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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.

SATURDAY

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.

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THURSDAY

Poinsettia Bowl

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

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

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FRIDAY

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.

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SATURDAY, DEC. 22

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.

UPSET SPECIAL

MAACO Bowl

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

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

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MONDAY, DEC. 24

Hawaii Bowl

SMU (plus 12) vs. Fresno State

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

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WEDNESDAY, DEC. 26

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

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

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

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THURSDAY, DEC. 27

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.

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FRIDAY, DEC. 28

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.

BEST BET

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.

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SATURDAY, DEC. 29

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

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MONDAY, DEC. 31

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.

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TUESDAY, JAN. 1

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.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 2

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.

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THURSDAY, JAN. 3

Fiesta Bowl

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

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

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FRIDAY, JAN. 4

Cotton Bowl

Texas A&M (minus 3) vs. Oklahoma

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

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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.

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SUNDAY, JAN. 6

GoDaddy.com Bowl

Kent State (plus 4) vs. Arkansas State

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

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MONDAY, JAN. 7

BCS National Championship

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

Roll Repeat! ... ALABAMA 21-10.

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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.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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