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USC ends disappointing season in Sun Bowl

USC ends disappointing season in Sun Bowl

EL PASO, Texas (AP) A season that began with so much promise for Southern California will end Monday in a place few would have expected to see the Trojans this bowl season.

USC started the season No. 1 in the country with a quarterback favored to win the Heisman Trophy. Losses to Stanford and Oregon took the Trojans out of the national title picture, and losses to Arizona, rival UCLA and then finally to Notre Dame sent them tumbling to second-tier bowl status.

Instead of the BCS, the Trojans (7-5) will face Georgia Tech (6-7) in Sun Bowl. Both teams are unranked and riding two-game losing streaks, and USC will be without injured quarterback Matt Barkley (shoulder).

The Trojans admit they had much greater expectations for themselves, but they also are happy to be in a bowl game after a two-year ban and will try to salvage a season that slipped through their fingers after a 6-1 start.

``We wanted to be in a better bowl game, and that's typical, but we decided our own fate and this is where we're at,'' All-American receiver Marqise Lee said. ``Things happen to the greatest teams out there. Sometimes situations happened where there's struggles, and that's what we had. So now we're here, just ready to play and focused - enjoying practice and enjoying our days here, and we'll be ready to play on Monday.''

Barkley, the first three-time captain in team history, injured his right shoulder injury in the loss to UCLA. It was announced Thursday that Barkley was not cleared to play in the Sun Bowl. He put together one of the greatest careers in USC history and is expected to be one of the first quarterback drafted by the NFL in April.

It certainly is not the season Barkley envisioned when he decided to return for his senior season and put off the NFL.

``I wouldn't say tough. It's not like you really have an example to look to as how to handle it with all the success teams in the past have had at this school,'' Barkley said. ``It's been definitely a learning lesson, not something I could have imagined, but then again nothing is guaranteed.

``When you strive for something, there are times when you're going to be disappointed. Knowing we were shooting for a very high goal . it just happens that way sometimes. But it doesn't take away from the fact of the experiences I've had.''

Barkley's injury means that redshirt freshman Max Wittek will get his second start. The first was the 22-13 loss to Notre Dame in which he was 14 of 23 passing for 186 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

``We're fortunate it isn't the first time we've had to (play without Barkley),'' USC coach Lane Kiffin said. ``We did it a lot of games last season. The team is very comfortable with Max. It's not like all of a sudden we made him the starter.''

Lee gave Wittek a ringing endorsement.

``Based off that Notre Dame game, we had little situations here and there, but then again you know what your quarterback is capable of. Max threw two picks, but then again in the huddle he was still pumping us up,'' Lee said. ``From a young quarterback, you don't expect that. So to see that from a freshman, willing to push us, the vets, and get us there and ready to go is amazing. So I'm not worried about him at all. Monday, he'll go out there and do what he's supposed to do. He looks great. He didn't have much time to practice for Notre Dame, but now he'll be on point.''

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said he doesn't expect USC to change much offensively with Wittek.

``Surely he's an excellent player,'' Johnson said of Barkley, ``but I think the young man that played in his place is also very talented. We only had the one game to break it down, but you can see he's got good feet, a very strong arm and he's very capable. I doubt they're going to change what they do.''

And neither will Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, with their triple-option offense, are fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 323 yards per game. Quarterback Tevin Washington has run for 19 touchdowns.

``It's very difficult (to prepare for),'' Kiffin said of Tech's offense. ``Luckily, we had a month to prepare for it. I don't know how people do it in a week. It took us a week to get the (scout) team to play them. It's different. In a weird way, it's like playing Oregon. There are not a lot of plays being run, but they're so good at it.''

The Yellow Jackets have to prepare for a USC offense that features two of the best receivers in the nation in Lee and junior Robert Woods, who is expected to make a decision after the game regarding whether or not he plans to enter the NFL draft. Woods is USC's all-time receptions leader, while Lee won the Biletnikoff Award and finished fourth in this year's Heisman voting.

``The two wide receivers are so talented,'' Johnson said. ``They've got a good offensive line, an adequate running game. They're just very talented all up and down at every position.''

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Wizards' fundamentals will be put to the test against Dejounte Murray, LaMarcus Aldridge

Wizards' fundamentals will be put to the test against Dejounte Murray, LaMarcus Aldridge

The Wizards are hosting the Spurs on Tuesday night, and these days that sentence isn't nearly as scary as it used to be. 

