College football playoffs: Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama earn berths

Published: Sunday, December 03, 2017 @ 9:20 AM
Updated: Sunday, December 03, 2017 @ 1:27 PM

Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide  were awarded the fourth and final playoff berth, edging out Big Ten champion Ohio State.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide were awarded the fourth and final playoff berth, edging out Big Ten champion Ohio State.(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The verdict is in, but the debate will continue. Alabama earned the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff that was announced Sunday.

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Clemson (12-1) was ranked No. 1 , followed by Oklahoma (12-1), Georgia (12-1) and Alabama (11-1).

The top three teams locked up the top three spots locked up after winning their conference championship games Saturday.

Clemson, the defending national champion will host the Crimson Tide on New Year’s Day in the Sugar Bowl at 8:45 p.m. ET in New Orleans.  Earlier in the day, Oklahoma will meet Georgia in the Rose Bowl at 5 p.m. ET in Pasadena, California. Both games will be televised by ESPN.

It will be the third straight year Clemson and Alabama will meet in the playoffs and a rematch of the last two national title games. Clemson won the title last season, while Alabama won it two years ago.

This year’s semifinal winners will meet Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Alabama was idle over the weekend, but the lone loss by the Crimson Tide came against Auburn, another top-10 team.

“You want to get the four best teams in the playoff,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN before the pairings were announced. “You got to look at the total body of work that the team did for the entire season, and I would say that if we lost to a team in our conference that was not ranked by 30 points, that you wouldn't be having this conversation. You wouldn't be talking to me.”

Saban was referring to Ohio State's 55-24 loss at unranked Iowa on Nov. 4.

CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said the Iowa loss hurt Ohio State down, ESPN reported.

"As we saw Alabama play week in and week in out, the selection committee believed Alabama was the better football team,'' Hocutt said. "When we looked at Ohio State, when you looked at their resume it was impressive but it wasn't enough for the selection committee to place them in above Alabama."

Even though Alabama did not win its division in the Southeastern Conference, the playoff committee had set a precedent in 2016 by allowing Ohio State into the playoffs, even though the Buckeyes did not win their own division in the Big Ten that year. 

Ohio State made a strong case to secure the final spot with a 27-21 victory against No. 4 Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game. Although no team has ever reached the CFP with more than one loss, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer pleaded the case for the Buckeyes (11-2).

“Two wins over top-four teams this year, another blowout win against a (No.) 12 team in America,” Meyer told ESPN. “And so we played three top-five teams, and we won two of them. It’s just amazing how important this playoff is and how the whole world revolves it.”

Georgia and Oklahoma have never met. The Bulldogs are seeking their second national title and have not finished a season No. 1 since the 1980 season. This year, Georgia won the SEC for the first time since 2005.

Oklahoma is in the playoff for the second time and features quarterback Baker Mayfield, the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.

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Cincinnati Reds: Peraza more comfortable, confident at shortstop

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 8:24 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 8:24 PM


            Reds shortstop Jose Peraza throws to first base for an out against the Cardinals on Thursday, April 12, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds shortstop Jose Peraza throws to first base for an out against the Cardinals on Thursday, April 12, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

One of the Reds’ many problems while losing 18 of their first 22 games was defense, especially around second base.

Jose Peraza, back at shortstop as the heir to 2017 All-Star Zack Cozart after losing his second base position to Scooter Gennett last season, had committed just one error in his first 21 games, but he seemed uncomfortable. Grounders that fans were used to see being caught instead were leaking through to the outfield.

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»MCCOY: What’s it like inside Reds clubhouse?

Recently, though, Peraza has shown signs that the more he plays, the more comfortable and confident he feels.

“I think he’s playing great,” Gennett said before Tuesday’s game against Atlanta. “He’s been playing that position with more confidence. After switching back and forth, I’m really impressed with how quickly he’s picked it back up again.”

Going into this season, Peraza had started 82 major league games at second back and 77 at shortstop.

Peraza, who turns only 24 on April 30, also was becoming more productive offensively. Going into Tuesday’s game, he had hit .292 since starting the season 0-for-12, pushing his overall average up to .247.

Interim manager Jim Riggleman credits Peraza’s defensive improvement to working with infield coach Freddie Benavides.

“He’s playing good,” Riggleman said of Peraza, acquired from the Dodgers as part of the December 2015 three-team trade in which third baseman Todd Frazier was sent to the White Sox. “He’s an extremely hard worker. I know Freddie’s had to tone him back a little bit. It’s a long season, but I think he’s played fine.”

