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Vandy trying to finish off best season since 1915

Vandy trying to finish off best season since 1915

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Vanderbilt Commodores have made plenty of history this season, and now they can do something not seen at this private university in nearly a century: Win nine games.

Coach James Franklin isn't talking about the opportunity his Commodores have Monday in the Music City Bowl against North Carolina State (7-5). Not yet, even though it would be their first nine-win season since 1915 and only their third all-time. Not when he's been so busy coaching and trying to sell as many tickets to turn LP Field, home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans, into a home field.

``This is a perfect situation for us,'' Franklin said.

``We're still trying to build our brand. We're still trying to build our following. We're still trying to claim our stake of being Nashville's team and really establish it so this is a great opportunity to play in our city, to play LP Field, which is kind of like our other stadium. From what I understand, they used our stadium for a time period, and now we're using theirs.''

This is a second straight bowl for Vanderbilt, something the Southeastern Conference's smallest university had never done before. The Commodores also come in with an SEC-best six straight victories and their best season since 1982. That helped Franklin earn a second straight contract extension a month ago.

Now they want to improve on a year ago when the Commodores lost the Liberty Bowl 31-24 to Cincinnati. Franklin said he realized some of his players were just happy to be in a bowl. This time around, the Commodores say they know that winning bowls will prove how much Vanderbilt has changed in Franklin's two seasons.

``I would like to leave here and start a legacy of changing the culture here,'' Vandy senior defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. ``I think we've started doing that. Until we win a bowl game and do it continuously, it's not going to change anything so we're looking forward to the opportunity to get this win, win No. 9. But like coach says, `It's always 1-0 this week.'''

Bowl games are nothing new for N.C. State with this the 27th in school history. But the Wolfpack (7-5) had to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible, and it wasn't enough to save coach Tom O'Brien's job. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible stuck around as interim head coach along with the rest of the staff to coach this game, while incoming coach Dave Doeren prepares to take over.

``There's no way I'm going to try and replace him,'' Bible said of O'Brien. ``I'm just doing the best job that I can to give us the best chance to succeed.''

The Wolfpack have won two straight bowls, and they also have 6-foot-6 senior Mike Glennon, considered among the top quarterback prospects in the NFL draft in April. Glennon has thrown for 3,648 yards with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season and is the quarterback who started last season when Russell Wilson left N.C. State for Wisconsin.

Glennon said he wasn't sure how his teammates would deal with heading into the bowl with the coaching change.

``We've done a better job than I was expecting,'' Glennon said. ``With everything that's gone on, that could be a huge distraction, but I think we've been focused. When we go out to practice, we have good practices. At times where there could be a lot of distraction, I think we've handled it pretty well.''

Glennon has some talented receivers led by Quintin Payton and Bryan Underwood, who had 10 TD catches. The Wolfpack averages 304 yards passing per game, 20th nationally, though they face a Vanderbilt defense that ranks 10th nationally allowing 175.8 yards passing per game and fifth in pass efficiency defense (99.8).

The bigger challenge for N.C. State may be the fact that this isn't a home game. In their six home games, the Wolfpack allowed just 14.3 points per game. In the six games on the road or at neutral sites, they gave up 34.8 points.

Vanderbilt comes in averaging 29.3 points led by Zac Stacy, the school's career leading rusher who had 1,034 yards this season, and Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of the Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The quarterback was benched in the Liberty Bowl loss, and he's determined to show how much he's grown this season.

``I don't want to repeat that,'' said Rodgers, who completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,431 yards this season. ``I'm going to play to the best of my ability really for my team. We want a victory as a team for this program.''

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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The biggest ‘what ifs’ in Capitals history: What if Lars Eller never scored the 2OT goal?

The biggest ‘what ifs’ in Capitals history: What if Lars Eller never scored the 2OT goal?

This week NBC Sports Washington is looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals. Last week, we looked at what ifs for the season. This week, we are looking at some of the bigger what ifs from franchise history.
 
Today’s what-if: What if Lars Eller had not delivered the game-winning goal in double overtime of Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets?
 
Lars Eller scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, but that arguably was not the most important goal he scored during that 2018 postseason.
 
Down 2-0 in the first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Eller scored the double-overtime winner to give Washington its first win. It was a fluky one that bounced off a number of body parts on its way into the net, but it still counted. But what if he had not scored that goal and the Caps had lost Game 3?
 
While Washington was able to erase a 2-0 deficit to win four straight against Columbus and win the series, it’s hard to believe they could have done the same thing if down 3-0. At that time, despair would have started to sink in. 

RELATED: WHAT IF THE CAPS HADN'T WON THE 2004 NHL DRAFT LOTTERY?
 
