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    By Tom Jones, Times Sports Writer
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    What in the world happened?

    Just the other day, it seems, the USF Bulls had the No. 2-ranked football team in the nation. Not all that long ago the basketball program was winning NCAA Tournament games. And the absolute best part? USF, a baby in the grand scheme of collegiate athletics, had become a rising star in one of the nation's power conferences, the Big East.

    Then it all fell apart.

    Seemingly overnight, the music cranked up on a dizzying game of musical chairs as programs throughout the country scrambled from one conference to another. Forget traditions. Forget regional ties. Forget history. It was a money grab. Universities raced 'round and 'round, pouncing onto whatever seat they could find.

    When the music took its latest break, the Big East was in tatters and USF was left without a chair in a major conference. And this is where USF is today: a program with a respectable past, a gloomy present and an unknown future.

    Who is to blame? Could it have been prevented? Where does USF go from here?

    Who is to blame?

    It would be easy to point a finger at athletic director Doug Woolard. Should he have seen all this conference realignment coming? Probably. Could he have positioned USF a little better? I don't see how.

    If Woolard can be blamed for anything, it's that he placed a little too much trust in the Big East — its leaders and the other programs. He thought defectors such as Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia would consider the rest of the conference and college traditions before their interests. He perhaps relaxed, thinking the conference would come out on the other side of all this shifting with its reputation and power intact.

    That hasn't happened.

    "I think every school has done what they think is in their best interest, whether or not that even seems to make sense geographically,'' Woolard said Wednesday. "It disappoints me that that happens. … I think every institution did what they think they needed to do.''

    Preventive measures?

    When you think back, it was a bit of a surprise when USF was asked to join the Big East in 2005 after a mere eight seasons as a football program and two seasons in Conference USA. Even Woolard called it a "meteoric rise.''

    Bulls fans don't want to hear this, but USF fits right in with programs such as Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, Memphis and the rest of the schools that will make up the "new'' Big East.

    During this latest round of conference realignment, did USF do enough to sell itself to potential suitors such as the ACC and Big 12? USF could have talked about being one of the country's biggest universities in the nation's 14th-largest media market. It could have boasted about its facilities, including Raymond James Stadium and major renovations to the football practice complex and the Sun Dome.

    It didn't help that Skip Holtz ran the football program into the ground, but USF has bigger problems than a couple of lousy football seasons.

    South Florida remains to many a directional school with no national name recognition and no rich tradition. It is not, and never has been, a powerhouse, despite that one-week football trip to No. 2 in the country in 2007. Heck, it never has finished in the Top 25 in the Associated Press football or basketball polls, or won a Big East title in either sport.

    Ultimately, you can see why major conferences weren't knocking down USF's door.

    Where to go from here

    Here's what Woolard says: "We've continued to monitor the landscape across the country. And as far as any conference realignment has occurred, we're trying to make sure we can be as good as we can here at the University of South Florida.''

    Here's what that means: "We hope to have really good football and basketball teams, and we're praying a big conference scoops us up.''

    Let's face it, the SEC has no interest in USF. Neither does the Big Ten, and obviously, the Pac-12 makes no sense. That leaves the ACC and the Big 12.

    The ACC has no use for USF because it has a footprint in Florida with FSU and Miami. The greedy programs of the Big 12 are not about to share their pie unless USF can demonstrate it would make everyone more money, and that doesn't seem likely.

    USF's best hope is the ACC has some sort of meltdown and blows up. Most of all, USF needs Florida State to get out of the ACC, leaving the ACC open to taking on another Florida school.

    Woolard is sharp enough that his head isn't buried in the sand. You have to think he recognizes USF needs to improve its lot.

    But here's another thing about Woolard: He's a gentleman, a politically correct administrator who doesn't want to publicly rock the boat when it comes to the Big East. Even now, Woolard is sticking behind the conference, at least publicly, calling it a solid league with a bright future.

    No more Mr. Nice Guy, Doug. Time to rattle a few sabres. Time to make some noise about wanting to get into a new conference. Time to start bragging about how much your school has to offer. Other schools do it. So should you.

    Maybe it won't make a difference. But it can't hurt. It's not like USF's situation can get any worse.


