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Will game live up to hype in BCS championship?

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Will game live up to hype in BCS championship?

MIAMI (AP) Sometimes, the buildup to a game can overwhelm what actually happens on the field.

Certainly, No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama would have to play nothing less than a classic to live up to all the hype for Monday night's BCS championship.

Before either team stepped on the field in balmy South Florida, this was shaping up as one of the most anticipated games in years, a throwback to the era when Keith Jackson & Co. called one game a week, when it was a big deal for teams from different parts of the country to meet in a bowl game, when everyone took sides based on where they happened to live.

North vs. South. Rockne vs. Bear. Rudy vs. Forrest Gump.

The Fighting Irish vs. the Crimson Tide.

College football's two most storied programs, glorified in movie and song, facing off for the biggest prize.

``It's definitely not any other game,'' said Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.

For the Crimson Tide (12-1), this is a chance to be remembered as a full-fledged dynasty. Alabama will be trying to claim its third national championship in four years and become the first school to win back-to-back BCS titles, a remarkable achievement given the ever-increasing parity of the college game and having to replace five players from last year's title team who were picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.

``To be honest, I think this team has kind of exceeded expectations,'' coach Nick Saban said Sunday. ``If you look at all the players we lost last year, the leadership that we lost ... I'm really proud of what this team was able to accomplish.''

That said, it's not a huge surprise to find Alabama playing for another title. That's not the case when it comes to Notre Dame.

Despite their impressive legacy, the Fighting Irish (12-0) weren't even ranked at the start of the season. But overtime wins against Stanford and Pittsburgh, combined with three other victories by a touchdown or less, gave Notre Dame a shot at its first national title since 1988.

After so many lost years, the golden dome has reclaimed its luster in coach Brian Kelly's third season.

``It starts with setting a clear goal for the program,'' Kelly said. ``Really, what is it? Are we here to get to a bowl game, or are we here to win national championships? So the charge immediately was to play for championships and win a national championship.''

Both Notre Dame and Alabama have won eight Associated Press national titles, more than any other school. They are the bluest of the blue bloods, the programs that have long set the bar for everyone else even while enduring some droughts along the way.

ESPN executives were hopeful of getting the highest ratings of the BCS era. Tickets were certainly at a premium, with a seat in one of the executive suites going for a staggering $60,000 on StubHub the day before the game, and even a less-than-prime spot in the corner of the upper deck requiring a payout of more than $900.

``This is, to me, the ultimate match-up in college football,'' said Brent Musberger, the lead announcer for ESPN.

Kelly molded Notre Dame using largely the same formula that has worked so well for Saban in Tuscaloosa: a bruising running game and a stout defense, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o.

``It's a little bit old fashioned in the sense that this is about the big fellows up front,'' Kelly said. ``It's not about the crazy receiving numbers or passing yards or rushing yards. This is about the big fellas, and this game will unquestionably be decided up front.''

While points figure to be at a premium given the quality of both defenses, Alabama appears to have a clear edge on offense. The Tide has the nation's highest-rated passer (AJ McCarron), two 1,000-yard rushers (Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon), a dynamic freshman receiver (Amari Cooper), and three linemen who made the AP All-America team (first-teamers Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack, plus second-teamer D.J. Fluker).

``That's football at its finest,'' said Te'o, who heads a defense that has given up just two rushing touchdowns. ``It's going to be a great challenge, and a challenge that we look forward to.''

The Crimson Tide had gone 15 years without a national title when Saban arrived in 2007, the school's fifth coach in less than a decade (including one, Mike Price, who didn't even made it to his first game in Tuscaloosa). Finally, Alabama got it right.

In 2008, Saban landed one of the greatest recruiting classes in school history, a group that has already produced eight NFL draft picks and likely will send at least three more players to the pros (including Jones). The following year, the coach guided Alabama to a perfect season, beating Texas in the title game at Pasadena.

Last season, the Tide fortuitously got a shot at another BCS crown despite losing to LSU during the regular season and failing to even win its division in the Southeastern Conference. In a rematch against the Tigers, Alabama romped to a 21-0 victory at the Superdome.

The all-SEC matchup gave the league an unprecedented six straight national champions, hastening the end of the BCS. It will last one more season before giving way to a four-team playoff in 2014, an arrangement that was undoubtedly pushed along by one conference hoarding all the titles under the current system.

``Let's be honest, people are probably getting tired of us,'' Jones said. ``We don't really mind. We enjoy being the top dog and enjoy kind of having that target on our back, and we love our conference. Obviously, we'd rather not be a part of any other conference.''

This title game certainly has a different feel than last year's.

