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College Football Playoff rankings questions include LSU, Alabama

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Ohio State should strengthen its hold on No. 1 in the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings, with one more weekend left before the selection committee makes the final decision for the national semifinals.

LSU was impressive in a 50-7 win against Texas A&M, rolling out to a 31-0 halftime lead, and players afterwards admitted to drawing motivation from last week’s drop to No. 2. But beating the Aggies won’t offset the Buckeyes’ 56-27 win against Michigan, the program’s eighth in a row in the series.

The Tigers could still leapfrog back to No. 1 with a strong performance and win in the upcoming SEC championship game against Georgia. On the other hand, OSU could cement its top-ranked status by dealing out another 30-point win against Wisconsin to take the Big Ten championship — the Buckeyes won 38-7 when the two teams met in late October.

For now, the biggest questions facing the committee revolve around the chase for No. 4, which centers on Utah and two teams from the Big 12. Here’s what the committee will address with the fifth rankings:

Utah or Oklahoma at No. 5?

It’ll be Utah for now, though the Sooners will be close behind at No. 6 after a strong defensive performance paced a 34-16 rivalry win against Oklahoma State. It will be interesting to hear how committee chairman Rob Mullens describes and defines the gap between the two teams — the committee has been down before on Oklahoma and its defense, but should be impressed by how that unit fared against the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Utes have built a stellar case for No. 4 while cruising through the Pac-12, with all but one of the team’s conference wins coming by 18 or more points.

Both teams will also keep track of a conference rival: Utah will want to know where Oregon will fall before Friday’s Pac-12 championship, while OU will keep tabs on how far Baylor moves up after beating Kansas to move to 11-1. (The Bears will very likely be No. 8 while Oregon should be passed by Auburn and stay at No. 14.) And there’s another Big 12 team the Sooners will be hoping cracks the Top 25.

POWER RANKINGS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Highs and lows from Week 14 in college football 

MISERY INDEX: Michigan’s issues cut deeper than losses to Ohio State

Will Kansas State crack the Top 25?

That would be Kansas State, the only team to beat OU in the regular season. For one, look for Iowa State and Oklahoma State to fall out of the rankings, leaving the Sooners without the two needle-moving metric of another two wins against teams in the Top 25. But adding the Wildcats into this week’s rankings could be a strong asset in the Sooners’ corner, since it increases the odds the committee will view Kansas State as a quality loss. The Wildcats will have a case for the Top 25 after ending the regular season with a strong win against the Cyclones.

Where will Alabama land?

If meaningless in the overall playoff picture, since Saturday’s Iron Bowl loss to Auburn eliminated Alabama from contention, it will be interesting to see how the committee handles a team with two high-quality losses — with LSU the other — and a high level of brand recognition but no marquee win. In fact, the Crimson Tide’s best win might be against Tennessee, which has reeled off five wins in a row since that 35-13 loss to Alabama on Oct. 20. Overall, Alabama owns four victories against bowl teams, one being Southern Mississippi, and went 0-2 against opponents that finished the regular season with more than seven wins.

What about Cincinnati and Boise State?

There’s no debate over the New Year’s Six should Memphis win the rematch against Cincinnati and take the American — the Tigers are in with no questions asked and no controversy. But what if the Bearcats avenge this past weekend’s loss to win the conference? At 11-2, Cincinnati can tout one Power Five win (UCLA), two non-conference wins against bowl teams (Miami (Ohio) and Marshall) and another three strong wins (Central Florida, Temple and Memphis) to go with the championship of the best conference in the Group of Five.

Boise State might be able to do the Bearcats one better. With a win against Hawaii to win the Mountain West, the Broncos would sit at 12-1 with a better Power Five win (Florida State), its own non-conference win against Marshall and five wins conference against eventual bowl teams (Air Force, Wyoming, Utah State and Hawaii twice). One way to tell if the Broncos’ edge may be too much to overcome: How far will the committee dock Cincinnati, which was No. 19 a week ago, and will Boise State move up from No. 20?

How will they sort out the Big Ten?

There’s no argument over Ohio State’s place atop the conference, just as there should be little doubt over the Buckeyes’ ability to remain atop the rankings after steamrolling past Michigan. But the committee will have its hands full in ranking the next wave of Big Ten teams, each with three or fewer losses and a case for a high-profile bowl: Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa.

Three-loss Iowa should bring up the rear due to its loss to Michigan, though the Hawkeyes came within a whisper of winning at least one more game during the regular season. Minnesota’s loss to Wisconsin will drop the Golden Gophers out of the top 10. The real debate comes over which team comes next, whether it’s 10-2 Penn State, with its solid wins against the Hawkeyes and Wolverines, or 10-2 Wisconsin, which has wins against Iowa, Michigan and the Gophers.



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This Helmet Will Save Football. Actually, Probably Not.

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Walk between a colonnade of palm trees and push through a door at Stanford University and find a sorcerer’s apprentice lab where prospective Ph.D. sorts beaver away at bioengineering programs.

This is CamLab, where David Camarillo, a nationally respected bioengineer and former college football tight end, and his students are in pursuit of that American El Dorado: They seek a helmet that will make it safe to play tackle football.

Dr. Camarillo, 40, insisted they could soon crack the case.

He tapped at his keyboard and on the screen, watched a simulation of his new helmet shock absorber, and whispered: “This could reduce concussions by at least 75 percent. Theoretically, this is the holy grail.”

That might be an unintentionally apt metaphor. No one, after all, has found Jesus’ chalice. After years of research, only a few scientists believe they can still make such a helmet. Many who study this field say a more sophisticated helmet may even prove dangerous.

Their worry is based in fact. When a 310-pound man who runs a 40-yard dash in five seconds flat slams into a running back, that runner’s neck and head accelerate, and the brain and its fibers twist and stretch and tear. A particularly rough hit could jar open the blood-brain barrier, the semipermeable wall that prevents bacterial pathogens from entering the brain.

The danger isn’t limited to the largest and fastest people. In fact, smaller repeated hits — as opposed to spectacular collisions — are the real danger. Football, brain experts say, can represent imminent danger to the brain of a child, a teenager or an adult. No advance in helmet making, they say, is likely to materially change that.

Willy Moss, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, has worked with Dr. Goldstein and the Department of Defense, seeking to develop better helmets for players in contact sports and soldiers in war zones. He has also consulted with Dr. Camarillo.

He is open to a breakthrough in helmet technology, though a thin smile spoke to profound doubt.

“You can make whatever changes you want, but in the end it’s all physics,” he said. “Talking of new and better buffers is like Goldilocks and the three foams.”

Stefan Duma, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech, runs a respected helmet lab that evaluates and rates them, and he has tracked the breadth of the technological leap. More sophisticated helmets and foams have reduced the acceleration of the head by about 50 percent, and all of the companies, he said, are engaged in research to develop new technologies. But he is not convinced that great advances remain.

C.T.E. remains an ever-present danger no matter what a player wears on his head. “Not getting hit in the head at all is the best thing for you,” he said.

“The top five or six pro helmets are interchangeable, well designed and perform well,” he added. “But we have to be clear: This is about risk reduction.”

So the argument is joined, and there’s no doubting the stakes. The N.F.L. recognizes the threat to its future and has shoveled money into helmet and concussion research as fast as a stoker tosses coal into a furnace. It has spent $200 million, and counting, in the past decade, and the Department of Defense has poured in tens of millions of dollars of its own, hoping to find better protection for soldiers. In mid-November, the N.F.L. announced a $2 million grant competition to create a new “top performing helmet.”

Taken on its own, the $140 million football helmet business is dominated by a half-dozen companies and offers a poor profit center, as the market is small and heavily weighted down with insurance liability costs. Dr. Camarillo has applied for a piece of that N.F.L. bounty and has yet to receive money. He is principally underwritten by a grant from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.

Should Dr. Camarillo succeed in creating a radically safer helmet, he hopes his technology would apply to broader and more lucrative sports markets, cycling, lacrosse and hockey. The innovations also are of interest to car manufacturers.

“My goal is not to be a consultant to football,” he said. “Really traumatic brain injury is a much bigger issue.”

And he is convinced that a better helmet can help solve it.

Dr. Camarillo grew up in a seaside agricultural town across the Santa Cruz Mountains from Silicon Valley. He played linebacker and tight end in high school, but at Princeton, in the late 1990s, he concentrated on tight end. All the banging in linebackers practice proved brutal, and he developed fierce migraines. “I was in serious pain,” he said.

He loves the sport and grows poetic as he describes a team camaraderie that cut across race and class. He is loath to see that culture wither. With a background in biomechanics and biophysics, he worked in surgical robotics before launching his own lab at Stanford in 2012; he is focused on understanding and preventing traumatic brain injury. He has worked on developing safer football equipment with a biomechanical approach, using gyroscopes and measuring the rate of rotation of the head upon impact.

He works there with a neuroscientist and neuroradiologist, Dr. Michael Zeineh, and a pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Gerald Grant, who has devoted years of work to concussions.

“We have to know the mechanisms of injury, biologically, and what are the tolerance levels,” he said. “How much is too much?”

He developed a computerized mouth guard. It was hoped that mouth guards might lessen the impact of hits and lead to fewer concussions. That has not panned out, but the high-tech mouth guards have helped scientists chart the nature of damaging blows. “Every person reacts different to taking a traumatic physical hit,” he said.

Dr. Camarillo’s hope for the future of helmets, which other scientists at other institutions are pursuing as well, relies on two of the oldest earthly substances: water and oil. His team inserts one of these fluids into helmet columns and uses its nearly unmatched ability to absorb the massive energy load of a football hit, and thus reduce the effect of the hit on the head and brain.

Challenges remain, not the least of which is that water is heavy, even in small quantities; no player wants to carry a water bed on his head.

Dr. Camarillo said that his team seemed to have found a way to engineer around that challenge, that it could produce something no heavier than a bike helmet.

“It is predicting less than one concussion per football season for a team,” he said. “Maybe it’s too good to be true and maybe it is, but theoretically? It looks possible.”

His findings so far are drawn from computer simulations, and no matter how sophisticated they are, that’s not the same as a good field test.

In the battle over football and brain health, Dr. Camarillo portrays himself as occupying the sensible center, an agnostic caught between ravening ideologues. There are those who deny that football damages the brain, and, in his telling, there is the C.T.E., sky-is-falling camp, which sees no choice other than to end football.

“It has become so charged it’s almost political,” he said.

He raised a doubting eyebrow about aspects of the expansive C.T.E. research of those at Boston University and Carnegie Mellon. He argued those groundbreaking experiments — the ones that have shown that repeated and less powerful hits can produce C.T.E. in mice — were less conclusive than they appeared. “What is a concussion in a rodent?” he said. “Can we so clearly define it in a human? No.”

I spoke to a half-dozen neuroscientists from four universities, and all said that the science of using mice as analogues for humans is robust and that evidence that shows repeated hits damage the brain keeps accumulating.

I shared Dr. Camarillo’s views on the drawbacks of experimenting on mice with Dr. Goldstein of Boston University. He sighed and fell silent on the phone line before speaking.

“He can believe whatever he wants, but it’s a misinformed reading of the science,” he said. “We get identical neuropathology in our animal models that we have seen in humans.”

The two sides in this debate as often seem to speak different languages. The N.F.L. and the N.C.A.A. and Dr. Camarillo talk of an overarching goal: preventing concussions, which they regard as synonymous with the brain damage caused by football. Camarillo works independently for now of the helmet manufacturers, although he hopes that one day soon that might be different.

Researchers at Boston University and Carnegie Mellon and elsewhere focus on C.T.E. as the greatest threat and insist the culprit is not the concussion — as terrible as that injury can be. Rather, it’s thousands of cumulative hits over many years. So yes, taking a freight train hit from a pro linebacker is dangerous — but being repeatedly whacked and knocked to the ground thousands of times by players in Pop Warner, middle school and high school puts you at more risk for C.T.E.

The average college and professional player undergoes 700 to 1,000 hits each year, rattling and twisting and tearing at the brain inside the skull. “I can say with great certainty that there is no correlation between a single concussion and C.T.E.,” Dr. Goldstein said. “It’s the accumulation of hits.”

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Rochester collaborated on a recent study in which they put sensors in the helmets of 38 Division III college players and measured hits in practices and games. Only two players sustained concussions that season. But season-ending tests found evidence of structural damage and change in the brains of two-thirds of the players.

“It’s woven into every play,” said Bradford Mahon, a cognitive neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon.

His partner, Adnan Hirad of the University of Rochester, held out the possibility that a better helmet might help in the margins. But that’s it. “It’s a dangerous sport, and we can’t mince words about a technology. There’s no El Dorado.”

I asked Dr. Goldstein what sort of technological breakthrough would protect a player against C.T.E.? He peered at me. “A force field that keeps a player from blocking or tackling you,” he said.