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    By Derek J. LaRiviere, Times Correspondent
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    Spring Hill Lanes hosted the S&J Scholarship Tournament last weekend for U.S. Bowling Congress-sanctioned youth bowlers.

    The field was split into three divisions based on averages: A (151 and above), B (101 to 150) and C (100 and below). $6,900 in scholarship money was handed out.

    The A Division was won by Jake Bence, who averages a 178 in the Youth Elite League at Spring Hill Lanes on Saturday mornings. Carrying a 111 handicap, he tossed games of 217, 187 and 235, adding up to a 750 series. He dominated the field, beating second-place finisher Ryan Kyle by more than 30 pins to earn a $500 scholarship.

    Kyle tossed a 714 series to take home a $400 scholarship, edging out Kyle Keelan (713), who earned $350 for his effort.

    The top nine finishers in the 25-entry division won scholarship money. Other winners included: Melissa Martin ($300), Patrick Valentine ($250), Justin Fryzel ($200), Derek Perez ($150), Dennis Williams ($100) and Kyle Garvey ($50).

    Caleb Robinson won the B Division with an opening-game 170, followed by games of 138 and 119. Since he averages a 106 in the Youth Major League at Spring Hill, a handicap of 306 was added to his series, giving him a total of 733. His total gave him the victory over runner-up Nathan Bullock (725) and earned him $500.

    Bullock, a 131 bowler, tossed games of 179, 157 and 149 and won $400. Other winners included: Andrew Ambrogio ($350), Melissa Perez ($300), Austin Buchan ($250), Spencer Gehringer ($200), Alexis Soares ($150), Jessica Drouin ($75) and Kevin Ramagli ($75).

    The C Division champion was Reno Ocasio. Averaging 94 in the Youth Major League at Spring Hill, Ocasio rolled games of 108, 139 and 149. Added to a 339 handicap, his 735 was one of only two scores over 700 in the division. He won a $500 scholarship.

    Donovan Schneider also threw three games in triple figures, despite an average of only 78. He finished with a 717 series and the $400 scholarship. Dustin Taylor-O'Brien ($325), Erec Rovner ($325), Zander Litwin ($250), Joshua King ($175), Norah Healy ($175), Noah Saul ($100) and Matthew Henriquez ($75) completed the top nine.

    PHCC VOLLEYBALL ALL-AMERICAN: Pasco-Hernando Community College freshman Jessica Amador was selected by the National Junior College Athletic Association as a second team All-American volleyball player.

    Amador was one of three liberos selected as an All-American. In 128 sets this season, Amador recorded 911 digs, averaging 7.12 per set. She was also named Florida College System Activities Association defensive player of the week three times during the season.

    She made the 25-dig club (25 digs or more in one match) 17 times, also recording the most digs in the state this season, with 48 on Sept. 20 against Florida College.

    "Jessica has worked very hard this season transitioning from the left back position to a middle back position. Her hard work has paid off," PHCC women's volleyball coach Kim Whitney said.

    Amador is from Oviedo, where she played for Oviedo High School and club volleyball for the Orlando Volleyball Academy.

    CROOM ZOOM TRAIL RUN: The Hernando County Tourism Bureau has announced that the Croom Zoom Trail Run will take place Jan. 5 on the Withlacoochee State Forest trails.

    The event will feature three distance courses — a 100K, a 50K and a 25K. All race participants will receive T-shirts, with awards for the top finishers of the 25K race and trophies for the overall male and female winners.

    For information or to register, visit croomzoom.com.

    FIREARMS SAFETY CLASSES: The Hernando Sportsman's Club will be offering firearms safety classes.

    The next regular class dates are Jan. 5, Jan. 19, Feb. 6, Feb. 16, and March 6. A female firearms safety course will be on March 16.

    All classes are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Hernando Sportsman's Club on 16121 Commercial Way, north of Weeki Wachee.

    The course will cover lessons about the basics of firearms safety around the home as well as an introduction to pistol safety, parts and operation; an introduction to ammunition and the fundamentals of pistol shooting; an introduction to pistol shooting from the seated and standing positions, and an introduction to pistol cleaning and storage.

    Classes include instruction, live-fire training on the range and a lunch break.

    Cost is $60. Successful completion of the class provides required documentation to apply for a Florida concealed carry permit. Preregistration is required.

