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How Ohio State’s last CFP title chance vs. Alabama vanished in one uninspired series

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How Ohio State's last CFP title chance vs. Alabama vanished in one uninspired series

The ball and the moment arrived in Ohio State’s hands with 3:19 remaining in the first half. This was it: If the final 30 minutes of the College Football Playoff national championship against Alabama were to be anything more than decorative, if there was to be an actual football game transacted during that period, the Buckeyes needed to take that time and turn it into seven points.

This was the only option. Even with the Buckeyes down only 28-17, this was an emergency. Ohio State was aware, coming into this game, that slowing the Crimson Tide was more feasible than stopping them. And even that had proved somewhat beyond reach.

Keeping pace, though, still was an option. For another 18 seconds.

MORE: Takeaways from Alabama’s victory in CFP championship

Ohio State’s approach on the three downs comprising that decisive possession did not appear to contain the urgency demanded by the circumstance. The play-calling and design didn’t fit the situation. The execution was at least as poor.

And that was that. A few hours later, Alabama officially owned a 52-24 victory and third CFP championship.

When those who didn’t watch the game glance at the score — there were a few — they will conclude it was a blowout in which Ohio State never had a chance. Sports always have been oversaturated with oversimplification, but the Twitter universe has amplified such inanity. In fact, the Buckeyes nearly were as successful generating scoring drives as Alabama had been. To that point.

In that word — nearly — resided the Tide’s 11-point advantage following their fourth first-half touchdown. With Bama having secured the second-half kickoff, the best-case scenario for OSU was to consume those three minutes before halftime and add a touchdown to cut the deficit to four points.

So how did it try to make this happen? Meagerly, to be succinct.

First down from the OSU 25, 3:19 remaining in half: With two receivers split on each side of the formation, star quarterback Justin Fields accepted a shotgun snap and looked to his left; it was a ruse. The play was a screen to the right side, with three offensive lineman and tight end Jeremy Ruckert preparing a wall for running back Master Teague. The problem? Nobody bothered to slow down defensive tackle Christian Barmore. He was on Fields so quickly that a rushed throw, too high, was necessary to avoid a sack. Teague nearly gathered the ball but ultimately dropped it. Too bad. It might have been worth 15 yards.

Second down, OSU 25, 3:14: The Buckeyes had two receivers split wide to the left, a tight end in the right slot and another wideout on the right sideline. Fields locked on freshman star Garrett Wilson and lofted a pass in his direction. Wilson was closely defended by defensive back Brian Branch and really had no chance, despite making a strong effort at a combat catch. A sharper pass might have thrown Wilson open, but a better option, under modest pass-rush pressure, might have been to search for an alternative.

Third down, OSU 25, 3:07: Three receivers to the left, one to the right. The tight end broke open over the middle beyond the line to gain. He would have been an easy target if he’d broken off his route there. But he continued deeper toward multiple safeties. Star wideout Chris Olave ran a streak down the left sideline. No DB followed him. It was a possible touchdown. But Fields didn’t see it and checked down to a dump-off to back Marcus Crowley 2 yards beyond the line, with linebacker Christian Harris there to assure the play had no future.

MORE: Eight absurd records DeVonta Smith broke in national title season

“That last three-and-out there was not good,” coach Ryan Day told ESPN at halftime. “We don’t connect on the screen pass — we had a real good chance of hitting that — and then we don’t convert on third down. And then at the end, we’re just trying to get out of the half.”

They didn’t, though. That was at least half of the problem with not extending that possession, because the Tide accepted Ohio State’s punt and DeVonta Smithed themselves into their fifth touchdown of the half, three of them from the Heisman Trophy winner.

With that, the game was no more. It was just a question of how inhumanely Alabama would treat the nine-point spread by which it was favored.

There were problems beyond that particular sequence, obviously. The Buckeyes got only two plays out of running back Trey Sermon, who dominated the two most consequential victories of the season: In the Big Ten championship game against Northwestern and the CFP Sugar Bowl semifinal against Clemson. Ohio State’s puzzling defensive scheme, most often deploying four linebackers, was destroyed by the Tide, who scored often and scored quickly.

That was the series, though, when we knew for certain what the outcome would be. It became a three-and-out-for-the-game. For a moment like this, there seemed little doubt Ohio State should have had more to offer.

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NFL odds, lines, point spreads: Updated betting information for picking NFC, AFC championship games

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NFL odds, lines, point spreads: Updated betting information for picking NFC, AFC championship games

There are only two 2021 playoff games left before the big on Feb. 7, Super Bowl 55. Both the NFC and AFC championship games will be decided on Sunday.

Tom Brady’s No. 5 seed Buccaneers travel to take on Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 seed Packers in Lambeau Field in the first contest (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox). Then it’s Josh Allen’s No. 2 seed Bills playing at Patrick Mahomes’ No. 1 seed Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).

