...as Notre Dame's season ends in embarrassment

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...as Notre Dame's season ends in embarrassment

From Comcast SportsNetMIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- Manti Te'o stood perfectly still as he took a long look at one of the giant video screens in Sun Life Stadium, studying the replay of an Alabama touchdown.It was a pose that Notre Dame repeated way, way too often in the BCS title game.Te'o -- the senior linebacker who was widely considered the nation's top defensive player this season -- was a non-factor early in Monday's national championship, and that foreshadowed how the rest of the night went for the Fighting Irish. Overmatched from the opening possession, Notre Dame allowed season highs in points and yardage, simply unable to stop the Crimson Tide.Final score: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14.And yes, it was that one-sided of a game, one that even had Irish coach Brian Kelly cracking a joke at his own expense in a televised halftime interview."All Alabama," Kelly said at the time. "I mean, we can't tackle them right now. And who knows why? They're big and physical -- I guess I do know why."Anyone who was watching knew why."Obviously we wish the night could have ended in a different way," Te'o said, "but the season, the year, my career here, I've been truly blessed to be at Notre Dame and I'll forever be proud to say that I'm a Notre Dame Fighting Irish, regardless of what happened tonight."The lowlights were stacked high by the time this game was over. Te'o missed a couple of tackles early, something he hardly ever did this season. By halftime, when it was 28-0, the Irish had already given up more points than they had in any game this season, the previous high being 26 in a triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh. The most yards Notre Dame gave up this season was 379; Alabama cracked the 500 mark early in the fourth quarter.Alabama finished with 529 yards, converted 8 of 13 third downs, got five touchdowns in five trips to the red zone and became the first team since Stanford in 2009 to score at least 42 points against the Irish."We just needed to execute better," safety Zeke Motta said. "It was just a matter of execution and playing the right way."Maybe the play that will be most replayed of all was the one where Eddie Lacy essentially tackled Danny Spond.The significance?Well, Lacy was the Alabama ballcarrier at the time, holding the football with one arm and sending Spond -- one of Notre Dame's top linebackers -- sprawling with the other as he rumbled past for an extra yard or two."Pretty darn good football team, but not good enough," Kelly said, assessing his team as Alabama's crimson-and-white-confetti-filled victory celebration was wrapping up on the field. "So it's clear what we need to do in the offseason."Bigger, stronger, faster. By night's end, it couldn't be argued that the Crimson Tide held all those titles.It's why Alabama will fly home Tuesday with its third national title trophy from the last four seasons, no longer a budding dynasty -- but an established one."It's a tough way to go out," tight end Tyler Eifert said. "We laid it all on the line, but at the end of the day, Bama was the better team."Notre Dame arrived at the title game on the cusp of what would have been a fantasy scenario, that of being unranked at the start of the season and the undisputed champions at the end of the campaign.After one play, it looked as if it might happen when Lacy was stopped after a 1-yard gain, wrapped up just over the line of scrimmage.One play later, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron connected with Kevin Norwood for 29 yards, placing a pass between two Notre Dame defenders.Such was the theme the rest of the night. Even when Notre Dame had its moments, they didn't last long. Lacy ran in from 20 yards to cap that first Alabama drive, the Tide stretched the lead to 21-0 after one play of the second quarter, and the outcome was never in doubt.Some of the lower-bowl seats at Sun Life were being resold for as much as 10,000 in the days before the game. The majority of those seats were empty long before the finish, those fans for whatever reason deciding they didn't need to see yet another Alabama coronation.Notre Dame didn't have the luxury those early departees did. The Irish had to watch until the bitter end, and Te'o -- even though his college days are done -- wants his team to remember what happened."The best thing about this experience is it creates fire, it creates fuel, for both the guys staying here and the guys leaving," Te'o said. "Everybody here tonight will be better because of it."

Big Ten preview: Can Tommy Armstrong better get the ball to Huskers' offensive weapons?

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Big Ten preview: Can Tommy Armstrong better get the ball to Huskers' offensive weapons?

Tommy Armstrong has some terrific weapons on the offensive side of the ball at Nebraska. In Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly, Armstrong — the Huskers’ fourth-year starting quarterback — has one of the best wide receiver tandems in the Big Ten.

But the question is: Can Armstrong put the ball in their hands more often than he puts it in the hands of opposing defenders?

It seems like a pretty straight-forward fix for a senior quarterback, but Armstrong’s Achilles’ heel has been accuracy. For someone as talented as Armstrong, for someone as capable as he when it comes to big, game-changing plays, getting the ball to his receivers has been a surprising struggle.

Last season, Armstrong ranked third in the Big Ten with 3,030 passing yards and 22 touchdown tosses. But his completion percentage was just 55.2 percent, which ranked 11th among conference quarterbacks, and he threw a league-high 16 interceptions, more than either of the quarterbacks at Maryland, which had the most picks thrown of any team in college football.

Maybe it comes down to leaning on his receivers a little more. In Westerkamp, he has one of the all-time best to play the position at Nebraska. Westerkamp ranks fourth on the program’s all-time receiving list. In Reilly, he has a big-play threat. Reilly caught eight passes for 30 or more yards last season.

And those two aren’t the only guys Armstrong will be throwing too, either. The return of receivers Stanley Morgan Jr. and Alonzo Moore plus tight end Cethan Carter and running back Terrell Newby mean all six of the team’s top receivers from a season ago are back. Oh, and the electrifying De’Mornay Pierson-El will be back from injury, too.

“They’re real good,” Armstrong said during the team’s media day earlier this month. “They’re talented, they’re the most talented group I’ve had since I got here. Those guys make it easier for me. They make it easier for the running backs. They give defenses trouble, and they’re going to help us a lot. It’s good that they’re all going to be healthy. They’re going to do what they do best.”

“I think that’s great for Tommy,” head coach Mike Riley said. “I think that when you have versatility that way — that’s a big factor when you have to look at a group like that defensively, especially when you have an interior that will sometimes have Cethan Carter and Jordan Westerkamp as inside receivers. Then you’re always talking defensively where you’re going to put the strength of the coverage. Are you going to roll over the top of the corners to help them because we have pretty good wide receivers? Are they going to stay inside to help the linebackers and cover those slots and the tight ends?

“I love having all those threats like that. With our style of game, utilizing those people as much as we can, really gives you balance attacking a defense, and I think the better we run the ball, the more effective we can be in getting the ball to those guys. That’s going to have to be our game. We’ll have to put it all together like that.”

Armstrong, of course, has also proven his ability to make plays by himself with his legs, and the dual-threat nature of his game is what makes him one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He was the team’s third-leading rusher last season and scored a team-high seven touchdowns on the ground. That ability makes the Huskers’ offense even that more multi-faceted and that more dangerous.

In the end, Armstrong will be judged on what he does to make sure last season’s six-win campaign was a fluke. And in the eyes of many, that means whether he’ll be able to take care of the ball and better get it to all those weapons mentioned above.

If he can, Nebraska could be right back where it historically has been: competing for a conference championship.

Patrick Reed wins Barclays, Rickie Fowler loses Ryder Cup spot

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Patrick Reed wins Barclays, Rickie Fowler loses Ryder Cup spot

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) -- Patrick Reed had a crystal trophy, a clear shot at the richest payoff in golf and a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

All he could offer Rickie Fowler was best wishes to join him at Hazeltine.

Reed picked up two victories Sunday at The Barclays. He rallied from an early two-shot deficit to win the FedEx Cup playoff opener and assure himself a clear shot at the $10 million bonus. And he secured a spot on the U.S. team at Hazeltine that will try to win back the Ryder Cup.

"Everyone's been talking about the Ryder Cup, been talking about, 'Oh, you're in the eighth spot and you're on the bubble' and all that," Reed said after his one-shot victory. "If you go and win, it takes care of everything else. ... It takes care of everything."

The way Fowler finished only leads to two weeks of uncertainty.

Fowler needed only to finish alone in third place, which was the farthest from his mind as he battled Reed at Bethpage Black.

"I wasn't trying to get a decent finish," Fowler said. "I was trying to win."

Two shots behind with four holes to play - and two shots clear of third place - Fowler missed a 4-foot par putt on the 15th hole and made double bogey on the next hole. His late meltdown sent him to a 74, a tie for seventh and kept him off the Ryder Cup team.

Reed built a big enough lead that a few sloppy mistakes over the final hour didn't matter. He made bogey on the final hole for a 1-under 70 and a one-shot victory over Sean O'Hair and Emiliano Grillo.

Fowler still could have made the Ryder Cup team with a birdie on the 18th hole. He missed another fairway and took bogey. It was the fourth time Fowler has failed to convert a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, though he remained optimistic.

"He just told me, 'Hey, I'm going to go get my work done. I'll see you in Minnesota,'" Reed said.

Sunday was the final day to earn eight automatic spots on the U.S. team. Fowler's late collapse allowed Zach Johnson to claim the eighth and final spot. Davis Love III still has four captain's picks over the next three weeks.

Reed, who finished at 9-under 275, wasn't the only player who felt like a big winner.

O'Hair was among five players who moved into the top 100 in the FedEx Cup, advancing to the next playoff event at the TPC Boston that starts Friday. And he made a big move, closing with a 66 to tie for second. That moved him all the way up to No. 15, assuring two more playoff events and giving O'Hair a good shot at staying in the top 30 who qualify for the finale at the Tour Championship.

Grillo birdied the final hole for a 69 and moved to No. 6.

Defending champion Jason Day struggled all week with his accuracy and had to settle for a 69, tying for fourth with Gary Woodland (69) and Adam Scott (71).

Reed had gone 55 tournaments worldwide since starting 2015 with a victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. A bogey on the par-3 third hole put him two shots behind Fowler, but not for long. Reed made three birdies on the next four holes to tie for the lead.

Even so, Reed could sense another tournament slipped away. Just seven holes into the final round, he already had missed four putts from 10 feet or closer and began to think back to other lost opportunities that kept him from winning.

That's when his caddie, brother-in-law Kessler Karain, told him to let it go and look ahead. A pair of tough par saves and a birdie at No. 12 gave Reed a two-shot lead, and he was on his way.

Fowler missed the 11th fairway and ended his streak of 55 consecutive holes without a bogey, losing the lead in the process. Reed holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the next hole for a two-shot lead, and Fowler never got any closer.

Sung Kang matched the course record with a 64 to move from No. 122 to No. 88. John Huh, Tyrone Van Aswegan and Derek Fathauer also moved into the top 100, while Shane Lowry, Peter Malnati, Robert Streb, Lucas Glover and Jonas Blixt fell out and ended their season.

The top 70 after next week advance to the third playoff event, with the top 30 going to East Lake for the Tour Championship.

With his victory, which moves Reed to No. 9 in the world ranking, Reed goes to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup. He will be assured of being in the top five who only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the $10 million prize.

Big Ten preview: After six-win season, can Huskers find normalcy under Mike Riley?

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Big Ten preview: After six-win season, can Huskers find normalcy under Mike Riley?

The change in direction at Nebraska would have been a little easier to stomach had the Huskers won more than six games last season.

Six-win seasons are hardly the norm in Lincoln and an even starker contrast to all the winning that preceded last season, when Bo Pelini led the team to seven straight nine-win campaigns. But athletics director Shawn Eichhorst was no longer comfortable with Pelini at the helm — with talk of him not winning the “right” games — firing him in favor of Mike Riley.

There are still plenty of questions surrounding Riley’s credentials for such a big-time job, but here he is heading into his second season at Nebraska. And it would seem he needs to start winning some games fast to make sure that mediocre finishes don’t become the new normal in Lincoln.

Riley’s first season wasn’t exactly a normal one, with the Huskers dealt a handful of brutal last-second losses. Hail Marys and overtimes and walk-off field goals and last-second drives accumulated with astonishing fashion, and Nebraska was at one point 3-6 with the six losses coming by a total of 23 points (and one was by 10, making the other five by a combined 13 points). That’s unusual, though Nebraska’s defense was certainly to blame in some cases. It’ll have to be better this year to avoid a repeat of some of those stunning losses.

“If you look at the numbers and what you’ll expect to need to win games, we did OK, offensively big plays. But we were bad defensively. We gave up way too many big plays,” Riley said during the team's media day earlier this month. “And oftentimes some of those times, right at the first game, was a really big play at the end of the game. I think being sounder, being able to prevent long passes and long runs. I think maybe the two main factors in winning and losing games are turnovers and big plays. Explosive plays. And it goes both ways. Not turning the ball over offensively and getting explosive plays and defensively getting some turnovers and not giving up big plays. I think those are main factors there.”

This offseason, too, has been anything but normal, featuring the tragic death of punter Sam Foltz in a car accident late last month. The team still has games to play, but much of the attention of the season will be placed on honoring Foltz. The Huskers will wear decals and play for their teammate. The athletics department set up a scholarship in Foltz’s name.

Dealing with Foltz’s death will be a challenge enough, but then there’s the far less important task of winning football games in an always loaded Big Ten. It makes for quite the job for Riley & Co. in a season where normally great improvement in the win column would have been the main focus.

Nebraska has plenty of reason to be excited on the offensive side of the ball, though, with Tommy Armstrong in his fourth season starting at quarterback. And Armstrong will be throwing to an experienced and potent pair of receivers in Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly. Terrell Newby is a quality running back. But will that be enough to turn things around in such drastic fashion? After all, all those guys were there a season ago.

There were signs of what the Huskers could do at the end of last season. Nebraska shredded Michigan State’s defense in a stunning upset victory toward season’s end, and the Huskers triumphed over UCLA in the bowl game. Those positive steps could be all the Huskers need to head into 2016 with confidence and a chance to be better.

And while Riley gets deserved questioning for never presiding over a consistent stretch of winning as a head coach, he also deserves some slack for the way many of those games ended last season. A couple seconds here, a couple seconds there, and the Huskers could have been a 10-win team.

But hey, that’s college football.

So what’s the team hungry to do, coach?

“Win. And whatever winning means — winning the games, winning championships — I think they invested a lot,” Riley said. “My hope is, and it’s an educated hope, is that they have the last part of the season with a couple really good wins in there. It kind of made them confident in what we do and also anxious to prove we can do that consistently, which we did not last year. I think with veteran leadership we have coming back, with the fact that I think there was some confidence coming out of that and some excitement about what might be, it’s allowed me to say I think this is a hungry team.”