    Call (352) 597-9931 to preregister. For information, visit hernandosportsmansclub.com.

    TENNIS CLINICS: Ace Performance Tennis is offering QuickStart drills every Monday at Delta Woods Park in Spring Hill.

    From 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., players will take part in drills and games designed for beginners, using the U.S. Tennis Association-approved strategies for 60-foot court players. The fee is $10 per player.

    Ace Performance Tennis also offers Ladies Night Out from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Monday at Delta Woods Park.

    For $10 per class, women of beginning and intermediate skill levels can learn to play in a fun social setting.

    For information, call John or Louise Downey at (352) 666-0658 or visit louisedowney.usptapro.com.

    TOURETTE SYNDROME GOLF TOURNAMENT: The Plantation Golf Resort in Crystal River will host the inaugural Tee Off for Tourette Celebrity Golf Tournament on Feb. 1 and 2.

    Proceeds will benefit the Tourette Syndrome Association of Florida, a volunteer organization dedicated to helping individuals and families living with Tourette's syndrome. The money will help send children to an annual camp, where they can be with other children with Tourette syndrome and can make new friends.

    The basic entry fee is $500 per four-player team, which includes a hole sign and recognition in the tournament program, as well as greens fees and a cart. Other sponsorship levels include gold, platinum and event.

    For $1,000, a sponsor receives the same features as with the basic fee, plus a plaque commemorating the event. For a platinum fee of $2,500, a corporate sponsor gets two four-player teams. The event sponsor fee of $5,000 includes three four-player teams and the privilege of playing the round with one of the celebrities signed up to be on hand.

    Individual hole sponsorships are $250. Individual players can play for a cost of $100 per golfer.

    Among the celebrities expected to appear are former Buffalo Bills linebacker Darryl Talley, American Idol Season 9 contestant Dave Pittman, Kansas City Royals minor leaguer Nick DelGuidice and sports artist John Prince.

    For information, contact event chairman Gary D'Amico at (352) 527-2938 or gary78@tampabay.rr.com.

    Contact Derek J. LaRiviere at derekjlariviere@gmail.com or (352) 584-6337.

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012


    Poinsettia Bowl

    Who: San Diego State (9-3, 7-1 Mountain West) vs. BYU (7-5)

    When/where: 8; San Diego

    TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

    Line: BYU by 3½

    Notable: In the teams' last meeting, 2010, the replay official, who worked for BYU, let it keep the ball despite an apparent fumble. BYU went on to score and win. (The Mountain West banned such practices soon after.) The Cougars' Cody Hoffman has 90 catches, tied for 11th in Division I-A. The Aztecs' Adam Muema has 1,355 rushing yards, 15th in I-A.

    Times wires

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For much of his hour-long visit with the family of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Connecticut school shootings, Victor Cruz talked about football, life and Jack, the child who idolized him.

    Tears were shed. Feelings were shared. Cleats and gloves worn by Cruz to honor Jack Pinto at Sunday's game against Atlanta were given to his family.

    The Giants wide receiver somberly recounted Wednesday his meeting with Pinto's parents and brother in Newtown, Conn.

    He struggled in his retelling only when asked about the family's decision to bury the child in the receiver's No. 80 jersey. The father of an infant girl, Cruz stopped for a moment, and his eyes became watery.

    "You never go through some circumstances like this and circumstances where a kid faces or a family faces something of this magnitude at their school," Cruz said. "This definitely was the toughest by far."

    Jack Pinto was buried Monday, and Cruz telephoned the family to ask whether he could visit Tuesday.

    The family disclosed after Friday's massacre that Cruz was Jack's favorite player. The boy was one of 20 first-graders and six adults killed in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    Cruz, 26, drove to Newtown with girlfriend Elaina Watley and their daughter, Kennedy. He said he didn't know how he would be received until he saw the family outside the home with some local children.

    "They were still pretty emotional, crying and stuff like that," Cruz said. "I saw how affected they were by just my presence alone."

    TEBOW DISAPPOINTED: Jets coach Rex Ryan's decision to start quarterback Greg McElroy over Tim Tebow to replace the struggling Mark Sanchez didn't sit well with Tebow. "All you can ask for and all you want is a chance," the former Heisman winner at Florida said.

