Underdogs get little love in college football

Underdogs get little love in college football

It seems the only folks happy about No. 16 Northern Illinois playing in the Orange Bowl against No. 13 Florida State are the Huskies and their fans.

When Louisiana Tech got left out of the postseason all together, much criticism was directed at an athletic director who had the nerve to want more than scraps for his program and little at a bowl system that saves room for .500 teams - or worse - but not for the 9-3 Bulldogs.

College football definitely does not embrace the underdog.

Worse, the bowl system gives few opportunities for David to even get a chance to slay Goliath. And when it does, it seems forced. So instead of the Huskies being celebrated, they are scorned by many for doing nothing more than having a really good season and taking advantage of a flawed system.

Hey, I'm sure NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch and his teammates would have liked to have seen Oklahoma play Florida, too.

As for Louisiana Tech, athletic director Bruce Van De Velde has taken quite a bit of heat for not jumping on an invite to the Independence Bowl to play Louisiana-Monroe. Instead, he calculated that the high-scoring Bulldogs could grab a slightly more appealing bowl trip than the hour drive from Ruston to Shreveport. He calculated wrong.

Seems the more troubling part of the Bulldogs' plight is a system in which Iowa State and Purdue, at 6-6, get the bids that could have gone to Louisiana Tech. Or that the NCAA felt compelled to let Georgia Tech, at 6-7, in the postseason.

Louisiana Tech, which averages 52 points a game and played toe-to-toe with Texas A&M, against Southern California in the Sun Bowl sounds a whole lot better than Georgia Tech vs. USC.

But that's not the way it works in college football, where the underdog might as well take a walk.


New Mexico Bowl

Nevada (plus 9 1/2) vs. Arizona

Good offenses, bad defenses. The bowl season kicks off with a wild one ... ARIZONA 55-38.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Toledo (plus 10 1/2) vs. Utah State

MAC vs. WAC. Score one for WACtion ... UTAH STATE 28-17.



Poinsettia Bowl

San Diego State (plus 2 1/2) vs. BYU

Cougars have won four of last five bowl appearances ... BYU 20-14.



Beef `O' Brady's Bowl

Ball State (plus 7) vs. UCF

Player to watch: Knights KR Quincy McDuffie, has three TD returns .... BALL STATE 24-23.



New Orleans Bowl

East Carolina (plus 5 1/2) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Ragin' Cajuns won first bowl game here last year ... LA.-LAFAYETTE 38-31.



Boise State (minus 5 1/2) vs. Washington

Broncos have won three straight bowls ... WASHINGTON 23-21.



Hawaii Bowl

SMU (plus 12) vs. Fresno State

Last time June Jones returned to Hawaii (2008), Mustangs won ... FRESNO STATE 42-14.



Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Central Michigan (plus 5 1/2) vs. Western Kentucky

First bowl for Hilltoppers ... WESTERN KENTUCKY 28-17.



Military Bowl

Bowling Green (plus 7) vs. San Jose State

Round 2 in MAC vs. WAC ... BOWLING GREEN 27-21.

Belk Bowl

Duke (plus 7 1/2) vs. Cincinnati

Another Bearcats bowl game without the coach who got them there ... CINCINNATI 34-21.

Holiday Bowl

Baylor (plus 1) vs. UCLA

Old-school Holiday Bowl. Expect plenty of points ... UCLA 50-45.



Independence Bowl

Louisiana-Monroe (minus 7) vs. Ohio

Pair of September darlings face-off in December ... LA.-MONROE 37-24.

Russell Athletic Bowl

Virginia Tech (minus 2 1/2) vs. Rutgers

Hokies 0-2 against Big East this season ... RUTGERS 20-16.


Meineke Car Care Bowl

Minnesota (plus 12 1/2) vs. Texas Tech

Gophers won two Big Ten games. And one was against Illinois ... TEXAS TECH 48-10.



Armed Forces Bowl(equals)

Rice (plus 1) vs. Air Force

Both teams like to run. Neither can stop the run ... AIR FORCE 38-35.

Fight Hunger Bowl(equals)

Arizona State (minus 14) vs. Navy

Navy is rarely fun to play in a bowl ... ARIZONA STATE 35-24

Pinstripe Bowl

Syracuse (plus 4) vs. West Virginia

NFL prospects playing quarterback for both teams ... WEST VIRGINIA 48-42.

Alamo Bowl

Texas (plus 2) vs. Oregon State

Longhorns try to avoid going into offseason on three-game skid ... TEXAS 28-24

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Michigan State (plus 2 1/2) vs. TCU

In a year full of excruciating losses for Spartans, another ... TCU 17-16



Music City Bowl

Vanderbilt (minus 6 1/2) vs. N.C. State

Player to watch: Commodores WR Jordan Matthews .... N.C. STATE 28-24.

Sun Bowl

Georgia Tech (plus 10) vs. Southern California

Not exactly the way most figured Matt Barkley would end his career ... USC 45-21.

Liberty Bowl

Iowa State (plus 3) vs. Tulsa

Golden Hurricane, known for offense, bring pretty good D ... TULSA 23-17.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

LSU (minus 3) vs. Clemson

SEC Tigers ACC Tigers ... LSU 31-21.



Heart of Dallas Bowl

Purdue (plus 18 1/2) vs. Oklahoma State

Cowboys are better than 7-5 record ... OKLAHOMA STATE 45-24.

Gator Bowl

Mississippi State (minus 2) vs. Northwestern

Wildcats last and only bowl win: 1949 Rose Bowl ... NORTHWESTERN 38-37.

Capital One Bowl

Georgia (minus 8) vs. Nebraska

Only two bowl teams have worse turnover margin than Nebraska's ... GEORGIA 28-21.

Outback Bowl

South Carolina (minus 4) vs. Michigan

Players to watch: Gamecocks DE Jadeveon Clowney vs. Wolverines OT Taylor Lewan ... SOUTH CAROLINA 24-13.

Rose Bowl

Stanford (minus 6 1/2) vs. Wisconsin

Power vs. power ... STANFORD 24-18.

Orange Bowl

Northern Illinois (plus 15) vs. Florida State

Can Huskies pull a Boise State? ... FLORIDA STATE 35-14.


Sugar Bowl

Florida (minus 13 1/2) vs. Louisville

Gators D will be toughest test by far for Cardinals QB Teddy Bridgewater ... FLORIDA 31-14.



Fiesta Bowl

Kansas State (plus 9 1/2) vs. Oregon

Would make for a nice semifinal ... KANSAS STATE 35-31.



Cotton Bowl

Texas A&M (minus 3) vs. Oklahoma

Heisman winner have won last three bowl games ... OKLAHOMA 38-37


SATURDAY, JAN. 5(equals)

BBVA Compass Bowl

Pittsburgh (plus 1 1/2) vs. Mississippi

Three trips in a row to Birmingham, Ala., for Panthers ... MISSISSIPPI 31-24.



Kent State (plus 4) vs. Arkansas State

Player to watch: Golden Flashes RB Dri Archer ... ARKANSAS STATE 35-30.



BCS National Championship

Notre Dame (plus 7 1/2) vs. Alabama

Roll Repeat! ... ALABAMA 21-10.


Championship weekend record: 7-3 (straight); 4-5 (vs. points)

Season record: 218-51 (straight); 126-116 (vs. points)

Best bets: 5-9.

Upset specials: 8-6.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at

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After seeing Aaron Rodgers go down in 2017, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knows how to support a backup QB

After seeing Aaron Rodgers go down in 2017, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knows how to support a backup QB

It's a new team but the same storyline for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2018.

Last year while with the Packers, Clinton-Dix was there as Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone against the Vikings in Week 6. 

Now a Redskin, the safety is coming off of a game where he and his teammates watched Alex Smith badly break his leg while facing the Texans.

So, in just more than 13 months, he's seen two franchise faces go down with long-term injuries. That means when he talks about how the 'Skins can succeed with Colt McCoy leading the way, he's speaking from experience as opposed to trying to imagine it.

"You just have to rally behind him," Clinton-Dix said Tuesday, just two days before Washington's showdown in Dallas on Thanksgiving. "Colt is a great quarterback, he's a winning quarterback. I have a lot of confidence in him. The way he approaches the game, I have a lot of confidence in that as well."

The defensive back is just the latest to compliment how McCoy prepares, something he's been doing for years now, just waiting for his next opportunity to come up. Now it's here, and Clinton-Dix wants the defense to make things as easy as possible on the passer.

"Find a way to give more," he said about what he can do to contribute from the other side of things.