Riggleman believes shortstops are at a disadvantage because they usually are compared to those who played at the highest level, such as Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel. In Cincinnati, shortstops follow in the footsteps of Roy McMillan and Leo Cardenas and Dave Concepcion and Barry Larkin.

“There’s such excellence that to call anybody average is an insult,” Riggleman said. “If you’re an average major league shortstop, you’re pretty good. He’s really swinging the bat and running the bases. He’s a baseball player.”

Deeper bench

Cincinnati’s five-man bench allowed Riggleman to make a move that proved decisive in Monday’s 10-4 win over the Braves.

With the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth inning of a tie game, he sent right-handed-hitting Phil Gosselin up to bat against left-hander Sam Freeman. Braves’ manager Brian Snitker replaced Freeman with right-hander Peter Moylan, prompting Riggleman to take down Gosselin and send up left-hander Jesse Winker, who delivered a tie-breaking, run-scoring single.

“The sixth inning is a little earlier than I’d like to do it, but with five players on the bench, it’s easier than with four,” Riggleman said. “With four players, it’s really tough, especially if one of them is a catcher. That makes it tough to maneuver for the rest of the game.”

New tools

Tucker Barnhart didn’t have anybody particular in mind as he banged a black Rawlings catcher’s mitt with a bat on the floor in front of his Great American Ball Park home clubhouse cubicle.

The Reds catcher simply was going through the process of breaking in a couple of new gloves. The process is lengthy.

“This one I started on in January and all through spring training,” he said, holding up a third black glove. “I’m hoping it’ll last me close to two years. Rawlings has pretty good leather.”

That means the new gloves might not see the field until 2019.

Barnhart uses a leather conditioner to help with the breaking in process, which also includes him flexing the glove with his hands.

“It’s getting there,” he said.

Bare hand

Sal Romano’s right hand was sore on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after he speared Ozzie Albies’ sharp one-hopper with his bare hand and threw him out at first.

Romano’s approach is not recommended.

“We literally talk about it in spring training,” Riggleman said. “The thing is, with the way shifts are, if you let it go, there’s probably going to be a middle infielder there, but its competition. It’s instinct. What you don’t want to have happen is he doesn’t get all of it and it dribbles off into no-man’s land.”

Trading Kevins: Before Tuesday’s game, the Reds reinstated right-hander Kevin Schackelford from the 10-day disabled list and designated right-hander Kevin Quackenbush for assignment, leaving the 40-man roster at 39. Schackelford was sidelined since March 29 with a right forearm strain. Quackenbush was 0-1 with an 11.00 earned-run average in 10 games.

Next up

Left-hander Brandon Finnegan (0-2) is scheduled to make his third start since coming off the disabled list in Wednesday’s 6:40 p.m. game against Atlanta. Finnegan is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two career games, both of them starts, against the Braves.

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Gennett’s walk-off homer lifts Reds to second straight win over Braves

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 11:14 PM


            Scooter Gennett hit a pair of home runs Tuesday night to lift the Reds past the Braves. GETTY IMAGES
Scooter Gennett hit a pair of home runs Tuesday night to lift the Reds past the Braves. GETTY IMAGES

Second baseman Scooter Gennett picked the perfect time to locate his power stroke.

Gennett’s second home run of the game – and the season – helped the Reds overcome a bullpen meltdown and pull out a 9-7, 12-inning win over the Atlanta Braves before a crowd of 14,139 pizza-appreciating fans at Great American Ball Park.

The recently reliable Reds bullpen faltered mightily in Tuesday’s game against the Braves, but Joey Votto walked to lead off the 12th andset up Gennett’s first career walkoff home run, adding to a night of firsts for him. Earlier, he contributed what he said was his first major league suicide squeeze.

“Not many guys have a game where they have a suicide squeeze and two home runs,” interim manager Jim Riggleman observed.

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Left-hander Amir Garrett and right-hander Raisel Iglesias teamed up to blow a ninth-inning, four-run lead, but Jared Hughes (1-2) pitched 2 2-3 innings of scoreless relief to get his first win as a Red.

The Braves’ rally started with first baseman Freddie Freeman’s second homer of the game. Center fielder Ender Inciarte capped the comeback with a two-run infield single on a blistering one-hopper that Gennett couldn’t shorthop, handing Iglesias his first blown save in four opportunities this season.

