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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, November 29, 2012


    USF men vs. Georgia

    When/where: 7; Sun Dome, Tampa

    TV/radio: ESPNU; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM. Records: USF 4-2, UGA 2-4.

    Notable: This is part of the SEC-Big East Challenge. Neither team has won in the event before; Georgia is 0-2, and USF lost to Vanderbilt in Nashville in 2008 in its only previous appearance. This is a good opportunity for USF. Georgia has lost to Southern Miss and Youngstown State, with its wins against East Tennessee State and Jacksonville. The Bulldogs lost by four to UCLA and by 13 to No. 1 Indiana. Georgia is led by 6-foot-5 sophomore G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who averages 17.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. USF is led by senior F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick's 13 points per game, with senior G Jawanza Poland at 11 points per game off the bench.

    Greg Auman, Times staff writer

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    By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    B.J. Upton spent most of his first day as an Atlanta Brave talking about the future. But at the end, with some prompting, he admitted there was some looking back as well.

    "I loved playing in Tampa," Upton told the Tampa Bay Times. "I loved playing with those guys. And I wish I could have continued to do that. But I think we both know that wasn't going to happen. I was prepared to leave mentally. And I'm happy with the way it turned out."

    He had plenty of reasons, signing a five-year, $75.25 million contract that is the largest for a free-agent in Braves history. The Rays knew they couldn't keep Upton and didn't negotiate past the one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer required for draft pick compensation if he signed somewhere else.

    Upton said during his news conference he didn't hold "any grudges" and would always think fondly of his time with the Rays. (Though he did note how the Braves embraced him during a Nov. 15 recruiting trip: "I really never felt like that before.")

    "I look back on my time in Tampa with a lot of great memories and a lot of great teammates," he said later. "I grew up in the big leagues, so there were a lot of ups and down. But I wouldn't change a thing."

    Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman, acknowledging the integral role Upton played in their transformation to contender, wished him well.

    "And," Friedman said. "I'm glad that he's going to the National League."

    Upton, who will wear his familiar No. 2, gets a $3 million signing bonus and salaries starting at $12.45 million and going up $1 million per year.

    What will he miss most about playing for the Rays?

    "The fans, man," he said. "I know we had our ups and downs, but they really supported me. I was a Ray for 10 years, and the support meant a lot. I'll never forget it."

    In other Rays news:

    •With a midnight tonight deadline to tender contracts, the Rays face interesting decisions on several of their eight arbitration-eligible players, specifically infielder Ryan Roberts, who projects to make $3 million, and outfielder Ben Francisco, around $2 million. Also in question could be infielder Sean Rodriguez (around $1 million) and reliever Burke Badenhop ($1.6 million). In some cases, the team may seek to negotiate lower salaries by the deadline and if not then cut the players loose with the potential to re-sign later.

    •Utility infielder Mike Fontenot seems to have the best chance of making the team of six players signed to minor-league contracts with spring training invitations. Two other newcomers are first baseman Nick Weglarz and right-hander Will Inman, neither with big-league time. Re-signed were outfielder Rich Thompson, and minor-league infielder Shawn O'Malley and right-hander Matt Buschmann.

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    By Coley Harvey, Orlando Sentinel
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida State contends that even during this week of rumor and speculation, it is maintaining its focus on the prize before it.

    All summer and fall, players talked about winning the ACC championship to earn a berth in the Orange Bowl.

    On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops accepted the coaching job at Kentucky. Reports from websites that cover Kentucky say fellow FSU offensive coordinator and tight ends coach James Coley might become his offensive coordinator. There also is talk of FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and the vacancy at Auburn.

    "You've got to tune out the outside as best as you can," S Terrence Brooks said of facing Georgia Tech in Saturday's conference title game. "We still have to take care of business this season, and all that after-the-season stuff will take care of itself after the season."

    'Nole, 'Cane honored: FSU RB Chris Thompson and Miami DE Shayon Green were named co-winners of the ACC's Brian Piccolo Award, which is given to the conference's most courageous player.

    Thompson, a senior, fractured his back Oct. 8, 2011, against Wake Forest and returned to lead the Seminoles in rushing.

    During the past three years, Green, a redshirt junior, has torn his ACL twice, torn the meniscus in his knee and dislocated his wrist. He returned this season to lead the Hurricanes in tackles.

    UF: Safety commits

    Orlando Dr. Phillips' Marcell Harris orally committed to Florida. The 6-foot-1, 207-pounder, ranked among the top 10 safeties nationally by ESPN and Rivals, made an official visit to Florida State over the weekend and decided after attending the FSU-Florida game. Harris' father, Mike, was a Florida defensive back in the mid '90s.

    Commitments cannot be made official until Feb. 6.

    Antonya English, Times staff writer

    UCF: Different feeling

    ORLANDO — UCF's players said the energy in the locker room feels different as they prepare for the Conference USA title game Saturday at Tulsa.

    "Everyone is more intense. Everything is more detailed," said redshirt sophomore WR J.J. Worton, who will play in his first title game. "People know what they need to do, and we're getting ready."

    Said RB Latavius Murray, part of the Knights' 2010 C-USA title team: "Most definitely a different energy."

    But coach George O'Leary's approach remains the same.

    "If you have to say a lot to get them ready to play, you have problems," O'Leary said.

    "They have an opportunity to reach the only goal they set for themselves, the conference championship. That's all that really needs to be said if their goal meant something when they made it."

    Orlando Sentinel

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    Times wires
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    WASHINGTON — Lawyers for players appealing NFL suspensions in the Saints bounties case cross-examined one key witness Thursday. Now they're supposed to get a chance to confront another central figure: former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

    Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue is overseeing the latest round of player appeals; former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo was scheduled to take questions Thursday. Lawyers for the league and the NFL Players Association spent more than nine hours in a Washington office building.

    "I am keeping with the direction of the commissioner to not talk about this," NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch said on his way out.

    Tagliabue has insisted on keeping the contents of the private hearings under wraps. He and various lawyers attending Thursday's session declined to comment afterward.

    Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith have said they plan to be present today when Williams is slated to attend.

    Vilma and Smith — along with two former Saints, free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita — were suspended by the NFL for the Saints' cash-for-hits program that the league says Williams ran from 2009 to 2011.

    Smith, suspended four games, and Vilma, banned for the entire current season, have been playing while their appeals are pending.

    Vick still out: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick still has not passed his concussion tests and has not been cleared to practice this week. Nick Foles likely will make his third straight start when the Eagles, losers of seven in a row, try to avoid their longest losing streak in 44 years Sunday against the Cowboys.