Based on tight game spreads, these penultimate matchups were meant to be. Based on recent play and some current injuries, the on-paper pregame advantages are pretty much down to the natural edges that come with home fields. Both Green Bay and Kansas City will have limited attendance of fans to try to help the teams advance against much tougher opponents from the divisional round.

Here’s the betting information you need to know for the two games plus a selection of best bets for the weekend. For more expert NFL predictions, check out Sporting News’ picks straight up and against the spread for Buccaneers vs. Packers and Bills vs. Chiefs:

MORE NFL PLAYOFFS:
AFC & NFC bracket | TV schedule | Super Bowl picks

NFL odds for conference championship games games

Below are the latest NFC and AFC championship game odds, including point spreads, money lines and over-under totals for every game, according to the DraftKings sportsbook:

Last updated: Sunday, Jan. 24

NFL conference championship game point spreads

Game Spread
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers GB -3.5
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs KC -3.5

NFL conference championship game money lines

Game Moneyline
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers TB +155, GB -180
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs BUF +145 KC -167

NFL conference championship game over/unders

Game Over/Under
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers 51.5
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs 54.5

NFL best bets for conference championship games

1. Buccaneers +3.5

The Buccaneers are a good bet to win straight up in another road upset but that extra half-point makes them really attractive even as potential losers. The game figures to be very close and come down to the final possession for either team.

2. Buccaneers at Packers OVER 52

There’s just too much offensively available for both teams and there should be strong belief that both Brady and Rodgers perform at a high level to facilitate frequent scoring. Notably, the number went up from 51.5 later in the week.

3. Chiefs -3.5

This consistent number was clearly based on the iffy injury status of Mahomes, but he has been cleared to play. The Chiefs are simply better than the Bills in many areas with him and deserve more respect than the natural home-field advantage. Jump on a line that suggests the Chiefs and Bills are even on a neutral field.

4. Bills at Chiefs UNDER 54

The Chiefs will be playing another grinding game with rushing and defensive success regardless of Mahomes playing. Allen really had trouble with the Chiefs’ pressure and coverage the first time and the Bills don’t run well.

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Coach K belittles Duke student reporter instead of examining own flailing team

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Coach K belittles Duke student reporter instead of examining own flailing team

Maybe what Mike Krzyzewski didn’t like was the challenge to his authority by a journalist.

Because he shouldn’t have been upset about the question, which was absolutely fair under the circumstances. And he shouldn’t have cared about the age of Duke Chronicle reporter Jake Piazza, who as an independent scribe had every right to be there. So perhaps when he unleashed his snark-filled response to the student reporter Saturday night after Duke lost 70-65 to Louisville and fell to 5-5 this season, he was just upset someone would confront his failure so directly.

It’s a mindset found consistently in the college ranks, where the heads of basketball and football programs double as university deities in many parts of the country.

“I’m just curious as to what the next step forward is for the team as you guys move into another week of basketball,” the reporter asked Coach K on a virtual news conference not long after Duke had turned the ball over 15 times while dishing just seven assists.

Not the most incisive query, to be sure, but one worth putting forward as Duke continues its worst start to a season in decades.

It was enough for Krzyzewski to dig in.

“Why don’t we just evaluate this game?” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not into what our next step forward is right now. We just finished a hard-fought game. What’s your major? What’s your major at Duke? What’s your hardest class?”

When the reporter answered that he was an economics major, Krzyzewski continued, “OK, say you just had the toughest econ test in the world, and when you walked out, somebody asked you, ‘What’s your next step?’ You see what I mean? Do you have some empathy? Just give us time to evaluate this game and we’ll figure it out, just like we always try to do.”

MORE: Auburn’s Sharife Cooper on an outrageous five-game streak

Coaches say far worse things to young interviewers — hazing rituals often target the most anxious and inexperienced questioners. It doubles as a sort of “test” from coach to reporter.

But what’s the point of the intimidation tactic? Why do the very people tasked with guiding the lives of teenage athletes — and who work those players as if they were paid pros — think it’s reasonable to belittle journalists of any stripe?

In the end, the exchange between Coach K and the Duke Chronicle reporter probably served as a different type of learning experience than intended. Rather than discourage tough questions, Krzyzewski shattered the illusion of his own infallibility. Now the writer knows the people he covers are not worth the pedestal many place them on, and that when he touches a nerve with a probe, it’s a sign he might be on the right track.

Unfortunately, we still don’t know how Duke plans to avoid its first NCAA Tournament miss since 1995.

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Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2 live fight updates, results, highlights from UFC 257

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Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2 live fight updates, results, highlights from UFC 257

The highly anticipated return of Conor McGregor is set to take place Saturday night (Sunday morning local time) when the former two-division champion meets old rival Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

A lot has changed since McGregor stopped Poirier in the first round more than six years ago at UFC 178. McGregor became the biggest star in the UFC while also becoming the first fighter to hold world titles in two divisions simultaneously. Poirier, meanwhile, built himself back up with marquee wins over Eddie Alvarez, Max Holloway, Dan Hooker and Justin Gaethje while also claiming the interim UFC lightweight title.