“It’s the least I could do after messing that one play up,” Gennett said. “That’s a situation where I’m trying to get one up and out over the plate. For a second, I thought it wasn’t going to go out. I thought (right fielder Nick) Markakis was going to climb the wall.”

The game was the fifth of the young season in which Atlanta overcame a deficit in the eighth inning or later.

“You had a bad feeling once Atlanta came back,” Riggleman said. “I give our guys tremendous credit. This is a game of heartbreak sometimes, and it looked like it was going to be one of those nights for us.”

The bullpen had compiled a combined 2.81 earned-run average over the previous 10 games before Tuesday’s collapse.

The Braves comeback cost Tyler Mahle his second win of the season. Mahle, in his fifth start of the season and ninth of his career, turned in six no-hit innings against the team that went into the game leading the National League in scoring.

Mahle, who’s pitched two minor league no-hitters, was pretty sure he wasn’t going add one in the majors on Tuesday.

“It felt about the same, but I had more pitches,” he said. “I could’ve gone seven, but I don’t think I could’ve gone nine.”

That doesn’t mean wasn’t thinking about it.

“It’s always in the back of your mind a little bit,” he said.

The 23-year-old, whose previous single-game career high in strikeouts was seven, had 11 through six innings before Freeman launched a no-doubt home run deep into the right-field seats on Mahle’s 90thpitch to lead off the seventh inning. Markakis doubled and catcher Kurt Suzuki homered into the left field seats to knock Mahle out of the game.

Eleven strikeouts gets ticket holders free pizzas at local LaRosa’s.

Coupled with their 10-4 win on Monday, the Reds have back-to-back victories for the first time since beating Pittsburgh last Sept. 16-17, a span of 34 games, and allowed them to avoid posting the single-worst 23-game start in franchise history. They are 5-18, matching the 1931 and 1934 teams’ records through 23 games.

Tuesday’s followup was better for the Reds than the last time they logged a 10-4 win. That was on April 16 – also a Monday – in Milwaukee, which they followed with two 2-0 losses. Mahle started the second shutout loss.

Catcher Devin Mesoraco was scratched from manager Jim Riggleman’s original starting lineup after developing a stiff neck. Tucker Barnhart stepped in and delivered an RBI single in the seventh.

Mahle helped get Cincinnati’s scoring started in the three-run second inning. He came up with the bases loaded and one out and hit a chopper up the first base line that Freeman fielded cleanly, but Suzuki had to jump to catch Freeman’s thrown and he came down with his feet off the plate for a throwing error.

After a lengthy delay, Atlanta manager Brian Snitker put his hands to his ears, indicating he wanted a replay review, but crew chief Fieldin Culbreth denied the request, most likely because Snitker took too much time.

Billy Hamilton followed with one-hopper back to pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who dropped the ball and threw too late to get Hamilton at first while Barnhart crossed the plate. Jesse Winker’s sacrifice fly gave the Reds a 3-0 lead.

Votto and Gennett teamed up for their first home runs of the season with two outs in the fifth inning. Votto’s reached the first row of seats in left-center field, while Gennett’s line-hugger caromed off the right-field foul pole.

Gennett, who had five hits in his last 31 at bats, and rookie third baseman Alex Blandino each finished with two hits, and Gennett drove in Philip Ervin with a deft suicide squeeze in the seventh.

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Sports Today: Reds get some managerial magic for at least one night

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 9:50 AM

CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 23: Scott Schebler #43 of the Cincinnati Reds singles to drive in a run in the eighth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park on April 23, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 10-4. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 23: Scott Schebler #43 of the Cincinnati Reds singles to drive in a run in the eighth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park on April 23, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 10-4. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Chalk one up for Jim Riggleman. 

The interim manager of the Cincinnati Reds moved Scott Schebler up to the leadoff spot, and the offense promptly exploded for 10 runs in a victory over the Braves

Schebler was a big part of it, going 2 fo 5 with three RBIs and three runs scored. 

He hit the first Reds home run in a week and made Riggleman look pretty smart. 

Not that I get the impression that was what the skipper was really going for: 

“We’re 3-and-whatever we are,” Riggleman said before the game. “We’ve got to try anything.”

Sometimes managerial magic is interchangeable with luck, and I think we can all agree “anything” is better than the first three weeks of the season for the Reds. 