He did not smile.

I mentioned to Dr. Camarillo this upwelling of skepticism. He nodded with the confidence of a true believer. He and several of these scientists know each other and plan to collaborate on research. If his proposed helmet reduces concussions, he said, logically it might reduce the force of subconcussive hits that cause long-term damage to the brain. In this way, he said, it’s analogous less to a cigarette filter than to technological changes that have made surviving car crashes progressively safer.

I mentioned that claim to Dr. Goldstein and his head started to wag. He insisted the evidence on C.T.E. and the toll taken by even small hits did not support Dr. Camarillo’s optimism. “This is hope-and-a-prayer science,” he said.

Evidence could take years, at the very least, to accumulate. For now, there is no way to diagnose C.T.E. in the living; it can be found only with an autopsy.

And yet Dr. Camarillo is not deterred. “I hope this is like the seatbelt,” he said of his new helmet design, with a jauntiness that would warm the heart of an N.F.L. executive. “And the day will come when you think it’s just crazy we didn’t have it sooner.”



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A Grip on Sports: The basketball weekend is off to a great start, highlighted by a monster dunk in Cheney

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A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s not hard to understand why Gonzaga and Arizona are playing tonight. The two best West Coast (sort of) schools meeting in Tucson is a big deal in college basketball circles. But there was also a big deal out in Cheney last night even if the schools aren’t usually on the radar nationally.

•••••••

• No, Eastern Washington and Multnomah facing off in a nonconference game isn’t usually going to draw the attention of SportsCenter. But it did last night thanks to one play by Spokane’s own, Tanner Groves.

The 6-foot-9 post from Shadle Park High threw down a follow dunk in transition that raised the roof later that evening on the self-proclaimed World-Wide Leader.

As it should have.

Groves dunk, and ensuing old school celebration, had already gone viral on Twitter – the video has been viewed almost 700,000 times. So it’s no surprise the late SportsCenter on ESPN, with Seattle native Kenny Mayne in the anchor chair, picked it as No. 1 in its nightly Top Ten plays list.

It was that good.

So good, in fact, it overpowered everything else from the game, including Eastern’s 146-89 win? Nationally, an afterthought. Mason Peatling’s Big Sky record 54 points – in 24 minutes? Same thing. Former Lewis and Clark High guard Justin Martin’s 34 points and Multnomah’s 21 made 3-pointers? Not even that.

This one was about Groves’ high-flying, vicious dunk.

• Tonight’s game in Tucson may feature a few dunks itself, though probably nothing as emphatic as Groves’.

Maybe though, and it may be to Gonzaga’s favor. After all, the Zags’ inside game is where they should have an edge against the home team.

The Wildcats’ strength?

Arizona features one of the nation’s most electric freshmen guards, one-and-done point Nico Mannion.

The Zags recruited Mannion, from Phoenix, though the 6-3 guard’s final decision reportedly came down to Arizona and Marquette. He has already established himself as one of the top point guards on the West Coast (sort of) in just 11 games.

One caveat, however. In Arizona’s two most-recent games against Power 6 competition (a win over Wake Forest and a loss at Baylor), Mannion was just a combined 6-of-25 shooting and was 1-of-8 beyond the arc.

• If you are wondering why I have already twice written “West Coast (sort of),” it’s simple. I like to nit-pick.

I know Arizona plays in the Pac-12 Conference, which is considered a West Coast conference (as opposed to Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference, with its second capital C). But is Arizona really a West Coast school?

Consider this. Tucson is 407 driving miles from San Diego, basically the closest U.S. city on the Pacific Ocean. That’s a haul. In fact, it’s farther from Tucson to San Diego than it is from Youngstown, Ohio, to the Atlantic Ocean. And no one in their right mind would ever consider Ohio an East Coast state.

If you are wondering, it is 365 air miles from Tucson to San Diego, which puts it roughly the same distance from the ocean as St. Regis, Montana. I don’t think anyone in St. Regis believes they live on the West Coast.

