LSU, Alabama set for monster showdown

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LSU, Alabama set for monster showdown

From Comcast SportsNet TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- The LSU and Alabama showdown promises to be a throwback of old-school football. Both the top-ranked and barely tested Tigers and No. 2 and mostly unchallenged Alabama are built on power runs and run-stuffing defenses in a time when spread offenses are en vogue and huddles are optional. "If you want to see 1970s smashmouth,," Alabama tight end Michael Williams said, "then this is what you want to see right here." Yes, Saturday night's game will have a retro feel to it. The vintage philosophies make this one reminiscent of an old Oklahoma-Nebraska or Alabama-Penn State clash. And like those teams, this year's edition of the Tide and Tigers -- both 8-0 with five Southeastern Conference wins -- have racked up double-digit victories But neither Alabama's Nick Saban nor LSU's Les Miles is bringing the wishbone back in fashion. Hitting, and hitting hard, well, that is certainly allowed. Even mandatory. "It's a type of game that ... you don't necessarily see too often nowadays," LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. "It is a little more old-school, so I think that'll be something fun to watch for the fans." LSU's Jarrett Lee -- supplemented by the more mobile Jordan Jefferson -- and Alabama sophomore AJ McCarron have been the league's most efficient quarterbacks for the top two scoring offenses. However, Alabama ranks 66th nationally in passing offense, LSU 99th. The Tigers, who have won on five of their last seven visits to Bryant-Denny. do have a significant deep threat in receiver Rueben Randle. The Tide counters with more of a catch-and-run type in speedy Marquis Maze. What fans will see: -- A test of wills. Compact, powerful backs Trent Richardson of Alabama and LSU's Spencer Ware will be running between the tackles into defensive fronts that typically yield little ground. -- Playmakers on defense. An all-star defender making big tackles, forcing a timely turnover or just laying a resounding hit on some unsuspecting player. On Alabama, the likely candidates include linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, and All-America safety Mark Barron. For LSU, it might be ball-stripping Tyrann Mathieu, fellow cornerback Morris Claiborne or pass rushers Barkevious Mingo or Sam Montgomery. -- Coaching eruptions. It might come from the ultra-intense, scowling Saban or Miles with his penchant for making seemingly odd gambles pay off. With both teams coming off open dates, the hype around the game has been frenzied. Alabama's Williams has heard plenty from friends and family. "Of course, 1 vs. 2, game of the century and all that type of stuff," he said. "You've got to put out the mental clutter." Which isn't to say Williams isn't embracing the hype, even while some teammates downplayed it with that "just another game" spiel. "This is what you come to Alabama for," the tight end said. "Great opportunity for some players. I know the atmosphere will be crazy. This is what you want to play in. It will be one for the ages." It puts the spotlight on a community that was devastated by a deadly tornado in April but has received a regular Saturday pick-me-up from the Tide this fall. "Every time we have a major event here, I think it makes people feel more and more normal about the way things are going," Saban said. This certainly qualifies as major. If the game lives up to its billing and ends up close, the loser's national championship aspirations might not be totally diminished. The loser could have an outside shot at January rematch in New Orleans that really is for the title. Miles isn't thinking about that though, he's content for now to relish a brisk fall Saturday night when temperatures are expected to dip into the 40s. He's practically poetic about it. "How wonderful it is in college football that you have two quality teams that represent two great institutions that will take their best effort to the field to decide something that is difficult, clean and pure as a contest," Miles said. "How wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values. "The school wins, the team wins and the state wins. It is a beautiful time. " And fans will have a menu of stars to enjoy. There's a Heisman Trophy candidate in Richardson, who has scored 18 touchdowns on a team that has yielded a third of that total. Mathieu drew early Heisman buzz, too. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder with an uncanny knack for big plays has forced an LSU career record nine fumbles in just under two seasons. Cornerback bookends Claiborne and Alabama's Maze are also two of the SEC's most dangerous kick returners. With that kind of talent on the field, Saban predicts the game will likely come down to turnovers or special teams. Neither team makes back-breaking mistakes, but LSU hardly makes any -- period. The Tigers didn't commit a turnover in October and have forced 18 this season; they have scored touchdowns on half of the resulting drives. "Their turnover ratio is off the charts, in terms of their defense and their ball-hawking style of play," Saban said. "They have lots of guys on defense who can make plays." Then again so does Alabama. LSU's Hebert said it's harder for a team to impose its will on such a physical opponent. "That's a kind of style where if you can't physically match up you're going to find it very hard to be successful," he said. "And that's what's so special about this next game is that both teams physically match up against each other very well."