    Blacked out: The Bills will not be shown on local TV because more than 15,000 tickets for Sunday's game against the Jaguars remain unsold.… The Raiders' home game against the Browns will not be televised locally because 85 percent of the nonpremium tickets were not sold 72 hours before the game.

    Bears: Linebacker Lance Briggs (sore ankle) and running back Matt Forte (ankle) expect to play this week against Seattle.

    49ers: Alex Smith is trying to understand how he lost his job as starting quarterback to Colin Kaepernick a month after being named NFC offensive player of the week. "I feel like the only thing I did to lose my job was get a concussion," said Smith, who was medically cleared to play but was not coach Jim Harbaugh's choice against the Rams.

    Jaguars: Defensive end Jason Babin, picked up off waivers from the Eagles, practiced well enough in his first outing with Jacksonville for defensive coordinator Joe Cullen to say Babin can help "a ton" against Buffalo. "Third and long during the game, he will be ready," Cullen said.

    Packers: Running back Cedric Benson will remain on injured reserve for the rest of the season after having surgery Wednesday on his sprained left foot.

    Raiders: Linebacker Rolando McClain is not suspended and is still on the roster, but he was told not to report to the facility and to stay out of practice for a second straight day. Coach Dennis Allen sent the former first-round pick away Wednesday for undisclosed reasons. "There's going to be consequences to his actions, and it's a team-related issue," Allen said. "I don't really want to get into the details of it."

    Steelers: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger practiced in a limited role but appears to be a long shot to face Baltimore. Roethlisberger sprained his right shoulder and dislocated a rib two weeks ago. Charlie Batch likely will make a second straight start.

    Texans: The league reduced its fine on defensive end Antonio Smith for kicking Miami's Richie Incognito from $21,000 to $11,000. Smith appealed, saying he was retaliating to Incognito's stepping on his right ankle during the season opener.

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  • 11/29/12--19:26: Sports in brief
  • Times wires
    Thursday, November 29, 2012


    Yankees bring Rivera Back in $10 million deal

    NEW YORK —Baseball career saves leader Mariano Rivera and the Yankees agreed Thursday to a $10 million, one-year contract, the Associated Press reported.

    The deal reportedly includes additional bonus opportunities.

    Rivera accepted a cut in guaranteed money from his $30 million, two-year deal that had covered the past two years.

    Rivera, who turned 43 Thursday, was limited to nine games last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee May 3.

    Also, catcher Russell Martin departed, agreeing to a $17 million, two-year contract with the Pirates.

    More baseball

    Nationals get Span for minor-leaguer

    The Nationals acquired Denard Span from the Twins for minor-league right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer, giving the NL East champs a leadoff hitter and centerfielder.

    Span, 28, out of Tampa Catholic High School, is a career .284 hitter with 23 home runs, 230 RBIs, 90 steals and a .357 on-base percentage.

    "I'm ready to be coming to a team that is already in a place to win, and I just hope that I can come here and not get in the way," said Span, in the fourth year of a $16.5 million, five-year contract.


    Labor talks break with no progress

    The NHL, the players union and now federal mediators agree on one thing: The sides are nowhere near a labor deal that would bring hockey back.

    The league and the locked-out union wrapped up two days of talks in New Jersey with help from mediators but moved no closer to a solution to save the season. Afterward, commissioner Gary Bettman suggested the next meeting be with owners and players and no league or union staff. The union said it would consider the idea.

    Et cetera

    Golf: Nick Watney's strong back nine carried him to a first-round 5-under 67 and a two-shot lead in the 18-player World Challenge at Thousand Oaks, Calif. Tiger Woods, the tournament host, shot 70.

    Soccer: Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski was a runaway winner of Major League Soccer's MVP award. His 27 goals tied the MLS season record set by Tampa Bay's Roy Lassiter in 1996. … Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta were named finalists for FIFA's world player of the year award. The women's finalists are Marta and the U.S. duo of Alex Morgan and former Gator Abby Wambach.

    COLLEGES: Florida State faces Penn State at 8:30 tonight in a national semifinal of the NCAA women's soccer tournament in San Diego. Stanford faces North Carolina in the other semifinal. … In volleyball, host Tampa beat Clark Atlanta and Eckerd lost to Florida Southern in openers of the Division II South Region. UT hosts Florida Southern tonight at 7:30.

    Autos: Dale Earnhardt Jr. tied Bill Elliott's record of 10 consecutive wins as NASCAR's most popular driver, winning the fan voting award over Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart. Elliott and Richard Petty are the only other drivers to win the award more than five times.

    Swimming: Ryan Lochte barely missed breaking his American record in the 200-yard individual medley at the Winter National Championships in Austin, Texas. He won in 1 minute, 40.97 seconds, 0.89 seconds off his 2007 mark.

    Times wires

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    Times wires
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    LOS ANGELES — Monte Kiffin, the Bucs' defensive coordinator when they won the Super Bowl, will resign as coordinator on his son Lane's staff at USC after the Trojans' bowl game. He is leaving "in order to pursue opportunities in the NFL," the school said in a statement Thursday.

    "I respect my father's decision," Lane Kiffin said in the statement. "We are very appreciative of the hard work and effort that he put in at USC these past three years."

    Monte Kiffin, 72, has coached for 47 years, 26 in the NFL. He was the Bucs' defensive coordinator for 13, from 1996-2008, constructing the famed Tampa 2 defense. When Lane was hired by Tennessee in 2009, Monte joined him. Both moved to USC a year later.

    USC started 2012 No. 1 in the polls and among the national title contenders but hasn't lived up to the hype. It has allowed 178 points while losing four of its past five games to fall to 7-5, and the defense is among the worst in school history. It is 62nd in Division I-A allowing an average 396.1 yards per game and is tied for 46th at 24.6 points. The low point came when it allowed school records of 62 points and 730 yards in a 62-51 home loss to Oregon.

    "I really enjoyed my time at USC," Monte Kiffin said in the statement. "The chance to work for my son, Lane, was unique and memorable. Although things didn't always go as well as we would have liked this year … I will leave USC with the utmost respect for the university, the Trojan family and, most importantly, the players I had the good fortune to coach."

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    Times wires
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Eric Atkins scored 16 and Notre Dame beat No. 8 Kentucky 64-50 Thursday night for its 41st victory in the past 42 home games.

    Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant each had 13 points for the Fighting Irish (7-1), who led by 11 at halftime. The Wildcats (4-2) got no closer than 10 from there.

    "The way our guards were controlling things, I didn't have to do a lot of coaching," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.