Riggleman also sounds committed to batting Billy Hamilton ninth until he starts to look like a real major-league hitter, so I guess we can rule out the second coming of Dusty Baker here (old-school baseball man who insists on speed at the top of the lineup regardless of on-base percentage). 

It is amazing how quickly this became a put-up-or-ship-out season for Hamilton, who apparently could have been traded in December and now may have a lot less value after a bad spring and worse start to the regular season. 

Sal Romano pitched six good innings, striking out five and allowing only one earned run, to get his first win of the season. 

More good news: Eugenio Suarez should be back in a Reds uniform soon. The third baseman is scheduled to play in Triple-A for Louisville tonight on a rehab assignment for his fractured thumb. 

It’s probably too late to salvage a .500 record this season, but the Reds offense should look a heck of a lot better with Suarez and Schebler back in the lineup. 

At least management should still get a chance to sort out which of the guys in the majors deserve to be in Cincinnati long term and who can be moved out to make room for youngsters moving up in the improved farm system. 

There was some bad news, though. 

Hunter Greene was knocked around as the Dayton Dragons lost their third straight game. 

The Reds’ most-recent first-round pick took his first loss of the season after failing to get out of the first inning. 

He allowed seven runs, including a grand slam, and recorded only two outs. 

Greene walked three and gave up four hits. 

For what it’s worth, three of the runs charged to Greene scored with Austin Orewiler on the mound in relief. 

I mention that because Greene showed a knack for getting out of trouble in his first two starts. 

If you’re keeping score, he’s gone from great to average to pretty bad in three times out for Dayton. 

PREVIOUSLY: Greene battles elements in second start

Bumps in the road were always to be expected, of course, especially for such a young fella. 

It will be interesting to see how he bounces back and how quickly he can develop a game plan for hitters who are willing to wait for his fastball and can lay off his breaking stuff. 

The Dragons are the definition of streaky so far, having lost three in a row to start the season, won nine and now lost three more in a row… 

Dayton Flyers basketball made news Monday, too, as one player announced he is joining up and another announced where he is going next. 

Frank Policelli, a 6-foot-8 forward from Long Island, will be eligible to help Anthony Grant’s team this fall after verbally committed Monday

He is a three-star top 300 recruit in the 2018 class who played AAU ball with current Flyer Obadiah Toppin. 

» RELATED: Transfer from Vanderbilt joining Dayton women’s program

Meanwhile, Xeyrius Williams revealed he plans to continue his college basketball career at Akron

The former Wayne High School star was a starter two seasons ago but opted to transfer after an injury-plagued junior season. 

At 6-9 with the ability to shoot the three, he could be a force in the MAC -- but not until 2019-20. 

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Former Flyers forward Williams picks new school

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 5:02 PM

Dayton’s Xeyrius Williams reacts after making the go-ahead 3-pointer against Rhode Island with 10 seconds left on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. David Jablonski/Staff
Staff Writer
Dayton’s Xeyrius Williams reacts after making the go-ahead 3-pointer against Rhode Island with 10 seconds left on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. David Jablonski/Staff(Staff Writer)

Former Dayton Flyers forward Xeyrius Williams will play his final season of college basketball at the University of Akron.

The Wayne High School graduate Williams announced his decision Monday. He will have to sit out the 2018-19 season and will finish his career with the Zips in the 2019-20 season. In posts to Twitter and Instagram, Williams thanked the Dayton fans who watched him play the last three seasons.

» RELATED: Transfer from Vanderbilt joining Dayton women’s program

“You guys have been there through the ups and downs,” Williams wrote. “I also want to thank all the people, managers, coaches and especially my teammates/brothers who I had the opportunity to play alongside. You guys have all influenced my life in a positive way, and I’ll always cherish the brotherhood and the memories we made as a team.”

Williams also visited Kent State, according to his Instagram account.

Williams announced March 13 he was leaving Dayton. He was one of five underclassmen to leave the program. He appeared in 18 games last season, averaging 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds as the Flyers finished 14-17. He had a breakout year as a sophomore, averaging 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.

» RELATED: Josh Cunningham named Dayton’s MVP

The season did not go as planned. Williams started the season in the starting lineup and played 34-plus minutes in each of the first four games, averaging 11.3 points. Then he missed the next five games with a back injury.

Akron was 14-18 last season, the first for head coach John Groce. That ended a streak of 12 straight 20-win seasons. Trotwood-Madison grad Torrey Patton played for Akron last season as a freshman but announced he was transferring earlier this month.

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