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Voter's guide to BCS title contenders

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Voter's guide to BCS title contenders

The participants in the BCS championship game are essentially determined by voters - poll voters specifically.

So in the spirit of election day, here is a voter's guide to the four candidates vying to play for the national championship in January.

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No. 1 ALABAMA (first in the BCS)

Platform: The defending national champions stand for rugged, no-frills football and the philosophy that there is no problem a five-star recruit can't fix.

Star power: QB AJ McCarron. A poised leader (see the game-winning drive at LSU), unafraid to let his emotions show (see crying after game-winning drive at LSU).

Ground game: All-American C Barrett Jones anchors an offensive line that might be the most talented in the country, and paves the way for a punishing running game with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

Department of defense: The Tide ranks in the top 10 in the nation in every major defensive category, including first in points allowed at 9.1 per game.

Accomplishments: Strength of schedule: 17th nationally, according to Sagarin computer ratings. Average margin of victory: 29 points per game.

Commander-in-chief: Nick Saban. His ``process'' has produced three national championships.

Campaign slogan: Roll Tide.

No. 2 OREGON (third in the BCS)

Platform: The Ducks are running on change - such as a new uniform every week, and promise to get things done quickly.

Star power: RB Kenjon Barner. After three years as a backup, his patience and persistence have turned him into a Heisman contender.

Ground game: The Ducks are second in the nation in rushing at 341 yards per game - though their running game is anything but a grind.

Department of defense: Much like their offense, the Ducks' defense is a big-play machine. They are tied for third in the nation with 26 takeaways and 18th in sacks with 24.

Accomplishments: Strength of schedule: 47th. Average margin of victory: 31 ppg.

Commander-in-chief: Chip Kelly, a man who believes any question can be answered in 10 words or less.

Campaign slogan: Win the day.

No. 3 KANSAS STATE (second in the BCS)

Platform: The Wildcats blend old-school Midwestern sensibilities of mistake-free, power football, with 21st century ideas - such as scoring 44 points per game.

Star power: QB Collin Klein. The happily married Heisman front-runner has a trendy nickname - Optimus Klein - and a throwback game.

Ground game: Klein provides the power and RB John Hubert adds speed to a clock-killing running game that averages 226 yards and has scored 33 touchdowns.

Department of defense: LB Arthur Brown leads a defense that is tough to run against, ninth in the nation at 100 yards allowed per game, and manages to hold its own against those potent Big 12 passing attacks.

Accomplishments: Strength of schedule: 33rd. Average margin of victory: 25 ppg.

Commander-in-chief: Bill Snyder. The congenial 73-year-old has already performed a miracle in Manhattan.

Campaign slogan. We are family.

No. 4 NOTRE DAME (fourth in the BCS)

Platform: The Fighting Irish promise a return to glory - and have been doing so for about 20 years.

Star power: LB Manti Te'o. Has played inspired football while dealing with personal tragedy.

Ground game: The Irish have run for more than 200 yards each of the last three games as they try to take the pressure off developing QB Everett Golson.

Department of defense. Te'o gets the press but the line led by DE Stephon Tuitt and NG Louis Nix III is a big reason the Irish have allowed only two rushing touchdowns, fewest in the nation.

Accomplishments: Strength of schedule: 16th. Average margin of victory: 15 ppg.

Commander-in-chief: Brian Kelly. Former aspiring politician from Massachusetts has been known to flip-flop when it comes to quarterbacks.

Campaign slogan: Play like a champion.

ENDORSEMENT

This could work itself out if two of the candidates were to lose in the next four weeks. However, if all four remain undefeated, it will be up to the voters in the Harris and coaches' polls to find the imperfections in those perfect records.

If that scenario plays out, Alabama is a lock to play for its third national title in four seasons. The Crimson Tide has the most talented roster in the country, the best coach and would be the champions of the Southeastern Conference, which has produced the last six champions.

The question then is: Which team plays Alabama?

Make no mistake, all would be deserving, and there is no definitive correct answer.

By the time the season is over, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame all will likely have played somewhat comparable schedules. The Ducks just started their toughest stretch.

Notre Dame gets eliminated because the Irish have played so many close games, some against middling opposition such as Purdue, BYU and Pittsburgh.

So it comes down to Oregon or Kansas State, an almost impossible choice. The BCS metrics favor the Wildcats right now, but suggest the Ducks will make up the ground they need down the stretch.

Taking into account that the events of the next four weeks could sway this opinion, Oregon would be the choice to face Alabama on Jan. 7 in Miami in the BCS title game if all four candidates remain unbeaten.

Any chance we can move up the start date of that four-team playoff?

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HEISMAN WATCH

Marqise Lee has replaced Matt Barkley as Southern California's top Heisman Trophy contender.