    Notre Dame, wearing black uniforms with stitched green letters and numbers that were hard to see, outplayed Kentucky inside early and held the Wildcats to a season-low 40 percent shooting. Students rushed the floor — though Grant said he wished they hadn't because "all of us were expecting to win this game" — after the Irish wrapped up their second win over Kentucky in the past 13 meetings.

    "They beat us to balls. They beat us around the basket. We didn't compete. We didn't execute. We didn't play together. There's a lot of things we didn't do," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "You have to give Notre Dame credit."

    No. 12 Gonzaga 104, Lewis-Clark State 57: Redshirt freshman Kyle Dranginis scored a season high 30 for the host Bulldogs (7-0).

    St. John's 89, South Carolina 65: D'Angelo Harrison broke 20 points for the sixth time in seven games, finishing with 26 for the host Red Storm. Gamecocks junior guard Brenton Williams was taken off on a stretcher after falling and injuring his neck when he was fouled. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation and had movement in his extremities, a school spokeswoman said.

    uconn 61, n. hampshire 53: Ryan Boatright scored 19 and the host Huskies, leading by four in the final minute, made their free throws to survive. Connecticut's leading scorer, Shabazz Napier, took only nine shots and scored five points.

    sun belt: South Alabama beat Florida Atlantic 77-66, its 300th conference win, pulling coach Ronnie Arrow into a tie with Gene Bartow for the all-time Sun Belt record.

    No. 16 Missouri: Starting guard Michael Dixon will no longer play for the school. Dixon, the sixth man of the year in the Big 12 and part of its all-defensive team last season, has been suspended all this season because of a sexual assault allegation, and a second documented allegation of rape has surfaced. Dixon isn't facing criminal charges in either case.


    UM edges No. 6 Penn State: Morgan Stroman scored 15 and host Miami beat No. 6 Penn State 69-65. Suriya McGuire's layup with 14 seconds left made it 67-65. Alex Bentley of the Nittany Lions (5-1) missed a jumper with five seconds left. Michelle Woods rebounded for Miami (5-1) and made two free throws to clinch it.

    No. 5 Notre Dame 72, C. Mich. 63: Skylar Diggins scored 17 of her 25 in the first half and the visiting Irish (5-0) pulled away.

    No. 12 OU 96, NW State 35: Aaryn Ellenberg scored 22 and the host Sooners (6-1) rolled after learning that freshman starting guard Maddie Manning will miss the rest of the regular season because of a right knee injury sustained in practice. Nicole Kornet, starting for Manning, scored a career-high 19.

    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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  • 11/29/12--20:16: Sports on TV/radio
  • Times sports staff

    Thursday, November 29, 2012



    Sprint Cup: Awards ceremony, 8 p.m., Speed

    College basketball

    Tennessee at Georgetown, 6:30 p.m., ESPN

    Georgia at USF, 7 p.m., ESPNU; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM

    Syracuse at Arkansas, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

    DePaul at Auburn, 9 p.m., ESPNU

    College football

    MAC championship: Northern Illinois vs. Kent State, 7, ESPN2

    Pac-12 championship: UCLA at Stanford, 8, Ch. 13; 620-AM

    College hockey

    Boston College at Boston, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

    Vermont at Maine, 8 p.m., CBSSN

    Ohio State at Michigan State, 8 p.m., Big Ten

    Wisconsin at Denver, 10 p.m., NBCSN

    College soccer, NCAA tournament

    Women: Semifinal, North Carolina vs. Stanford, 11 p.m., ESPNU


    Nedbank Challenge (taped), 9:30 a.m., Golf

    World Challenge, 3 p.m., Golf

    High school football playoffs

    5A region final: Pasco at Robinson, 7:30 p.m., BHSN

    Centennial (Calif.) at Vista Murrieta (Calif.), 10 p.m., FSN


    OHL: Windsor at Kitchener, 7 p.m., NHL


    Nets at Magic, 7 p.m., FSN

    Wizards at Knicks, 7:30 p.m., NBA

    Nuggets at Lakers, 10:30 p.m., ESPN, ESPND

    Saturday HIGHLIGHTS

    College basketball

    Mississippi State at Providence, noon, ESPNU

    Baylor at Kentucky, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 10

    Women: North Florida at USF, 1 p.m., 1010-AM

    Rutgers at Mississippi, 2 p.m., ESPNU

    Delaware at Duke , 2 p.m., FSN

    Miami at Massachusetts, 2 p.m., CBSSN

    Alabama at Cincinnati, 3 p.m., ESPN2

    Michigan at Bradley, 4 p.m., ESPNU

    Northern Kentucky at Ohio State, 4:30 p.m., Big Ten

    Villanova at Vanderbilt, 5 p.m., ESPN2

    UAB at North Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPNU

    Coppin State at Indiana, 7:30 p.m., Big Ten

    College football

    C-USA championship: UCF at Tulsa, noon, ESPN2; 1350-AM

    Oklahoma at TCU, noon, ESPN; 98.7-FM

    Oklahoma State at Baylor, noon, 620-AM

    Kansas at West Virginia, 2:30, Sun Sports

    Cincinnati at Connecticut, 3:30, Ch. 28

    SEC championship: Alabama vs. Georgia, 4, Ch. 10; 620-AM

    Pittsburgh at USF, 7, ESPN2; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM

    ACC championship: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech, 8, ESPN; 620-AM, 820-AM

    Big Ten championship: Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, 8, Ch. 13; 1040-AM

    Texas at Kansas State, 8, Ch. 28


    Nets at Heat, 7:30 p.m., NBA

    76ers at Bulls, 8 p.m., WGN

    Kings at Clippers, 10:30 p.m., NBA


    MLS Cup: Houston at Los Angeles, 4:30 p.m., ESPN


    College basketball

    Clemson at South Carolina, noon, ESPNU

    George Mason vs. Maryland, 2:45 p.m., FSN


    Magic at Lakers, 9:30 p.m., FSN; 1010-AM


    Patriots at Dolphins, 1 p.m., Ch. 10

    Seahawks at Bears, 1 p.m., 1010-AM

    Colts at Lions, 1 p.m., 1040-AM

    Bucs at Broncos, 4 p.m., Ch. 13; 103.5-FM, 620-AM

    Steelers at Ravens, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 10

    Eagles at Cowboys, 8:20 p.m., Ch. 8; 98.7-FM, 1040-AM

    TV: BHSN: Bright House Sports Network; CBSSN: CBS Sports Network; ESPND: ESPN Deportes; FSN: Fox Sports Net; NBCSN: NBC Sports Network

    Today's games on TV/radio
    MAC championship: Northern Illinois vs. Kent State 7 ESPN2
    Pac-12 championship: UCLA at Stanford 8 Ch. 13; 620-AM

    Saturday's games on TV/radio
    C-USA championship: UCF at Tulsa noon ESPN2; 1350-AM
    Oklahoma at TCU noon ESPN; 98.7-FM
    Oklahoma State at Baylor noon 620-AM
    Kansas at West Virginia 2:30 Sun Sports
    Cincinnati at Connecticut 3:30 Ch. 28
    SEC championship: Alabama vs. Georgia 4 Ch. 10; 620-AM
    Pittsburgh at USF 7 ESPN2; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM
    ACC championship: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech 8 ESPN; 620-AM, 820-AM
    Big Ten championship: Wisconsin vs. Nebraska 8 Ch. 13; 1040-AM
    Texas at Kansas State 8 Ch. 28

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  • 11/29/12--20:25: Stern to punish Spurs' exit
  • Times wires
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    MIAMI — The NBA plans to make the Spurs pay for resting four starters. The Heat almost could not.