    PAGANO'S RETURN: The Colts hope coach Chuck Pagano, who has been undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia, will return to the sideline for the Dec. 30 regular-season finale.

    DOLPHINS: Backup running back Daniel Thomas went on injured reserve with a knee injury.

    EAGLES: LeSean McCoy will start at running back after missing four games with a concussion. Michael Vick, also out with a concussion, will serve as third-string quarterback.

    49ERS: All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith should play Sunday after he suffered an arm injury last week.

    LIONS: Defensive tackle Nick Fairley went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

    REDSKINS: Quarterback Robert Griffin III took part in his first full practice since spraining his right knee and could be cleared today to return.

    STEELERS: Running back Rashard Mendenhall returned to practice after serving a one-game suspension for deciding not to show up for the Dec. 9 game with the Chargers. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger apologized to offensive coordinator Todd Haley for criticizing his game plan after Sunday's loss to Dallas.

    TEXANS: Linebacker Brooks Reed, out three games with a groin injury, returned to practice and said he expects to play Sunday.

    Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionAtlanta Journal-Constitution

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  • 12/19/12--19:11: Sports in brief
  • Times wires
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012


    Angels trade morales for mariners' vargas

    SEATTLE — The Angels traded power hitter Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for LHP Jason Vargas on Wednesday.

    Morales, 29, hit .273 with 22 home runs and 73 RBIs last season. Vargas, 29, led Seattle in wins, going 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA.

    Los Angeles needed a pitcher after losing Zack Greinke and Dan Haren to free agency and trading Ervin Santana. Morales would have led Seattle in home runs and been second in RBIs last season, and the Mariners are bringing the outfield fences in closer this season.

    more baseball: The Yankees and Ichiro Suzuki, 39, finalized a $13 million, two-year contract. He will likely be part of a rightfield platoon as the Yankees look to replace free agent Nick Swisher, who was expected to sign elsewhere. The payroll next year is now $182 million for 13 players with agreements. … The Diamondbacks hired Steve Sax, 52, as first-base coach and Turner Ward, 47, as assistant hitting coach. …The Red Sox finalized a two-year, $26.5 million deal with RHP Ryan Dempster, 35.


    ESPN's Parker sorry for RG3 comments

    Commentator Rob Parker apologized for his remarks on ESPN2's First Take about Redskins QB Robert Griffin III. Parker, who is suspended indefinitely, last week questioned Griffin's "blackness," saying he has a white fiancee and is rumored to be Republican. Parker, who is black, said Wednesday: "I blew it, and I'm sincerely sorry.'' He hopes to apologize to Griffin directly.'


    Barcelona coach's throat ailment back

    For the second time in two years, Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova is stepping aside to take care of his health. Vilanova is scheduled to have surgery today, then about six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation therapy for a recurrence of a throat ailment. In November 2011 he had a saliva gland tumor removed. Vilanova, 44, might be able to remain in charge of the team during treatment. Also, defender Eric Abidal took part in his first team training session since a liver transplant eight months ago.


    horses: Captaintreacherous was voted pacer of the year after eight wins in 10 races. He is the first 2-year-old in 25 years to win the award, receiving 48 of 146 votes from the U.S. Harness Writers Association. Horse of the year will be announced today.

    golf: Rory McIlroy and Stacy Lewis were named top players by the Golf Writers Association of America.

    tennis: Serena Williams had surgery on her big toes, described as a minor procedure, and withdrew from a Dec. 29 exhibition against Victoria Azarenka.

    Times wires

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    The Big East has talked to BYU, Fresno State and UNLV about joining, cbssports.com reported Wednesday. It did not say if the schools are discussing joining for football only or all sports.

    The Big East is set to play 2013 with 12 teams, including newcomers UCF, Boise State, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State and SMU. Boise State and San Diego State are members for football only. After 2013, it loses Rutgers (Big Ten) and Louisville (ACC). But it gains East Carolina (football only) and Tulane. Navy joins in 2015.

    Previous media reports said BYU, Boise State and San Diego State talked to the Mountain West about rejoining. Fresno State and UNLV are in the Mountain West. (BYU is independent for football and in the West Coast Conference for other sports.)

    The report by cbssports.com said any moves by the teams or Mountain West might hinge on the league's TV deal, which expires in 2016 and earns each school between $8 million and $12 million per year. The Big East currently is negotiating a TV deal with reports it could generate only about $5 million per school.