MORE: McGregor poised to become the best version of himself after finding calm amid chaos

Aside from their accomplishments, both McGregor and Poirier have seen their lives change outside the Octagon. Both have become fathers and are now fighting for more than just themselves. 

Unlike their first meeting, there has been no bad blood; McGregor appears to have put his controversial past behind him and will enter the Octagon as a competitor who has seemingly found a new reason for fighting. Poirier made the mistake of allowing McGregor to get into his head before their first fight; this time, a seasoned and mature fighter will stand across the cage from the sport’s biggest star as he attempts to stake his claim as the best lightweight in the world 

There is a lot at stake in this fight as Khabib Nurmagomedov remains retired. The winner will certainly be near the front of the line for a title opportunity while the loser will fall to the back of the pack.

The co-main event features another pair of lightweights who are jockeying for position in the title picture. Michael Chandler will make his UFC debut against the battle-tested Dan Hooker. Chandler arrives after a stint in Bellator, where he is widely recognized as one of the greatest fighters ever in that organization. Can he prove that he’s worthy of having his name among the best in the UFC, too, or will Hooker turn back the challenge?  

Sporting News is tracking live fight updates and highlights from Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2. Follow below for complete results from UFC 257’s main event and undercard.

MORE: Save over 30% when you buy UFC 257 and an ESPN+ Annual Plan for only $89.98

Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier live updates, highlights from UFC 257

9:41 p.m.: The final fight on the televised prelims is up next and takes place under curious circumstances. Matt Frevola takes on Arman Tsarukyan in a catchweight bout. Frevola was originally set to take on Ottman Azaitar until Azaitar was removed from the card, and the UFC, for violating COVID-19 safety protocols after attempting to sneak a teammate into his hotel room in Abu Dhabi. It was absurd and cost Azaitar his UFC career. Fortunately for Frevola, Tsarukyan needed an opponent after Nasrat Haqparast was removed due to illness. And here we are. 

9:37 p.m.: Brad Tavares earned a decision over Antonio Carlos Junior in middleweight action. The takedown defense from Tavares was impressive as he prevented “Shoeface” from bringing the fight to the canvas. He also showcased some solid counterstriking. That performance is a start for Tavares as he attempts to work his way up the middleweight ladder.  

9:01 p.m.: Just when you thought we were heading to another decision, Pena managed to get McMann’s back in the final round and cinch in a rear-naked choke to earn the submission victory. It’s a win that Pena needed to end a skid as she tries to work her way back into title contention. The best part was that Pena called out Amanda Nunes and accused the champion of “ducking” her. Interesting. 

 

 

8:45 p.m.: Welcome to Sporting News’ coverage of UFC 257: McGregor vs. Poirier 2. As we continue through the prelims, we have had a stretch of three consecutive decisions. Sara McMann and Julianna Pena are up now. Will this fight also be decided by the judges or will Pena or McMann take it out of their hands. 

McGregor vs. Poirier 2 start time

  • Early prelims: 6:30 p.m. ET
  • Prelims: 8 p.m. ET
  • Main card: 10 p.m. ET
  • Live stream: ESPN+

The main card of UFC 257 is scheduled to start at 10 p.m. ET, following the early prelims (6:30 p.m. ET) and preliminaries (8 p.m. ET).

How to watch McGregor vs. Poirier 2 on PPV

  • UFC 257 early prelims TV channel: ESPN+, UFC FIght Pass
  • UFC 257 prelims TV channel: ESPN+, ESPN 2
  • UFC 257 main card channel: ESPN+ (pay-per-view)

The early prelims and preliminaries at UFC 257 are free to watch on ESPN+ for those who are already subscribed to the streaming service. The pay-per-view portion (i.e., the main card) can be purchased for $69.99. New subscribers can pay a bundle price of $89.99, which includes the fight and an annual subscription to ESPN+.

Click here to learn about the different pricing and bundling options with the ESPN+ platform.

UFC 257 fight card

Main card

  • Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier; lightweights
  • Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler; lightweights 
  • Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood; women’s flyweights 
  • Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas; women’s strawweights 
  • Andrew Sanchez vs. Makhmud Muradov; middleweights 

Prelims

  • Matt Frevola vs. Arman Tsarukyan; catchweight (157 pounds)
  • Brad Tavares def. Antonio Carlos Junior via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27 & 29-28) 
  • Julianna Pena def. Sara McMann via 3rd round submission (3:39)
  • Marcin Prachnio def. Khalil Rountree Jr. via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28 & 29-28)

Early prelims

  • Movsar Evloev def. Nik Lentz via split decision (29-28, 29-28 & 28-29)
  • Amir Albazi def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28 & 29-28)

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