In terms of moves head coach Barry Trotz could have made, he would have had to get creative because the standard panic move of a goalie change would not cut it. Philipp Grubauer started Games 1 and 2 and was replaced by Braden Holtby in Game 3. Going back to Grubauer was not a realistic option at that point. Chances are, Washington would have suffered a first-round exit.
 
Considering Trotz left after winning a Stanley Cup, it is hard to imagine him staying after a first-round exit. So with another year of falling short of expectations in the postseason and in need of a new head coach, this is the point where I believe Brian MacLellan would have had to seriously consider dismantling the team. 
 
I don’t think there was ever a scenario where Alex Ovechkin would be traded considering what he means to the franchise, but I think everyone else would have been on the table. After all, by 2018 what reason would the team have to believe the core was good enough to make a deep playoff run? It had not done it after four seasons with Trotz and about as loaded a lineup as a team can have.
 
It would not have meant the end of the Ovechkin era as he would have stayed, but it probably would have meant the end in terms of the Ovechkin-led Caps pursuing a Cup. By that time, it would have been clear it was time to start over and it would have meant a very long 2018 offseason.

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Elena Delle Donne put in tough spot by WNBA, reveals health struggles with Lyme disease in open letter

Elena Delle Donne put in tough spot by WNBA, reveals health struggles with Lyme disease in open letter

For anyone that has covered Elena Delle Donne in her professional career, there is one thing that you know: the two-time WNBA MVP battles Lyme disease which directly affects her ordinary way of life. 

She's been open about it and does not shy away from questions regarding her symptoms. Her openness and status in the league were so prominent that when the WNBA said it would allow players with preexisting conditions - and potential vulnerabilities to the coronavirus - to sit out and receive pay, it was assumed she fit. 

But yet the WNBA denied her request, leaving her in "disbelief" and her best response coming in a tell-all Player's Tribune article

I take 64 pills a day, and I feel like it’s slowly killing me. Or if it’s not killing me, directly, then I at least know one thing for sure: It’s really bad for me. Longterm, taking that much medicine on that regular of a regimen is just straight-up bad for you. It’s literally an elaborate trick that you play on yourself — a lie that you tell your body so it keeps thinking everything is fine. 

It’s a never-ending, exhausting, miserable cycle.

But I do it anyway.

Much of what she says is nothing new. By battling “Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome," more commonly known as Chronic Lyme Disease, her life has been uprooted. Delle Donne has to take 64 supplements a day. She is immunocompromised where a common cold sends her immune system into a frenzy and a flu shot does more harm than good.

RELATED: CLOUD RIPS THE WNBA'S DECISION TO DECLINE EED'S REQUEST

She's been battling it since 2008 and now her league, that she represents on the highest stage, turned its back on her. She is more at risk of developing serious complications due to the coronavirus because of her compromised immune system. Her own doctor said that it's not safe for her to risk traveling to a state where cases are skyrocketing all to play basketball. 

Lyme disease is not one without controversy. For most affected, treatment is easy and simple (about a month of steroids and you're back to normal). However, symptoms get more serious the longer it is not treated and for Delle Donne it took multiple doctors to figure out what was going on. 

Many brush off the disease, mostly because there is so much even the medical community does not know. 

Yet, the league isn't giving her a fair option.

Instead of giving her a choice to remain safe, at home, the WNBA's panel of doctors said that she is not high-risk for the virus. 

I’m now left with two choices: I can either risk my life….. or forfeit my paycheck.

Honestly? That hurts.

It hurts a lot. And maybe being hurt just makes me naive. And I know that, as athletes, we’re not really supposed to talk about our feelings. But feelings are pretty much all I have left right now. I don’t have NBA player money. I don’t have the desire to go to war with the league on this. And I can’t appeal.

So really all I’m left with is how much this hurts. How much it hurts that the W — a place that’s been my one big dream in life for as long as I can remember, and that I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears to for seven going on eight seasons — has basically told me that I’m wrong about what’s happening in my own body. What I hear in their decision is that I’m a fool for believing my doctor. That I’m faking a disability. That I’m trying to “get out” of work and still collect a paycheck.

Her disease and symptoms didn't come out of nowhere. And of all people in the league to be 'faking' a disease, it's not her. She played the WNBA Finals last season with three herniated discs, a face mask and a knee brace from injuries she suffered on the court. 

Her decision to play is still forthcoming - a decision that she should never have to make. Delle Donne admits that her choice is no different than what many Americans have had to weigh during the pandemic and many are in worse financial shape than she is. But if this situation taught her anything, it's to admit when someone doesn't know something.

"Probably the best lesson I’ve learned through my experience with Lyme disease — is this: There’s so much in the world that we don’t know," Delle Donne said.

And right now there is so much the WNBA doesn't know about Lyme disease. 

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