    Ray Allen's 3-pointer with 22.6 seconds left gave Miami the lead, LeBron James scored 23 and the Heat rallied to beat the Spurs 105-100 Thursday. The Heat had to dig deep despite San Antonio's decision to have four top players rest at home in a move that irked commissioner David Stern.

    The Spurs played without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, all sent to San Antonio by coach Gregg Popovich, who said the move was in his team's best interest. Thursday's matchup ended a six-games-in-nine-nights swing for the Spurs, who won the first five.

    Stern disagreed with Popovich, calling the decision "unacceptable" and saying sanctions would be forthcoming.

    "Oh, it would have been great if we won," Spurs forward Matt Bonner said after hearing Stern's words. "We have faith in everybody on our roster. We think we have one of the deepest teams in the league."

    The Heat didn't disagree. "We survived," Chris Bosh said.

    The Spurs led by seven with 4:48 left, and their lead was 98-93 when Gary Neal made a 3-pointer with 2:14 remaining. From there, Miami closed on a 12-2 run.

    Stern will have the next say.

    "This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs, and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming," he said around the time the nationally televised game tipped off.

    Celtics' Rondo suspended: Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was suspended by the NBA, ordered to sit tonight (against the Blazers) and Sunday (Bucks) without pay for starting a fight Wednesday against the Nets. Rondo will give up $200,000 in pay.

    Celtics center Kevin Garnett was fined $25,000 for his role, and Nets forward Gerald Wallace was fined $35,000.

    Rondo was ejected in the second quarter when he shoved Nets forward Kris Humphries to retaliate for a hard foul on Garnett. He had a streak of 37 consecutive games with double-digit assists; that streak ended with his ejection, leaving him tied with John Stockton for the second-longest in NBA history.

    Around the league: The Mavericks signed 16-year veteran point guard Derek Fisher, 38, to a contract. No terms were revealed. Fisher could make his Dallas debut Saturday against Detroit. … Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who declared himself out indefinitely, revealed that the procedure done on his left ankle was microfracture surgery.

    Heat 105, Spurs 100

    SAN ANTONIO (100): Diaw 5-7 1-2 12, Bonner 4-7 0-0 10, Splitter 7-12 4-6 18, Mills 3-11 0-0 7, De Colo 4-8 5-6 15, Neal 7-20 4-4 20, Blair 3-7 0-1 6, Anderson 2-2 4-5 9, Joseph 1-6 0-0 3. Totals 36-80 18-24 100.

    MIAMI (105): James 9-16 3-6 23, Lewis 1-1 0-0 3, Bosh 8-14 2-2 18, Chalmers 3-8 1-1 8, Wade 7-17 5-5 19, Cole 4-9 0-0 8, Allen 7-15 5-5 20, Haslem 2-4 0-0 4, Miller 1-2 0-0 2, Anthony 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 42-86 16-19 105.

    San Antonio 27 17 32 24— 100

    Miami 22 25 26 32— 105

    3-Point GoalsS.Antonio 10-31 (De Colo 2-4, Bonner 2-5, Neal 2-8, Anderson 1-1, Diaw 1-2, Joseph 1-4, Mills 1-7), Miami 5-13 (James 2-5, Lewis 1-1, Chalmers 1-2, Allen 1-3, Cole 0-2). Fouled OutNone. ReboundsS.Antonio 55 (Bonner 10), Miami 42 (Bosh 12). AssistsS.Antonio 22 (Neal 7), Miami 22 (James 7). Total FoulsSan Antonio 20, Miami 18. TechnicalsS.Antonio three second. A19,703.

    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    GAINESVILLE — If you had told Florida coach Billy Donovan prior to Thursday night's game against Marquette that the Gators would hold a 14-point halftime lead with their top scorer, Kenny Boynton, scoreless and center Patric Young not starting because of an attitude issue, you probably would have had a hard time selling him on that one.

    The No. 7 Gators got 21 first-half points from their bench — led by 12 from Tampa's Michael Frazier — on the way to an 82-49 victory in an SEC-Big East Challenge game in front of 10,245 at the O'Connell Center. Six Gators scored in double figures, including Frazier who had a team-high 17.

    "My teammates did a great job getting me the ball, and I just got them in," said Frazier, a freshman guard. "It feels great. I love to win and love to play. I couldn't ask for anything more."

    After struggling early (3-of-13 from the field), Florida eventually shot 50 percent (14-of-28) to take a 38-24 lead at halftime.

    Boynton, a senior guard who needed eight points to move into fifth place on the Gators' all-time scoring list, didn't get his first basket until the 16:30 mark of the second half, and finished with six points on 2-of-11 shooting (0-for-5 on 3-pointers). He remains just behind Stacey Poole, who had 1,678 career points.

    Florida (6-0) shot 50 percent in the game, 37.5 on 3-pointers.

    Marquette (5-2) withstood several runs in the first half to keep the game within reach, but Florida put the game away early in the second half, shooting 50 percent at the midway point. With 10:33 left in the game, the Golden Eagles had scored just seven second-half points and trailed 56-31.

    Young, a junior who started the first five games, did not start because of an "attitude that was not conducive to our team getting better," Donovan said. Young entered with 15:19 remaining in the first half and finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

    "My job as a coach is to bring out the best in Patric Young as a player," Donovan said. "Right now, he wasn't doing that. It wasn't performance. It was effort, his attitude, his disruptiveness in practice that caused me to say you're not starting. Give Patric credit. He responded with a great effort."

    "Coach is going to push us," Young said his teammates told him after practice Wednesday night. "I believe he sees something far greater in me than I can see in myself, so he's trying to push me. I just have to learn that it's not personal."

    The Golden Eagles opened the second half 0-for-5 and didn't score until Davante Gardner's basket with 15:07 left.