OFFSEASON

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are poised to do the seemingly unthinkable: acquire an elite free agent in their prime. 

The Celtics are meeting with four-time all-star Al Horford tonight and as one league executive told CSNNE.com, Boston has emerged as a front-runner for his services after the Atlanta Hawks came to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard. 

And the Celtics will come armed with a four-year, $113 million max-salary offer for the 30-year-old Horford as well.   

In addition to the Celtics, Horford is also reportedly considering signing with the Houston Rockets.

Acquiring Horford would bolster the Celtics’ franchise on multiple levels. For starters, he would provide an upgrade roster-wise to a team whose progress has leveled out the last couple of seasons with first-round playoff exits.

Adding Horford greatly enhances the Celtics’ chances at making a playoff run that extends beyond just the first round. Adding Horford also provides the first real tangible sign that the days of Boston being perceived as no man’s land when it comes to free agents are in the past.

In addition, Horford’s leadership on the floor and inside the locker room can only strengthen a culture that’s deeply rooted in accountability.

But as the Celtics approach their recruitment of Horford with cautious optimism, they know all too well that they can’t afford to take anything involved in wooing him for granted.

While the Rockets may appear to be a team that Boston doesn’t have to worry too much about when it comes to Horford, there is one wild card franchise out there: Oklahoma City.

They’re the odds-on favorite to re-sign Kevin Durant, and adding a player like Horford to the roster could only strengthen their chances of keeping him long-term.

Oklahoma City has explored possible trade opportunities centered around Enes Kanter, which could go far in freeing up space to pursue Horford.

And as one of the six teams that Durant will meet with this weekend, the Celtics are well aware of the minefield that awaits them in trying to secure Horford as well as their top target, Durant.

The fact that Boston is on the short list for the top two free agents out there (Durant and Horford), speaks volumes as to how far this franchise has come from a perception standpoint in the eyes of the league’s best players.

Both Horford and Durant have talked in glowing terms about the Celtics franchise, head coach Brad Stevens and the players.

And the Celtics have made no secret about wanting both to eventually become Celtics, something that now stands as a legit possibility with Boston well in the mix for both players.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

The Bruins made a number of signings official on the first day of NHL free agency on Friday along with the big prize in hard-hitting, productive center David Backes.

Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin signed a two-year deal worth $1.2 million per season to return as a goaltending tandem with Tuukka Rask as they were back in a highly successful 2012-13 NHL season.

Hustling, grinding fourth line forward Riley Nash was signed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bruins as well, and had nine goals and 22 points in 64 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season in an energy forward role. In his five-year NHL career, Nash has played in 242 games, amassing 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points with 69 penalty minutes, including a career-high 10 goals a couple of years ago with the Hurricanes.

The 36-year-old John-Michael Liles signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Bruins after arriving from Carolina at the NHL trade deadline last spring. Liles appeared in 17 games and notched six assists along with a minus-6 rating for the Bruins in 2015-16 after being acquired for Anthony Camara, a 2016 third-round pick and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 29, 2016. Prior to joining up with Boston, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Liles played in all 64 games for Carolina, recording six goals and nine assists for 15 points with 16 penalty minutes.

“We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate. He provides depth and balance to our lineup, as did Riley Nash. And Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons. John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth. Tyler Randell emerged last year was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance. And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop.

“He found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board. So I think the overall philosophy of today and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that. But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players. They should be excited about this opportunity.”

Tommy Cross, Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller all signed one-year, two-way deals with the Bruins for an NHL value of $600,000, but are all expected to play the bulk of the season at the AHL level barring anything unexpected. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs