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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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A first period to forget, a strong night for Holtby and hope for the third line

A first period to forget, a strong night for Holtby and hope for the third line

 

WASHINGTON -- The Capitals returned home only to have their six-game winning streak snapped by a Columbus Blue Jackets team that had lost its last four.

Check out the recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

The first period is in the running for worst of the season

Washington was outshot 20-6, could not get possession and could not get the puck out of the defensive zone. Things were getting comically bad as Michal Kempny accidentally shot the puck on his own net which forced a save from Braden Holtby and then a trip as he tried to keep Pierre-Luc Dubois from getting to the loose puck. Later in the period, Gustav Nyquist got a breakaway chance when Jakub Vrana basically passed the puck right to him.

Why was it so bad? Maybe it was the jet lag, maybe the Caps came into this one thinking they would have an easy time against a bad team or maybe it was just one of those nights. Regardless, it was bad. While Washington played better as the game went along, that first period really set the tone for the entire 60 minutes.

Holtby was the only reason the Caps were in this game

The Caps will likely have to choose between Holtby and Ilya Samsonov in the offseason as their goalie of the future. Because of that, some fans are already drawing lines in the sand and declaring themselves for Team Holtby or Team Samsonov. Those Holtby detractors take every opportunity to declare every bad game as Holtby’s fault, but that was just not the case on Monday.

Holtby was the only thing, the only thing keeping Washington in this game.

Holtby made 33 saves for the game, 19 of which came in just the first period alone. The third goal Holtby allowed was soft as he showed Riley Nash too much daylight off the post allowing Nash to bank the puck off him and in, but besides that, it was a really strong game for the Caps' netminder overall.

The third line showed signs of life but remains a work in progress

Coming into this game, Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, and Richard Panik had played less than 24 minutes together at 5-on-5 this season. Having a full lineup back, Reirden was able to utilize this line and the results were good. They ultimately did not produce any points, but the line looked very good to start and it looks like there is potential there.

"They did some good things," Reirden said. "I thought early on they were probably one of our better lines to start the game. They were the group that was giving us some offense and giving us some possession time and I thought executing at probably the highest level."

Look, I know many fans out there are done with Panik already, but give him time to actually play on the line he was signed to play with. The Caps have banked a ton of points and sit first in the entire NHL. They have the flexibility to experiment with the third line and see if that trio can build some chemistry together.

Keep an eye on the home record

The loss drops Washington's home record to 8-3-4 for the season. Not terrible, but not great either especially when compared to their 14-2-1 record on the road. I'm not ready to think there is something wrong with theCaps at home yet, but this is something that is worth monitoring.

Turning point

The Caps had nothing going for them through 40 minutes, but it would not be the first time they were able to rally from a multi-goal deficit in the third period to get the win. Heck, I'm not sure people would even be surprised by it anymore. When Alex Ovechkin scored less than a minute into the third, my gut reaction was OK, here we go. Here comes the rally.

Nash's goal put an end to all of that when he was able to bank the puck in off of Holtby from behind the goal line. At that point, you knew the game was over.

Play of the game

On the first period breakaway Nyquist received courtesy of Vrana, Nyquist tried to beat Holtby with the backhand through the 5-hole. The Caps' netminder recovered well and swept out the pads to deny him the goal. Had Washington come back to make a game of this one, this save would have been one of the pivotal moments of the game.

Stat of the game

Congratulations to Craig "Woody" Leydig!

Quote of the game

Reirden on what went wrong in the first period:

"There wasn't a whole lot going right. That was, to me, one of our worst two periods of the year."

Fan predictions

You got the score right, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had one goal and one assist. I'm pretty sure you meant that the Caps were going to win though so you didn't nail this one as much as it looks like you did.

Umm...just a narrow miss there.

Go home Mike, you're drunk.

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Caps finally lay an egg to end six-game winning streak

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Caps finally lay an egg to end six-game winning streak

WASHINGTON - Put it away. 

Honestly, what else can the Capitals say after a 5-2 loss to the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday at Capital One Arena. 

They had won six games in a row. They had just swept a four-game road trip to Detroit and the three California teams (San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim). Things were going great. That's always dangerous in the NHL.  

Use any excuse you want - a trap game before playing the powerhouse Bruins visit in two days, a letdown coming home for the first time since Nov. 29, a sleepy Monday night crowd in early December - but the Capitals were having none of it. 

"Even if you had a winning streak like this, I think it's important - when you lose, there's no easy games in this league, that's for sure,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “You’ve just got to bounce back right away. We have a good test on Wednesday against Boston. I think, right?"

Forgive Backstrom if he wasn’t quite certain that a showdown loomed with the Bruins, who have the second-most points in the NHL behind Washington (22-5-5). It’s a tough time of year for players and the calendar gets away from them.

But after eight games out of the lineup with an upper-body injury, Backstrom was just happy to be back on the ice. He even scored a goal late in the third period to cut the Columbus lead to 4-2 before an empty-netter put things away. 

Up in Ottawa, the Bruins (20-5-6) were also losing a game you wouldn’t expect: 5-2 to Ottawa. Combine the Blue Jackets and Senators have just 55 points. That’s barely more than Washington (49) and Boston (46) on their own, but in the NHL there’s too much parity to take any game for granted.

“You've got to be on top of your game or you're susceptible to ending up on the wrong end of things,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “We’ve been really consistent, obviously, through 30-plus games of doing that. Tonight, we weren't. Had a bad start to the game. It cost us.”

Consider it a humbling lesson. Just like when the New York Islanders won a game at Tampa Bay on Monday night and the lead in the Metropolitan Division is seven points for the Capitals. No reason to panic, no reason to do anything other than start a new streak against a top-level opponent on Wednesday that should give both Washington and Boston a good sense of where their game is.

Take the good and toss the bad: Backstrom is back and scored. The penalty kill, with Lars Eller playing a bigger role, was solid again at 5-for-5 and the third line of Eller. Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik played as a unit for the first time since early October. 

Braden Holtby (33 saves, 37 shots) had a great first period in goal, but gave up an ugly bad-angle shot in the third to Riley Nash just a few minutes after Alex Ovechkin had cut the lead to 2-1 in the first minute of the third period with his 21st goal. But Columbus scored three times in the third - once on an empty net. A game Washington was chasing almost the entire way turned into a deserved Blue Jackets win. Things have gone so well so far in 2019-20. Time to flush it fast. The Bruins await.  

“We were lucky it was only a 1-0 game because of the way [Holtby] played,” Hagelin said. “We started getting better and better as the game went on, but it wasn’t enough. That’s one of those games where you have to forget about it and move on.” 

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