    Marquette entered with a bench that averaged 35 points and 22 rebounds per game, but its reserves scored just six in the first half, 19 in the game. Florida got 40 points from its bench.

    "I've never been beat this bad in my entire career — 179 games as a head coach," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "That's the worst loss. Not close.

    "I think they're good enough to win the whole thing."

    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    Times wires
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Teddy Bridgewater came off the bench to throw two third-quarter touchdown passes in 16 seconds, and John Wallace kicked a 29-yard field goal with 1:41 left to give Louisville a 20-17 victory against Rutgers and the Big East championship Thursday.

    The Cardinals, (10-2, 5-2), who trailed 14-3 late in the third, will share the Big East title with Rutgers (9-3, 5-2), Syracuse and possibly Cincinnati, which faces Connecticut on Saturday. The BCS standings will be used to break the tie, and there is no doubt Louisville, with the best overall record in the conference, will be on top.

    Bridgewater broke his left (nonthrowing) wrist and sprained his right ankle last week against Connecticut. Will Stein started. Bridgewater entered in the second quarter and, working exclusively out of the shotgun, went 20-for-28 for 263 yards.

    "They have a tremendous playmaker," Knights coach Kyle Flood said of Bridgewater. "Some of those throws he made, I don't know if anybody else in our league can make those throws."

    The key stretch came in the third. Rutgers appeared to take a 21-3 lead when a fake field goal attempt turned into a 26-yard touchdown pass by holder J.T. Tartacoff. But an illegal man downfield wiped it out, and Rutgers punted from the Louisville 31-yard line.

    Bridgewater then put together a 14-play, 90-yard drive capped by Jeremy Wright's 14-yard catch that made it 14-10 with 49 seconds left in the third. The Knights fumbled the ensuing kickoff. One play later, Bridgewater hit DeVante Parker for a 20-yard touchdown and a 17-14 lead.

    "It ended up a 21-point swing in a short amount of time," Flood said. "We were never able to swing the momentum back, and that's my job. I think we have a football team right now that's hurting,"

    Nick Borgese's 38-yard field goal with 7:48 left tied it. But Louisville linebacker James Burgess picked off a pass that bounced off receiver Timmy Wright's hands with 3:53 left at the Rutgers 47 to set up Wallace's field goal.

    More Louisville: Coach Charlie Strong denied he interviewed for the Auburn vacancy. AL.com, the website for Alabama's three major newspapers, reported late Wednesday the Tigers talked to the former Florida defensive coordinator "in the past two days." SI.com and Yahoo Sports each said it talked to Strong, who reacted angrily. "I didn't interview with Auburn," he told Yahoo. "I have a job."

    Report: Mathieu to NFL: Cornerback and kick returner Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist as an LSU sophomore last season but kicked off the team before this season, will enter the draft, ESPN.com reported. The Tigers dismissed him in August after the latest in a series of failed drug tests but left the door open for him to return. He and three former teammates then were arrested in October for possession of marijuana.

    Colorado: Mark Mangino, out of college football since being fired by Kansas amid an investigation of player-mistreatment accusations, took himself out of consideration for the coaching vacancy. Purdue is considering him for its vacancy, reports said.

    Ga. Tech: The NCAA will grant a waiver that would allow the school to play in a bowl game if it loses Saturday's ACC title game against Florida State. A loss would leave the Yellow Jackets 6-7. Normally, teams must have a winning record to play in a bowl.

    Tide fan sentenced: Alabama fan Brian Downing, found guilty of two counts of obscenity for rubbing his genitals on an unconscious LSU fan after last season's BCS title game, was sentenced to two years in prison in New Orleans.

    Realignment: Conference USA confirmed reports that Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee will leave the Sun Belt for it. C-USA hopes that will happen in 2014, which would give it 13 teams, then 14 in 2015, when Old Dominion joins. Commissioner Britton Banowsky said C-USA might not be done but didn't elaborate. Media reports said C-USA was talking to Western Kentucky, in the Sun Belt, and New Mexico State, needing a home when the WAC discontinues football next year.

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    Times wires
    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    ATLANTA — The Falcons moved to the brink of clinching a division championship, while Drew Brees and the Saints wound up with egg on their faces.

    After racing to a 17-point lead, the Falcons defense made it stand up, picking off five of Brees' passes and ending his NFL-record touchdown streak in a 23-13 victory over the Saints on Thursday night.

    The Falcons (11-1) clinch the NFC South with a month to go if the Bucs lose at Denver on Sunday. They also dealt a big blow to the Saints (5-7) and their fading playoff hopes.

    Safety William Moore had two of the five interceptions, which were the most of Brees' career and came four days after he had two passes picked off and returned for touchdowns in a loss to San Francisco.

    Brees had thrown a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games, breaking Johnny Unitas' long-standing record this season. He had an apparent scoring pass to Darren Sproles late in the first half, but it was nullified by a penalty.

    "I didn't realize that until we walked off the field," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "That's an unbelievable streak. … The way the defense played speaks volumes. The guy had gone out there and thrown touchdown after touchdown game after game after game."

    When the Saints arrived in Atlanta, their bus was pelted by eggs at the airport, a sign of the long rivalry between the teams. New Orleans had dominated in recent years, winning four in a row and 11 of 13.

    This time, running back Michael Turner scored on Atlanta's opening possession, tight end Tony Gonzalez hauled in a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan, and Matt Bryant booted three field goals, including a 55-yarder.

    The defense did the rest. Safety Thomas DeCoud, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux also had interceptions for Atlanta, and another pick was wiped out by a penalty.

    Brees had a couple of games with four picks, but nothing like this. He finished 28 of 50 for 341 yards.

    After winning so many close games, the Falcons started this one as if they were intent on a rout. Ryan completed a pass on the first play, then turned it over to a running game that has struggled most of the season. Turner rumbled for a 35-yard gain. Jacquizz Rodgers had two straight 14-yard gains. Finally, it was Turner going in from the 3, giving Atlanta a 7-0 lead. It was Turner's 58th TD in five seasons with the Falcons, breaking the team record he had shared with former receiver Terance Mathis.

    Brees' second interception, this one a sloppy pass behind running Chris Ivory that deflected into the arms of Weatherspoon, set up Bryant's 45-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead.

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    In the 20 years since the SEC instituted a league championship game, the winner has gone on to win the national title nine times.

    Today, Alabama and Georgia are hoping for an opportunity to make that 10.

    No. 2 Alabama (11-1) and No. 3 Georgia (11-1) battle it out in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game, but a conference title is not all that's on the line tonight. The winner earns the right to play undefeated Notre Dame in the BCS title game.

    "To get a chance to play in this game means so much to us," Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "A lot of guys sacrificed a lot, many hours, practices, fighting through injuries and all that stuff just to get to the point where we are today. We're just grateful for this opportunity."

    Georgia is playing in its second consecutive SEC title game, where it was routed 42-10 to LSU last season. That has the Bulldogs out for redemption.

    "We're a different team than last year heading into the SEC Championship Game," senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. "I think we were just simply excited to be there and didn't realize what we could have done. … That's been dwelling on our minds since then. We're a hungry and humbled group that's ready to get to the game."

    This is the first meeting between Georgia and Alabama since 2008, a 41-30 victory for the Crimson Tide. But for an Alabama team that has carried the defending national title bulls-eye on its back all season, the approach will not change.

    "We basically are going to have the same mind-set we've been having all year," said Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, the SEC's second-leading rusher behind Georgia's Todd Gurley. "We know it's going to be a tough opponent on both sides of the ball, and on special teams as well. So we just have to come out and prepare the same way we've been preparing and expect a dog fight."

    For Georgia, a great deal of focus has been placed on Aaron Murray, the three-year starting quarterback and former Plant High standout.

    Murray is 1-2 in bowl games, finally got his first win over a Top 10 team this year (17-9 over Florida) despite three interceptions, and is 0-1 in the SEC title game, numbers that have made him a target in the national media this week. His decision to remove himself from all media obligations this week increased that scrutiny, but his teammates said he's trying to make sure he's as prepared as he can possibly be.

    "I just think he's dedicated to this week, and being prepared," Robinson said. "I know this one means so much to him. … He just wants to be completely ready and not have big distractions. This is the biggest game of our career."

    The game features two of the SEC's top quarterbacks. Murray has thrown for 3,201 yards this season and leads Division I-A in passing efficiency (177.15). Alabama's AJ McCarron is second in I-A passing efficiency (176.26) and has 2,507 yards. It's Murray's ability to run that concerns the Tide.

    "It's going to be very challenging," defensive back Dee Millner said.

    Alabama enters the game with I-A's No. 1 total defense (233.67 yards per game), and the No. 1 scoring defense (9.25). Georgia is allowing 17.67 points per game, and each has a solid running back tandem.

    Georgia coach Mark Richt said when he looks at both teams, he sees similar programs. The biggest edge for the Tide? They know how to win titles.

    "There are a lot of similarities," Richt said. "One thing they've done is they've been national champions and we've not. They've been SEC champions and we've not during the time frame of these kids' careers. That's the biggest difference I see right now."

    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    TAMPA — It has been a season of steady disappointment, of frustrating finishes and increasingly difficult losses, of mounting injuries and angry fans and questions about the future of USF football.

    And while all that isn't likely to change in the big picture with the outcome of tonight's season finale against Pittsburgh, USF's seniors are still hoping to end their college careers with the consolation of a home victory on the way out.

    "It's a huge motivation. I don't think anyone wants to go out a so-called loser," said tight end Evan Landi, one of a handful of seniors returning from injury for their last game. "We'd love to win this game for the seniors, and to start next year on a positive path for the younger guys."

    The Bulls bid farewell to 25 seniors tonight, but fans have already said early good-byes to key players such as quarterback B.J. Daniels and running back Lindsey Lamar, who have been out with injuries. Other starters have fallen into backup roles, and only one senior, defensive tackle Cory Grissom, has been able to start every game, but all have the same mentality of doing everything possible to find a happy ending to a difficult year.

    "It'll be a very high level of motivation. There will be some things that happen in this game, positive things … and we'll be like, 'Dang, where has that been all year?'" senior linebacker Sam Barrington said. "It'll be a more emotional game. Guys will be into it more because it's the last game."

    There could be more than seniors gone from this year's team. There is lingering uncertainty about coach Skip Holtz. While he is likely to return for 2013, there could be changes to his coaching staff, especially on defense, where three close losses came with late leads surrendered on 75-yard touchdown drives.

    The continued struggles have already cost USF some of its fan base; today's actual attendance might be the lowest in the Big East era, reminiscent of the Bulls' 2004 home finale against Pittsburgh, a hurricane-delayed game that drew an announced 23,417 for a 43-14 loss to end a 4-7 season. USF's last home game, a win against Connecticut four weeks ago, had an announced attendance of 36,190, but the actual crowd was 20,605, which means as much as 43 percent of the tickets distributed weren't actually used at the game.

    As driven as the senior class might be to forge one final positive memory, the motivation might be greater for the increasing number of underclassmen stepping into key roles. The returning nucleus of current freshmen and sophomores might see a turnaround in USF's future, but they want that to start tonight, as something they can give back to the outgoing seniors.

    "We have to go out on a good note for them," sophomore center Austin Reiter said. "They've put all their time in for us. This is a way for us to pay it forward."

    For players at least, the momentum of a season-ending win would help lift some of the negativity off the program, though they're well aware there will be no shortage of offseason motivation from a 4-8 record that fell well short of lofty expectations.

    "We know what we're capable of. I think that's the biggest thing everybody's going to realize: 'Hey, when everything's cohesive and working real well, we can pull out the wins,' " Reiter said.

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    By Dave Mistretta, Times Correspondent
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    Surprise: Most anglers think of amberjack and grouper during December, but warmer conditions could produce king mackerel. They generally migrate along the coast in the spring and fall. But water temperatures in the 70s could lead to a late push.

    Important factors: In the past when water temperatures were warmer, kingfish ate everything. And some of the biggest ones we have caught have been at about this time.

    Bait schools: Schools of threadfin herring and pilchards are showing up along the beaches. They could be key to the appearance of kings. Sabiki rigs or a cast net can fill your well quickly. Watch for seabirds diving and working the surface. That shows where the bait is.

    Another big indicator: The mullet migration is just about to start, also later than usual. Their roe is still slightly underdeveloped, as if they knew we would have a milder fall.

    Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 439-2628 or visit jawstoo.com.

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    By Don Jensen, Times Correspondent
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    OLDSMAR — After delivering last month at the Breeders' Cup World Championships, Tampa Bay Downs gives birth today to its 87th season of thoroughbred racing.

    The opener is Cotillion Festival Day, a 10-race card for 2-year-olds only. Co-featured are a pair of $75,000 stakes, the Inaugural (Race 4, 2:02 p.m.) and the Sandpiper (Race 7, 3:26).

    "Opening day is really exciting," said Jane Cibelli, one of the Downs' leading trainers and a back-to-back winner of the Monmouth Park meet in Oceanport, N.J. "You're anticipating it, because chances are you probably have been sitting here and not running anywhere. In my case, (Hurricane Sandy) came in New Jersey, so we left a little earlier than we would have normally."

    The Downs has a wave of momentum from the Breeders' Cup, where Fort Larned, winner of the $60,000 Challenger Stakes at Oldsmar, captured the $5 million Classic. Downs graduates Royal Delta (Ladies' Classic) and Zagora (Filly and Mare Turf) also won Breeders' Cup races, as did Downs jockey Willie Martinez (Trinniberg, Sprint) and trainer William "Buff" Bradley (Groupie Doll, Filly and Mare Sprint).

    The Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby remains the Downs staple at the 91-day meet. It is one of six graded events on the 25-race, $2.5 million stakes program headed by racing secretary Allison De Luca, assistant Stanley Shina and stakes coordinator Gerry Stanislawzyk. The March 9 event has sent eight of its past nine winners to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville.

    And two Tampa Bay Derby graduates, Super Saver (2010) and Street Sense ('07), won the Run for the Roses. The Tampa Bay Derby is among Kentucky Derby qualifiers that award 50 points to the winner. The Grade III $250,000 Sam F. Davis on Feb. 2 also is in the Kentucky Derby mix with the winner receiving 10 points. The points system replaces graded stakes earnings this year in Kentucky Derby qualifying.

    "We concentrate on the 3-year-olds at Tampa, and the road to the Triple Crown," Downs spokeswoman Margo Flynn said. "We've been very successful with that plan in the past. But we also have a strong stakes program overall, case in point, Fort Larned. You never know who you might find in these races."

    The Downs reached a new plateau Thursday when the $150,000 Florida Oaks on Feb. 2 was elevated to Grade III status by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. It is the first time the Oldsmar oval has had six graded races.

    Jamie Ness, winner of the past six training titles (he shared it twice with Gerald Bennett and Kathleen O'Donnell), returns. Ness is closing on his first national win title. Midwest Thoroughbreds, Ness' client, goes for its fourth consecutive owner title. Defending riding titlist Leandro Goncalves is not back, but four-time champions Ronnie Allen Jr. and Daniel Centeno lead a strong jockey colony.

    Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube has revised the racing schedule to four days most weeks.

    DOGS: The $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge begins qualifying tonight in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10 at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.

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    Associated Press
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    ORLANDO — It seems Tulsa and UCF have an annual reservation in the Conference USA Championship Game.

    Beginning with the inaugural game in 2005, the Golden Hurricane and Knights have met for the league crown twice, splitting the matchups. Tulsa blew out UCF 44-27 in 2005. The Knights returned the favor 44-25 two years later.

    Now, with UCF and others set to depart at season's end as part of massive realignment, it's fitting that C-USA's two most decorated teams compete for the title one final time today.

    "It is kind of funny if you look at it that way," Knights defensive lineman Victor Gray said. "It's like a farewell party."

    This will be the teams' second meeting in three weeks, following Tulsa's 23-21 win in Oklahoma. The Golden Hurricane's top-ranked rushing offense had its way in that Nov. 17 matchup, racking up 209 rushing yards while holding UCF to 66.

    Tulsa sacked UCF quarterback Blake Bortles four times and held on eight of 17 third downs.

    "They're talented across the board. They know we beat them the first time, but it doesn't matter," Tulsa quarterback Cody Green said. "They will come out firing on all cylinders."

    With little time to make that many adjustments, Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said "tweaks" is about all there is time to do in the matchup of 9-3 teams.

    "They are a mirror to us in a lot of areas," he said. "I would like to be more like them in some areas. So the challenge of beating them twice is certainly there. But there are some positives that come out of the first win. Mainly that we get to play at home."

    Road teams are 3-4 all time in the title game.

    Knights coach George O'Leary said he thought his defense played well in the first game but had too many three-and-outs on offense, a product of Tulsa's defense playing much faster than the Knights.

    "There's a lot of retention in what both teams saw and did, so it should be an interesting game," he said. "But I do think when you practice, the key is your show teams have to have a lot faster pace. You have to practice that way, and we've picked up this pace this week."

    UCF's seniors can set a four-year victory record. They are tied with the 2010 class at 32 wins.

    "It's important because you only get to play for a certain amount of games as a college player," O'Leary said. "You don't remember some other games, but you do remember the championship games."

    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    Times staff
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    Bucs at Broncos

    4 p.m., Sports Authority Field, Denver

    TV/Radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM

    Line/over-under: Broncos by 7; 50½

    The poll

    Which missed opportunity hurt most in the 24-23 loss to the Falcons last week?

    Failing to score a touchdown after first and goal from the 3: 54 percent

    Josh Freeman missing a wide-open Mike Williams in the end zone: 26 percent

    Settling for a field goal after Gerald McCoy's fumble recovery: 14 percent

    Connor Barth's missed 56-yard field goal: 6 percent

    Total: 701 votes

    Inside the numbers

    2-5 Bucs' record against the Broncos, including 1-3 at Denver; the win came in their last trip there, 16-13 in 2008

    21 Combined NFL starts for Bucs corners E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson, who are expected to do so today

    149 Wins as a starter for Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, fewer than only the 186 of Brett Favre

    959 Receiving yards for the Bucs' Vincent Jackson, ninth most in the league

    What they're saying

    After that critical Bucs loss at home to the Falcons, I don't like their chances of making the dance. Not with road trips to Denver, New Orleans and Atlanta still to come. Still, this season's foundation-laying work by rookie head coach Greg Schiano feels a lot more solid than Tampa Bay's surprising 10-6 finish under Raheem Morris in 2010.

    Don Banks Sports Illustrated

    A guy like Vincent Jackson, you can do some things on offense in this league if you've got yourselves one of those. That's the matchup in today's NFL. Those are the guys you didn't see in this league years ago. They're like power forwards out there who run like sprinters. You've got defensive backs 5 or 6 inches shorter, 30 pounds lighter, trying to keep the ball out of their hands. I'm pretty sure the Broncos aren't too sad to see Jackson out of that division now.

    Herm Edwards ESPN analyst in the Denver Post

    The picks

    This easily could go the other way, but Peyton Manning's going to have his way with the inexperienced (except for Ronde Barber) Bucs secondary. Broncos, 24-20.

    Peter King Sports Illustrated

    This should be filled with fireworks. The Broncos can score with Peyton Manning. And Tampa Bay has been on fire on offense the past month. Tampa Bay has some issues on the back end of their defense, which Manning will eat up. Look for a lot of points. Broncos, 38-25.