•••

WSU: The Cougars are getting ready for their bowl game in Phoenix, named after a not-so-nutritious snack food. But their practices are anything but junk. In fact, Mike Leach is using the time to see what returning quarterbacks Gunner Cruz and Cammon Cooper can do. Theo Lawson has more in this story. … Theo, along with prep writer Dave Nichols, spoke with Larry Weir yesterday for the Press Box pod. … Former WSU defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has a new job. Theo tells us he has signed on at Virginia Tech. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Washington will be ready for the Las Vegas Bowl. … Oregon will have its offensive coordinator in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks won’t have one of their running backs, though. … Utah may be without another defensive back as well in the Alamo Bowl. … USC hopes to pack in the recruits late. … Former EWU assistant coach Zac Hill looks to be headed to Arizona State as offensive coordinator. … In basketball news, Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle is shooting well from distance. … Colorado survived at Colorado State. … USC is officially under investigation by the NCAA. … UCLA heads to Notre Dame in what’s always been a great rivalry. … Arizona State faces Georgia and the Bulldogs’ star, Anthony Edwards.

Gonzaga: Yes, there is a game tonight in Tucson. And yes, Jim Meehan has a preview as well as a look at the key matchup between Mannion and Ryan Woolridge. But there is also a game in the Kennel, with the women hosting Texas Southern. Jim Allen has that preview. … By the way, tonight’s game in Tucson might decide where a Georgetown transfer decides to play next year. … Around the WCC, BYU has a tough matchup with Utah State.

EWU: Ryan Collingwood was at Reese Court yesterday to witness Eastern’s offensive fireworks. They are all contained in this story. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, there are two Big Sky schools left in the FCS semifinals. Weber State, which lost earlier this season in Missoula, turned the tables in Ogden, winning 17-10 over Montana. The Wildcats will travel to James Madison in one semifinal. … Montana State controlled Austin Peay’s potent offense and won 24-10 in Bozeman. The Bobcats will more than likely be traveling to North Dakota State next weekend.

Preps: Friday nights are always busy in the prep ranks and last night was no exception. We have roundups from GSL boys and GSL girls as well as from the area girls and boys games. … Mt. Spokane’s Tia Allen was named the state’s top volleyball player in the 3A ranks. Dave has that story.

Chiefs: Spokane is headed on the road for a pre-Christmas four-game trip. Dan Thompson has a preview of the Chiefs’ travels, coming, as they do, on the heels of a five-game winning streak.

Seahawks: The margin of error is just about gone. … And guess what? Jadeveon Clowney and Mychal Kendricks won’t play against Carolina.

Mariners: Is a Kyle Seager trade possible?

•••       

• By the way, full disclosure here, I know Tanner Groves and his family well. He played in our Eastern Washington Elite summer program as did his younger brother Jake, a freshman at EWU. But my relationship with the Groves family dates back many years before that. Until later …



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An Arsenal Star Criticized China’s Detention Camps. Fury Soon Followed.

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BEIJING — The German soccer star Mesut Özil is the latest international sports celebrity to be at the center of controversy over China’s hard-line policies, igniting fury among Chinese internet users by denouncing the country’s mass detention of Muslims.

Mr. Özil, who is of Turkish heritage and plays for Arsenal, an English Premier League club, took on one of China’s most sensitive policies with his comments on Friday about Uighurs, a largely Muslim Turkic minority in Xinjiang, in northwestern China.

The Chinese authorities have held as many as a million Uighurs, and possibly more, in indoctrination camps meant to drastically weaken their commitment to Islam. The internments have drawn international anger and led to legislation in the United States Congress that could impose sanctions on Chinese officials over the detentions, which China says are intended to deter terrorism.

“They shut down their mosques. They ban their schools. They kill their holy men. The men are forced into camps and their families are forced to live with Chinese men,” read identical posts on Mr. Özil’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, according to a translation by The Guardian.

“But Muslims are silent,” they read. “Don’t they know that giving consent for persecution is persecution itself?”

While some foreign celebrities and companies who have offended Chinese sensitivities in recent years seem to have done so unwittingly, there seems little doubt that Mr. Özil’s remarks were carefully chosen. His reference to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, a name for the region used by advocates of self-rule for Uighurs, made matters worse for many Chinese.

Arsenal quickly tried to distance itself from Mr. Özil’s posts, but the club’s response did not stave off a wave of online anger in China.

“The content posted was entirely Özil’s personal view,” Arsenal said in a statement early Saturday on Weibo, a social media platform that, like Twitter, allows users to share comments. “As a football club, Arsenal always adheres to the principle of keeping out of politics.”

“I argue that we Chinese people should maintain a scornful attitude toward these kinds of people and their games,” he said.





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