he knows that D.C. cares about providing a well-rounded diet.

Barbecued meats in general around here are delectable. Sitting in juxtaposition between the north and south, D.C. restaurants bring a mash-up of styles of smoked and sauced meats. Favorites are Federalist Pig, Hill Country, Fat Pete’s and Hardy’s BBQ truck.

However, if Bryce Harper show he’s as invested in authentic Nationals fans as our season tickets are in him, he should really pick up a half-smoke, the district’s original recipe for a spicy, thicker pork and beef dog that’s aggressively seasoned and sometimes served with chili sauce.

Could you imagine Harper making his announcement to stay over a half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl? I think even the panda statue would cry tears of joy.

Another hyper-local taste is mumbo sauce. While proven not originally from here, D.C. natives are enthusiastic about the special sauce. Yum’s is pretty well-known for carrying it.

Time for dessert! I think we can all agree that in the past 10 years, cupcakes have become iconic in the district with Georgetown Cupcakes, Baked & Wired and Sprinkles all having a home in Georgetown. To settle the debate, Baked & Wired is best. They are ranked #1 on Yelp if you don’t believe my own palette.

But what if it’s game night, you ask? D.C. has it’s hearty share of restaurants that are open even after extra innings. The Diner, Kramerbooks, Mandu, New Big Wong, Old Ebbitt Grill, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Amsterdam Falafelshop and Jumbo Slice are all here to keep you warm at night no matter what you’re craving post-victory. Need I go on?

Bryce reassured Nats fans and TMZ that he is “still a National right now.” Better eat these while you can, Bryce, or you’ll be sorry you didn't sign in one of the best food cities in the MLB.

Do you have any local food or restaurants you think will convince Bryce Harper to stay with the Washington Nationals this offseason? Send them to @NBCNationals or @rmhopmayer. Maybe we can throw together a friends-giving or holiday dinner for those that want him to stay our beloved Guest of Honor.

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Josh Norman wants to play 'early Santa,' will give away Redskins tickets

Josh Norman wants to play 'early Santa,' will give away Redskins tickets

Josh Norman caused quite a stir with his comments Sunday about the atmosphere at FedEx Field, and the Redskins cornerback made it clear he plans to do his part in making sure the stadium is packed for Sunday's game against the Texans. 

Norman told reporters Thursday he's going to be giving away "40 or 50" free tickets for the Houston game, online and perhaps even in person.

"Yes, I will be giving out free tickets," he said. "I'll be doing it on my socials as well, I think I'll probably post tonight or something about it."

"Who knows, you may see me coming out and being an early Santa somewhere in the mall or something, just handing out tickets."

And if you are one of the lucky fans who gets a ticket from "Santa Norman," he has specific instructions on how you should behave at Sunday's game:

"Whoever get(s) them, we want them loud and just obnoxious. Just really obnoxious."

Norman joins several Redskins players who have promised to give away tickets to the Texans game.

It may be November, but the Christmas spirit is alive and well at Redskins Park. 

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