    Pete Prisco CBSSports.com

    Peyton Manning's offense hit an uncharacteristic lull at Kansas City last week but should find its gear-shift at home. But I like Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and that suddenly potent T-Bay offense to keep it under the bet line. Broncos, 27-23

    Greg Cote Miami Herald

    Buccaneers are testing everyone and will give the Broncos a mile-high scare. Broncos, 28-27

    Barry Wilner Associated Press

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    By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    TAMPA — There has been plenty of football royalty to come out of southeast Texas, especially the cities of Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur.

    Dubbed the "Golden Triangle," the area birthed star defensive end Bubba Smith, two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and several current NFL players.

    But having grown up in Port Arthur, Bucs cornerback Danny Gorrer knows there are many, less-told stories of those who struggle, fall into crime and land in prison (or worse). They include his older brother, Coreyan, who spent three years in federal prison on drug charges.

    "It was up to me to veer off," Gorrer said, "and I wanted to change."

    So did his best friends, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. Before Charles, 25, became a Pro Bowl player, he dreamed of making it big while playing on the same youth fields as Gorrer, 26. Thomas, 23, living in nearby Orange, looked up to both.

    "They're like brothers," said agent David Mulugheta, who represents all three. "They work out in the offseason together. They go on vacations together. They're very supportive of each other."

    As close as the trio is, they have taken different career paths. Charles (third round in 2008) and Thomas (first in 2010), both former University of Texas stars, were drafted and now are established starters who have made it to a Pro Bowl.

    Gorrer went undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2009 and is on his fifth team, signing with the Bucs on Oct. 31. Even in a reserve role, Gorrer, whose only appearance for Tampa Bay came against the Falcons last week, is likely to play against the Broncos' potent passing offense Sunday.

    "It's exciting to just have the foot in the door in the NFL," he said. "That's a blessing."

    Gorrer appreciates the opportunity even more considering he almost walked away from the game. During his junior year at Texas A&M, Gorrer tore his left ACL in a game against Texas Tech. Shortly after his surgery, he found out his brother was heading to prison. Coreyan, who had two previous felony narcotics convictions, was out on pretrial bond when he was arrested Oct. 31, 2007, for crack cocaine possession.

    Devastated, Gorrer called his mother, Yulander Randle, who raised the boys on her own.

    "I'm like, golly, they say God doesn't put more things on you than you can handle. But I felt like I was just drilled with all kinds of things at once," Gorrer said. "So I was like, 'What do I do?' I called home, and I was like, 'Mom I can't do it.' I think she hung up in my face.

    "She said, 'I don't want to hear that. Stay focused. Get your mind right. Get your heart right, and call me back.' "

    Gorrer's mom told him everything happens for a reason. Then Gorrer thought about his daughter, Ryah, 8, who was born as he was coming out of high school.

    "It changed my mind-set," said Gorrer, who has two other daughters, Ariana, 8, and Daniya, 2. "I had to step up and be a father at an early age. That's the way I took it and ran with it."

    Being the father he never had has driven him to persevere through his journeyman career, having been cut by four teams (including the Saints twice). He got to play 11 games for the Ravens last season and spent a month this year with Seattle and his buddy Thomas.

    Thomas, Charles and Mulugheta have encouraged Gorrer along the way, the Bucs corner calling them the "Four Horseman" for their tight friendship. Just as they keep him on track, Gorrer talks daily with Coreyan, 28, who is out of prison and working construction back in Port Arthur. He plans to fly Coreyan to New Orleans for the Saints game on Dec. 16.

    "He's made a complete turnaround," Gorrer said, "and I'm proud of him."

    Gorrer plans to return to Port Arthur when his career is done. The city shaped him in many ways, and he hopes to give back like he does each summer in a football camp run by Charles.

    "It's crazy that two kids came up together and got the opportunity," Gorrer said, "because everything wasn't promised for us."

    Times researcher Caryn Baird contri­buted to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    TAMPA — After Connor Barth missed a 56-yard field goal that would have put the Bucs ahead with 3:32 left Sunday, a few teammates half-jokingly asked the Bucs kicker if everything was all right.

    "It was funny. Guys were asking me, 'Hey, are you okay?' " Barth said. "I was like, 'I had a good game before that. I was 3-for-3.' But I missed a kick. I guess I set the bar high last season. That's where people expect me to be."

    When you have been as good as Barth, that's the burden you bear. Perfection starts to become the expectation.

    And no one is more demanding of Barth than he is. At times, he has found himself lamenting this season's 80 percent (20-of-25) conversion rate because it pales in comparison with his 92.9 (26-of-28) of 2011, which set a team record and ranked second in the NFL.

    But the circumstances are different this season. Barth attempted just three kicks beyond 50 yards in 2011 but this season has tried seven with five games still remaining.

    "I have (92) points this year," said Barth, on pace for 134, which would shatter his career high of 105 set in 2010. "I'm having a career year from a points standpoint. I try not to look at that stuff. But every year I try to build on (my numbers). Last year I only had two misses. It was a big year for me. But when I look at it, I'm not having a bad year. I'm 80 percent but really the only miss that I've had that I myself think is a bad miss is the 42-yarder (on Oct. 21)."

    Barth is 4-of-7 from 50 yards or longer this season, including a career-long 57-yarder against the Redskins on Sept. 30.

    "That's not bad at all," he said. "If you hit better than 50 percent past 50 (yards), that's not bad. So I've missed one inside of 50. (Another was blocked). Statistically, it's not as bad as it looks."

    That's why there has been no buyer's remorse from the Bucs, who gave Barth a four-year $13.2 million deal in the offseason. Coach Greg Schiano's repeated decisions to have Barth try long kicks is evidence of that.

    "I think they have some faith in me," Barth said. "I kick long kicks in practice all the time. We always kick a 50-plus kick with the team at least once a week (in a game simulation), so I think it's partly (Schiano) having faith in me."

    NO MOVE: The Broncos' Champ Bailey is one of the best to play cornerback, and he hopes to never play any other spot.

    And when Bailey's team meets the Bucs on Sunday, he'll be on the same field as a player he has always admired: Bucs S Ronde Barber. But that doesn't mean Bailey is open to making the move that Barber and Hall-of-Famer Rod Woodson took, graduating from cornerback to safety in their latter seasons.

    "I do admire the way (Barber) has been able to play at a high level," Bailey, 34, told the Associated Press on Thursday. "He's one of those guys I do look up to and kind of pay attention to what he's doing."

    It has been speculated for some time that Bailey could move to safety when his cornerback skills began to erode. Except, they haven't. It's not what he wants, but Bailey added he won't rule anything out.

    "I said I don't plan on it," he said.

    INJURY REPORT: The Bucs are relatively healthy with all four players on the injury report listed as probable: DE Michael Bennett (ankle), G Ted Larsen (illness), DT Roy Miller (illness) and LB Dekoda Watson (hamstring).

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