Tim Duncan is an assistant coach rather than a player, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are retired and Kawhi Leonard is a full two teams removed from his time playing for Gregg Popovich. 

San Antonio is reeling at the moment, dropping six straight games. If they lose in DC, it would be the longest losing streak the franchise has had since 1996-97, the season before they drafted Duncan. But that doesn't mean they won't represent a significant challenge. The Spurs are well-coached, fundamentally sound and are probably due for a win to get back on track.

The Wizards play the Spurs on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

They rank fifth in offensive efficiency and 26th in defense, which is surprising given their tendency to take too many mid-range jumpers and stifling batch of guards. On both ends of the floor, the Spurs are going to test the Wizards' fundamentals. That might yield fine results on offense for Washington, but the defensive end could be an ugly scene. 

Here are two stars to watch on the San Antonio side that the Wizards will have to be wary of if they're going to secure their fourth win of the year. 

Dejounte Murray

Murray's numbers won't bounce off your screen, but he's a bonafide stud Bradley Beal might have to deal with throughout the night. He made the NBA's All-Defensive First-Team two seasons ago as a 21-year-old but missed last season due to a knee injury. 

His defensive acumen and athleticism are still with him, and he might just be the best perimeter defender in the NBA not named Marcus Smart or Kawhi Leonard. If Beal is going to keep up the same level of production we've seen over the last week, he'll have to get there while dealing with an immense amount of ball pressure.

Offensively, Murray isn't much of a threat from the outside but he makes up for it with his explosiveness toward the rim. The Wizards defense has struggled with breakdowns created off of dribble penetration, so there's a good chance Popovich looks to create open looks off of Murray's drives. 

LaMarcus Aldridge

Moe Wagner won't be able to take as many charges against this big man. Aldridge, who's averaging 18.3 points on 52 percent shooting, does most of his damage in the mid-post area. Aldridge has more shot attempts from between the free-throw line area and the three-point line (62) than he does at the rim (41).

He has a multitude of moves and counters, but he doesn't get to the line much for a player who primarily plays inside the arc. For the Wizards to contain him, they'll have to play smart but remain physical with him on his catches. Don't let him get to his spot without working for it. 

Thomas Bryant and Wagner are more equipped to defend your traditional bully-ball big men like Joel Embiid or Andre Drummond. Guarding a player like Aldridge requires poise and self-control, which are not words typically used to describe the Wizards' interior defense. 

Between Murray's dribble penetration and elite perimeter defense and Aldridge's refined face-up game, the Spurs represent a major problem for the Wizards at this stage of the season. Washington's offense is for real, as they rank third in the NBA in efficiency, but the defense is the main reason they're 3-8. 

This game could go one of two ways. The Wizards can communicate more effectively on defense, defend with more connectivity and let their offense take care of the rest in a solid win, or they could continue to struggle and a fundamentally-sound team like the Spurs will blow the doors off of them in front of their home crowd. 

Tune in to NBC Sports Washington on Tuesday at 6 p.m. EST for all your Wizards coverage before tip-off at 7 p.m.

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Report: Stephen Strasburg could re-sign with Nationals before Winter Meetings

Report: Stephen Strasburg could re-sign with Nationals before Winter Meetings

The last time Nationals fans saw Stephen Strasburg, he was standing on a stage in Washington D.C. being forced into a group hug by several teammates.

Now a free agent after opting out of the remaining four years of the extension he signed in 2016, Strasburg has put himself in a position to sign with any team he pleases ahead of next season.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s headed out of the District. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Monday that he thinks Strasburg could ink a deal with Washington before the Winter Meetings begin Dec. 8.

This would be a far cry from the trend demonstrated over the last two offseasons, when the biggest names waited until Spring Training to sign mega-deals—some even waiting well into the season.

"A lot of teams want Cole. A lot of teams want Rendon. I think these two guys may move faster because they're not going to have to manufacture markets for them,” Feinsand said on MLB Network. “These guys are in demand. It's going to be a matter of who's willing to give them the most money, but I don't think these two players are going to be the ones who are going into deep February [unsigned]."

The Nationals certainly have the payroll flexibility to sign such a deal after Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman’s significant salaries all came off the books. Signing Strasburg early would also suit Washington well, giving it the chance to modify its approach to addressing other needs accordingly while most of the other free agents are still on the market.

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