While Barkley, the preseason favorite to win the Heisman, has had an excellent senior season, Lee has been sensational. The sophomore receiver leads the nation in all-purpose yards (223 per game), and is second in both catches (9.8 per game) and yards receiving (143 per game).

The Trojans (6-3) have fallen short of expectations, but that shouldn't take away from Lee's chances to at least get an invite to the Heisman presentation in New York.

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QUICK HITS

- Expect to hear Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken mentioned when head coaching vacancies begin to open up in the coming months. The Cowboys rank second in the nation in total offense at 575 yards per game while playing three quarterbacks - including a freshman and a redshirt freshman.

- The first of what could be several job openings in the SEC came Sunday when Kentucky fired Joker Phillips. Among those who have been mentioned as candidates to replace him are Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, Duke coach David Cutcliffe and Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator and former Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter.

- Three realignment reunions that we'd like to see in bowl games: Texas vs. Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl; West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl; Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.

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LAST WORD

``We won every statistical category, but the score. That's unfortunate. I told the team I wish I would have done a couple of things better.'' LSU coach Les Miles on Monday, summing up the Tigers' 21-17 loss to Alabama,

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

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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The five key plays in the Redskins’ win over the Panthers

The five key plays in the Redskins’ win over the Panthers

Every play in an NFL game is important but some matter to the outcome more than others. Here are the key plays in the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Panthers.

1. Q1, 10:41 — Tress Way punts 51 yards to CAR 21, D.J. Moore to CAR 22 for 1 yard (Shaun Dion Hamilton). FUMBLES (Hamilton), RECOVERED by WAS-Jeremy Sprinkle at CAR 21. Sprinkle to CAR 22 for -1 yard. 

The Redskins did not get off to a promising start on offense as they went three and out on their first possession and punted. Panthers rookie D.J. Moore fielded the punt and tried to find some running room. He found Hamilton, who stripped the ball away and Sprinkle pounced on it.

It only took one play for the Redskins to cash in as Alex Smith found Vernon Davis wide open—as in nobody else in the picture open—for a touchdown to put the home team up 7-0. 

2. Q1, 8:50 — Alex Smith pass short middle to Jordan Reed to WAS 45 for 7 yards 

The Redskins were looking to add to their lead on their possession following the Davis touchdown. On third and eight at their own 38, Smith threw for Reed in the middle of the field. The pass was high and inside, forcing Reed to jump, reach back and stab the ball with his right hand. It was a true one-handed catch because he never touched the ball with his left hand. 

The only thing Reed did wrong on that play was to signal for a first down. It was short, but Smith got the first with a sneak on the next play. Some Adrian Peterson runs and a 21-yard pass from Smith to Davis helped get the Redskins down to the two-yard line. On third down from there, Smith found Paul Richardson for a TD to make it 14-0.

3. Q2, 11:32 — Cam Newton pass short middle to Moore to WAS 37 for 17 yards (Josh Norman). FUMBLES (Norman), RECOVERED by WAS -Mason Foster at WAS 33. 

Norman got his first interception since 2016 earlier in the second quarter but the offense couldn’t do anything with the possession. The next time the Panthers had the ball, Newton went to Moore on a crossing Pattern. He had some running room and it looked like the Panthers would advance well into Redskins territory. But as defenders converged on Moore, Norman reached in and stripped the ball out. “He never saw me coming,” said Norman. Foster recovered, and the Redskins drove for a field goal to go up 17-0. 

4. Q4, 13:43 — Alex Smith sacked at CAR 46 for -6 yards (Julius Peppers). FUMBLES (Peppers), recovered by WAS-Trent Williams at CAR 46. Williams to CAR 38 for 8 yards.

The Panthers had rallied to make it a one-score game at 17-9. On third and seven from the Carolina 40, Smith was immediately swarmed by the pass rush. The ball popped out and it fell into the hands of Williams to the left of the scrum. Going on sheer instinct, Williams headed upfield. Starting from six yards behind the line of scrimmage Williams rumbled eight yards for a net gain of two. That’s not much but it was enough to have Jay Gruden send Dustin Hopkins into the game to attempt a 56-yard field goal. The boot just made it over the uprights and Hopkins’ career-long kick had the Redskins up by two scores at 20-9. 

5. Q4, 0:38 — Cam Newton pass incomplete short right to Jarius Wright.

After the Redskins kicked a field goal to go up by six, Newton led a final drive that kept everyone on edge. Starting with 3:15 to play, Newton was sharp, completing six of seven passes for 50 yards to move the Panthers from their own 16 to second and five at the Washington 16. The Washington defense finally stiffened, and Newton’s next three passes fell incomplete. The last one went harmlessly to the ground, not particularly close to Wright or any other receiver. The Redskins and their fans could finally exhale and celebrate. 

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