Alabama leaves no doubt about BCS champion

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Alabama leaves no doubt about BCS champion

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- As required, Alabama's players whooped it up amid the confetti and fireworks, yet there was something muted about this championship celebration. Turns out, these guys knew the ending to the sequel before they even got to the Big Easy. For two months, the Crimson Tide stewed over its first meeting with top-ranked LSU. By the time the team touched down in New Orleans, there was little doubt in anyone's mind about the outcome. Not just win, but dominate. Boy, did they ever. With a smothering display of old-school football, No. 2 Alabama blew out the Tigers 21-0 in the BCS championship game Monday night, celebrated a bit and headed back to Tuscaloosa with its second national title in three years. The Crimson Tide also claimed the top spot in the final Associated Press poll for the eighth time, tying Notre Dame for the most of any team in college football. Coach Nick Saban's team was an overwhelming choice with 55 of 60 first-place votes. "We knew what we were capable of," offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. "I guess that's kind of arrogant, but it's the way we felt. We felt like we were capable of dominating, and we did that." Credit one of the greatest defenses in college football history, a bunch of NFL-ready players such as Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower who made sure LSU (13-1) never had a chance. When Jordan Jefferson dropped back to pass, he was swept under by a tide of crimson. When the LSU quarterback took off running, he must've felt like Alabama had a few extra players on the field. It sure seemed that way. "It feels like a nightmare," Jefferson said. "We just didn't get it done on offense. Some defenses have your number, and Alabama had our number." LSU beat the Crimson Tide (12-1) in overtime on Nov. 5, a so-called Game of the Century that was roundly criticized as a dud because neither team scored a touchdown. The Rematch of the Century was next, after Alabama worked its way back up to second in the rankings to claim a spot in the BCS title game. Turns out, it was even less of a classic than the first meeting, much closer to "Speed 2" than the "Godfather II." But the Alabama defense was a thing of beauty, putting its own spin on this postseason of high-scoring shootouts. "They are unbelievable," said Jones, relieved that he only has to go against them in practice. "That defense is as good as any defense I've ever seen. They rush the passer, they have awesome linebackers and they're great in coverage. They really don't have any weaknesses. They have to be as good as any defense ever." LSU didn't cross midfield until there were less than 8 minutes remaining in the game. The Tigers finished with just 92 yards and five first downs, on the wrong end of the first shutout in the BCS' 14-year history. "This defense is built on stopping them, and that's what we did," said Upshaw, the game's defensive MVP. "We wanted to come out and show the world we beat ourselves the first game. We wanted to come out and dominate from start to finish, and that's what we did." The Crimson Tide, piling up 384 yards and 21 first downs, spent much of the night in LSU's end of the field, setting up Jeremy Shelley to attempt a bowl-record seven field goals. He made five of them, matching a bowl record. Then, as if responding to all the critics who complained that an offensive powerhouse such as Oklahoma State or Stanford should've gotten a shot in the title game, Alabama finally made a long-overdue trip to the end zone. With 4:36 remaining, Heisman finalist Trent Richardson broke off a 34-yard touchdown run. It was the lone TD that either of the Southeastern Conference powerhouses managed over two games, plus that overtime period back in November. "It felt so good to get that touchdown against LSU," lineman D.J. Fluker said. "That's all we talked about. We said we were going to get (Richardson) a touchdown, and we did it." On LSU's one and only trip into Alabama territory, the Tigers quickly went back, back, back -- the last gasp ending appropriately with the beleaguered Jefferson getting the ball jarred from his hand before he could even get off a fourth-and-forever pass. "We didn't do a lot different," Saban said. "We did some things on offense formationally. Our offensive team did a great job. Defensively, we just played well, played the box. Our special teams did a great job." The coach has now won a pair of BCS titles at Alabama, plus another at LSU in 2003. He's the first coach to win three BCS titles, denying LSU's Les Miles his second championship. The Tigers will have to settle for the SEC title, but that's not likely to ease the sting of this ugly performance. "I told my team that it should hurt," Miles said. "We finished second. It's supposed to hurt." LSU simply couldn't do anything -- running or passing. Kenny Hilliard led the Tigers with 16 yards rushing, while Jefferson was 11 of 17 passing for 53 yards, usually hurrying away passes before he was sent tumbling to the Superdome turf. He was sacked four times and threw a mystifying interception when he attempted to flip away a desperation pass, only to have it picked off because his intended receiver had already turned upfield looking to block. A.J. McCarron was the offensive MVP, completing 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards. Richardson added 96 yards on 20 carries. But an even bigger cheer went up when the defensive award was presented to Upshaw, who had seven tackles, including a sack, and spent a good part of his night in the LSU backfield. "The whole defense is the MVP," Upshaw said. "The whole defense. Roll Tide, baby. Roll Tide!" With the way his defense was playing, McCarron simply had to avoid mistakes and guide the offense into field-goal range. He did that to perfection. "When you have a great offensive line like I have, and great players around you, it makes your job easy as quarterback," McCarron said. "I've got to give all the credit to them. I wish I could have the whole team up here." While LSU was used to getting big plays from its Honey Badger, cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu, Marquis Maze dealt the first big blow for the Crimson Tide with a 49-yard punt return midway through the opening quarter. He might've gone all the way to the end zone if not for a leg injury that forced him to pull up. Punter Brad Wing was the only defender left to beat, but Maze had to hobble out of bounds. McCarron completed a 16-yard pass to Darius Hanks at the LSU 10, setting up Shelley for a 23-yard chip shot field goal. If nothing else, Alabama had accomplished one of its goals coming into the game: to at least get close enough to the end zone for its embattled kickers to have a better chance of converting. In the first meeting, Shelley and Cade Foster combined to miss four field goals -- all of them from at least 44 yards. In the do-over, Foster handled kickoffs while Shelley also connected from 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards. Not that it was a flawless kicking performance. Shelley had another kick blocked and pushed another wide right. In addition, he clanged the extra point off the upright after Richardson's touchdown. It didn't matter. LSU's best weapon was Wing, who averaged nearly 46 yards on nine punts. That was about the only highlight for the purple and gold, which failed to match its BCS title game victories in 2003 and 2007, the last two times the game was played in New Orleans, about 80 miles from its Baton Rouge campus. "We couldn't sustain any consistency," Miles said. Miles never considered switching to backup quarterback Jarrett Lee, who started the first eight games for the Tigers -- four of those while Jefferson was serving a suspension for his involvement in a bar fight. In all likelihood, it wouldn't have mattered. Not against an Alabama team that was determined to write a different ending. "We fell short the first time and we didn't play well," safety Mark Barron said, "but we showed that we were the better team tonight. We shut them out."