``That was really kind of a weird national championship because it was a team we already played,'' Jones remembered. ``It was kind of another SEC game. It was in the South, and it just had a very SEC feel to it obviously. This year is much more like the 2009 game (against Texas) for me. We're playing an opponent that not only we have not played them, but no one we have played has played them (except for Michigan). So you don't really have an exact measuring stick.''

In fact, these schools have played only six times, and not since 1987, but the first of their meetings is still remembered as one of the landmark games in college football history. Bear Bryant had one of his best teams at the 1973 Sugar Bowl, but Ara Parseghian and the Fighting Irish claimed the national title by knocking off top-ranked Alabama 24-23.

If you're a long-time Notre Dame fan, you still remember Parseghian's gutty call to throw the ball out of the end zone for a game-clinching first down. If you were rooting for the Tide, you haven't forgotten a missed extra point that turned out to be the losing margin.

Of course, these Alabama players aren't concerned about what happened nearly four decades ago.

For the most part, all they know is winning.

``There's a lot of tradition that goes into Alabama football,'' Mosley said, ``and our plan is to keep that tradition alive.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

Kevin Durant gives his NBA Finals predictions

While a number of teams are fighting to be the favorite heading into the NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers picked up a key endorsement from Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant.

When asked who he thought will win it all this year, Durant chose the Clippers defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals and upsetting the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. 

"They're just so deep," Durant said of the Clippers on “Play For Keeps” podcast. "They haven't had their whole team together at once for a long period of time yet, and that talent is just undeniable. When you have [Paul George] and Kawhi [Leonard] at the wings, that's what you need to win is wings. You got those two at the wings, arguably top three, top four at the wing position on one team."

So far in Orlando, the Clippers have gone 1-2 after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans and falling to the Lakers and Phoenix Suns. As of now, they hold the two-seed in the Western Conference playoff picture and would face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. However, they are currently just a half a game ahead of the Denver Nuggets with five seeding games remaining.

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The Lakers clinched the one-seed last week and are up six games in the standings over their cross-town rivals.

ESPN’s playoff odds gave the Clippers a 10% chance of winning it all. They ranked third behind the Bucks with a 49.7% chance and the Lakers at 18.7%. 

Durant chose Los Angeles over his own team, the Brooklyn Nets, who are also in a good position to make the playoffs as the current seven-seed in the East Conference. However, the Nets are playing in Orlando without eight players including a number of starters like Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and Durant, who missed the entire regular season after tearing his Achilles during the 2019 NBA Finals.

If his team retains the seven-seed heading into the playoffs, they would likely face the Toronto Raptors, who Durant projected would fall to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But regardless of seeding, Durant acknowledged it’s still anyone’s game.

“I hate doing that s---,” he said about predicting a winner. “You never know what could happen – you seen that with us last year.”

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Orioles fans hoping for a Ryan Mountcastle sighting in majors soon as MLB rosters adjust

Orioles fans hoping for a Ryan Mountcastle sighting in majors soon as MLB rosters adjust

Last night, the Orioles sent outfielder DJ Stewart to the team’s alternate training site at Double-A Bowie after an 0-for-14 start to the season. The move got the roster down to 28 players ahead of the deadline.

But even with Stewart now down and the roster full, it’s natural to be curious where the organization's most pro-ready prospect, Ryan Mountcastle, is and why he hasn’t been called up yet. 

The Orioles have four outfielders on the 28-man roster currently: Austin Hays, Dwight Smith Jr., Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. They’ll have to make another roster move in the coming days, when pitcher John Means comes off the bereavement list, too.

Still, there is a natural curiosity about what the International League’s Most Valuable Player from a year ago could accomplish at the major league level. 

Last year at Triple-A Norfolk, Mountcastle slashed .312/.344/.527 and had 25 home runs in 127 games. While he predominantly played the corner infield spots, he played the outfield for the first time in his professional career.

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Now, the Orioles want to develop him as a corner outfielder. 

What Mountcastle’s time at the development site shows, however, is that they value the camp more so than regular games for him right now. 

With Hays and Santander in center and right field, the two options for left field are Mullins and Smith, who are batting .083 and .167, respectively. Neither is getting on-base at a clip better than .250. In terms of hindrances to Mountcastle’s job in the major leagues, there aren’t many right now. 

The Orioles are carrying three catchers, which is one area the eventual roster move could come from when Means is back on the roster, but until Mountcastle comes up, those questions won’t be quelled. 

The team has already acquired an extra year of club control by keeping Mountcastle down for the first week of the season, meaning the reasons for keeping him down at this point relate strictly to his development. 

That means he’ll be in Baltimore once the Orioles think he’s ready to play major league defense and take major league at-bats. 

As for when that is, however, is solely up to the organization at this point.

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