Rodgers did eventually return for Green Bay, but by that time, an inexperienced Brett Hundley had slogged through a 3-6 record, and the Packers were too far out of the playoff hunt, even for Rodgers.

This time around, McCoy's veteran presence is something that's easing Clinton-Dix's mind. 

"I'm not worried about Colt," he said. "I'm excited to watch him go out and play."

Clinton-Dix was worried about McCoy at one point, though.

The defender played for Alabama from 2011-2013 but was paying attention to the signal caller when Texas squared up with the Crimson Tide in the 2010 BCS National Championship. That was a contest that McCoy had to leave early on after hurting his shoulder.

That exit affected history, according to Clinton-Dix.

"If it wasn't for him getting hurt back when he was playing against the Alabama boys, I'm pretty sure we would've never won that game."


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Nats could add another catcher beyond Suzuki, but don't expect it to be J.T. Realmuto

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Nats could add another catcher beyond Suzuki, but don't expect it to be J.T. Realmuto

The story of his signing was simple: Mike Rizzo came to Dan Lozano, Kurt Suzuki’s agent, early and with a direct offer. He told Lozano that Suzuki was “their guy” in this offseason’s hunt for a primary catcher. Suzuki, 35, was pleased Rizzo offered a two-year deal instead of one. His former team, the Atlanta Braves, also offered him a contract at the end of the season. Suzuki declined, hopped into free agency, and decided promptly to return to Washington.

Boom. The end. 

“[Rizzo] told my agent from day one that I’m their guy,” Suzuki said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Whether I’m a guy that catches 120 games or 90 games, or whatever they want me to do, I just told them I will be ready to do whatever you want. And he said I am going to play, obviously. I just said, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’ So whether that’s 80, 90, 100, 120, it really doesn’t matter to me.”

The question is what the Nationals will need him to do. Room remains for another veteran catcher since Suzuki will reportedly average $5 million annually on his contract. That long-rumored Nationals target J.T. Realmuto could be that veteran catcher is doubtful. There is little reason to pay Suzuki and then trade a high-end prospect in a deal for Realmuto, since that trade would put Realmuto behind the plate for roughly 130 games. A $5 million backup is an ultra-expensive one, especially for a team shaving pennies. Which is why Suzuki is in line to be the starter throughout the season.

“I think at this point of my career, I got no ego. I’ve never had an ego,” Suzuki said. “It was just the point where [Rizzo] said I’m their guy, whether I’m a guy that’s going to catch 50 games or I’m a guy that’s going to catch 120 games. He made it clear that he is going to bring me in to help the team win. And that’s the bottom line.”

He will help. Nationals catchers were among the worst in the league offensively last season. Matt Wieters was injured much of the year. Pedro Severino showed he had no chance at the plate. Spencer Kieboom hit .333 in September. That run was only good enough to pull his average to .232 and his on-base percentage to .322. Not great.

Suzuki’s offense has improved the last two seasons. His OPS+ was above 100 each year in Atlanta, marking two of the three times that happened in his 12-year career. He was an All-Star the other season he reached triple digits. 

Suzuki is not an analytics buff. He didn’t change his offseason routine that focuses on exercise and clean eating via food supplied by his wife, Renee. So, what gives at the plate?

“Honestly, I have no idea, just being honest,” Suzuki said. “Obviously, I started my career off doing pretty well and then kind of hit a little slump. And then the last two years at age 33 and 34, kind of had like a renaissance I guess. And I really haven’t changed much. I go out there and I don’t really think about launch angle and all these analytical things. I go out there and I just try to do some damage.”

He did mention an interesting idea. Suzuki explained relaxing at the plate is crucial to him. Pitchers throw harder now. Much harder on average than when he arrived in the major leagues in 2007 as a 23-year old playing for Oakland. Which means he is going to let them do the work by supplying velocity. He just wants solid, not Herculean, contact. The plan has worked the last two seasons.

But how Suzuki is defensively will be in question. Baseball Savant provides catcher “pop” times, which measures the time from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the fielder’s projected receiving point at the center of the base, and Suzuki was 93rd out of 108 (Kieboom was 36th, though he played much less).  

All of which hints another veteran catcher could be coming along, the same way the Nationals opened last season with Wieters and Miguel Montero. Suzuki is the start. A coming veteran is a backup. Kieboom and Severino are the emergency plan. Realmuto is a dream lost.