Huskers, Spartans mourn the deaths of Sam Foltz, Mike Sadler

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Huskers, Spartans mourn the deaths of Sam Foltz, Mike Sadler

Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident Saturday night in Wisconsin.

Both players were working at a kicking camp near Waukesha, Wisc.

Foltz, 22, was the Big Ten Punter of the Year last season and earned All-Big Ten First Team honors.

Sadler, 24, was an All-Big Ten First Team selection in both 2012 and 2013. He was the first student-athlete at Michigan State to earn Academic All-America honors four times.

Both schools mourned the losses of their respective family members.

"Last night, we lost one of the best young men who I have ever had the honor to coach and who has ever worn the Nebraska uniform," Nebraska head coach Mike Riley said in a statement. "Sam was universally loved and respected by everyone he touched and on whom he had a positive influence each and every day. His tragic loss is immeasurable to his family, his friends, his classmates, his teammates and his coaches, and our thoughts and prayers are with all of them. The young men in our football program are hurting, but I know that their strength of character and resolve will bring us together and we will honor Sam every day moving forward."

"Our prayers of love and support go out to Sam’s family during this difficult time, and we will do all that we can to help comfort them in this time of sadness," Nebraska athletics director Shawn Eichorst said in a statement. "Sam was truly a tremendous young man who represented everything that a Nebraska student, athlete, teammate and friend should strive to be. While his loss is devastating, his impact will be felt forever. Along with coach Riley, our focus is on providing Sam’s family, teammates and friends with the critical support and love that they need at this time."

"We are deeply shocked and saddened to hear the extremely tragic news about Mike Sadler's death," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Sadler family, his teammates, friends, coaches and Spartan Nation. We also express our deepest sympathies to the family of Sam Foltz and the Nebraska program for their loss. Mike impacted so many people not only as a football player but also from an academic standpoint and in the community, as well. The world has lost a rising star who dreamed big and was accomplishing those dreams, one after another. He was one of those people that brightened your day. I always say to try and be a light, and he truly was a light in this world. We will all miss him dearly. Once again, we find out that life is so fragile. The world will be a sadder and lonelier place without Mike Sadler in it. May he rest in peace."

"Today is a sad day for Michigan State, Nebraska and all of college football as we mourn the loss of two exceptional young men in Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz," Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends in this time of sorrow. Mike was the epitome of a student-athlete, excelling in the classroom and on the field, while his quick wit brought a smile to everyone's face. Most importantly, he represented Spartan Nation with great class, embracing his place as a role model for both kids and adults alike. On a personal note, he was more than just a student-athlete to me; he was a friend. His ability to make everyone feel special was but just one of his many special qualities. And that's the reason his impact will be felt by everyone who knew him for years to come. By all indications, Sam was the exact same role model for the Nebraska football family. While today is filled with sadness and reminders of the fragility of life, we can take solace in knowing that we are all better for having known Mike and Sam."

After Foltz's passing, Nebraska will not participate in Big Ten Media Days this week in Chicago.

Cubs closing in on Aroldis Chapman deal with Yankees

Cubs closing in on Aroldis Chapman deal with Yankees

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs are in the final stages of a blockbuster deal that could bring superstar closer Aroldis Chapman to Chicago and would involve sending elite shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres to the New York Yankees, a source familiar with the situation said Sunday night.

The exact details aren’t clear, but the talks reached a point where the Cubs pulled Torres from the lineup at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, at least sensing the strong possibility of a trade that would add a 105-mph closer to a first-place team that entered the year as World Series favorites.

Chapman began this season serving a 30-game suspension covered by Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy after a dispute with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall. In absorbing a supremely talented player with real baggage, the Cubs would have to believe in manager Joe Maddon’s personality and a strong clubhouse culture, figuring it might only be a two-month-plus rental before Chapman cashes in as a free agent. 

That incident scared the Cubs away during the offseason, when a Chapman trade between the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers collapsed at the winter meetings as those police reports surfaced. The Yankees waited for the price to drop and acquired the flame-throwing closer at a discount. Chapman didn’t mind the spotlight in New York, converting 20-of-21 save opportunities and striking out 44 batters in 31-plus innings.

Torres is only 19 years old and a consensus top prospect, showing up in the midseason rankings on ESPN (No. 26), Baseball America (No. 27) and Baseball Prospectus (No. 34). The Cubs had signed Torres out of Venezuela during the summer of 2013, giving him a $1.7 million bonus and trying to stockpile enough assets to build a perennial contender. It sounds like it’s almost time to cash in one of those huge trade chips. 

Cubs score five runs in seventh to power past Brewers

Cubs score five runs in seventh to power past Brewers

MILWAUKEE – The franchise sensitive to being the other team in town is catching the Cubs at the worst possible time, another you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up story coming out of the White Sox clubhouse.

While Chris Sale serves a five-game suspension for playing with scissors, the Cubs will start Jake Arrieta, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

The perception will be hot-seat manager Robin Ventura has lost control over this White Sox season, while Manager of the Year Joe Maddon actually answered a question this weekend about how the Cubs might align their playoff rotation.

One week out from the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the debates will be which players White Sox executives Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn should sell off, and which Cubs prospects Theo Epstein’s front office should put down to buy the big-ticket item for a World Series run.

Optics, marketing and promotional throwback jerseys aside, the Cubs also appear to be hitting their stride again after a much-needed vacation, winning their third straight series out of the All-Star break with Sunday afternoon’s 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.  

The Cubs did it with their $155 million ace (Jon Lester) throwing only four innings, getting charged with four runs and giving up five walks and five stolen bases. The Cubs could also absorb one quarter of their All-Star infield (Addison Russell) leaving in the middle of the game with a left heel contusion.

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The Cubs stormed back with five runs in the seventh inning as MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo delivered the biggest swing, a bases-loaded, three-run double into right-center field off lefty reliever Will Smith. 

Three sellout crowds here over the weekend watched the Cubs welcome back All-Star leadoff guy Dexter Fowler to the top of the order, give the ball to six-time All-Star closer Joe Nathan in his return from a second Tommy John surgery and keep the St. Louis Cardinals seven games out of first place heading into Sunday night and what should be a gut check for the entire White Sox organization.

“I anticipate that same wonderful crosstown rivalry kind of atmosphere, which I love,” Maddon said. “It’s great for the city. It’s great for the sport. I don’t think fans really care much about records at that particular moment. They just care about your team winning.”