    Record-setting QB commits to Florida

    Will Grier, who last month threw for a national-record 837 yards in a game, orally committed to Florida. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior also had 10 touchdowns in Davidson (N.C.) Day's 104-80 win. For the season, he threw for 5,785 yards and 69 touchdowns and ran for 813 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Oral commitments are not binding. Grier plans to enroll in January 2014 and sign a letter of intent the following month.

    More Florida: Offensive lineman Tyler Moore, a star at Clearwater's Countryside High, was one of three junior college players to sign. Moore, 6-5, 312, played nine games (four starts) for Nebraska as a freshman before leaving. He spent this fall at St. Petersburg College. Offensive lineman Trenton Brown, 6-8, 363, was a second-team junior college All-American at Georgia Military College. Lineman Darious Cummings, 6-1, 310, helped East Mississippi allow 74.2 rushing yards per game.

    FSU to face Oklahoma St.: Florida State will play Oklahoma State in the 2014 season opener. The Aug. 30 game will be at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, FSU's first game in Texas since the January 1992 Cotton Bowl.

    USF gets two: Corner Torrel Saffold and linebacker Rahmon Swain of Butler (Kan.) Community College signed with USF. Saffold, 5-11, 180, had 52 tackles and four interceptions this season. Swain, 6-0, 216, had 83 tackles and 41/2 sacks.

    Tide AD: saban to stay: Mal Moore, Alabama's athletic director, said he believes coach Nick Saban won't leave for the NFL. "He's expressed to me on several occasions … that he's happy here," Moore said. One rumor had Saban taking over the Browns. Browns running back and ex-Tide star Trent Richardson said he would be surprised if Saban came. "How can you get tired of winning?" he said. "He has no reason to leave. He gets what he needs, and he treats his program like the NFL (anyway)."

    Irish coach honored: Brian Kelly, who has Notre Dame in the BCS title game, was voted Associated Press coach of the year. He received 25 of 49 votes from a media panel. Penn State's Bill O'Brien was second with 14.

    Stanford: David Shaw, 22-4 in two seasons, agreed to a "long-term" extension, the school said.

    Wisconsin: Two of the three men accused of assaulting running back Montee Ball last summer pleaded guilty to battery but won't go to prison if they avoid further trouble. The third is set to enter a similar plea next month.

    Times staff writers Greg Auman and Antonya English contributed to this report.

    CHRIS ZUPPA   |   Times (2010)CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2010)

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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    TAMPA — They returned to practice Wednesday with full pads and effort, the weight of a four-game losing streak somehow made lighter by an extra day off.

    Pep had clearly returned to their step as Bucs players enthusiastically rotated to each tackling station at the start of the workout with nothing left to play for except pride and paychecks.

    Linebacker Adam Hayward, who engaged in a sideline confrontation with assistant coach Bryan Cox during Sunday's 41-0 clubbing at New Orleans, spoke of the harmony between players and coaches.

    He also dismissed a report on profootballtalk.com on Monday quoting an anonymous Bucs player asking rhetorically, "Can we send these coaches back to college?"

    "(Wednesday) we had a great practice," Hayward said. "Everybody was flying around and getting to the ball. I mean, anybody can say anything on the Internet. But around here, you can see guys are ready to play and ready to work.

    "We've got something to prove. When you get a butt-whipping like that, you don't want to end on a note like that. You want to go out there and fight and kind of be like, 'This is how I want to be remembered,' not being blown out 41-0. I know these guys, and I see it in their eyes, and they want to play football."

    At 6-8, the Bucs were eliminated from the playoffs by their blowout loss to the Saints, prompting coach Greg Schiano to give players Monday and Tuesday off with the expectation they would arrive to work Wednesday recharged and ready to prepare for Sunday's home finale against the Rams.

    "It's not fun, but you've got to find the positive in it," Schiano said. "There is opportunity for our future development right now where we are. But this is a win-now league, and this is a win-now coach, and we are going to try and win Sunday, and that's what we're here to do, and that's what we're going to do."

    To that end, Schiano has no plans to use the Bucs' final two games to evaluate seldom-used players or extend careers by limiting the workload of starters such as rookie running back Doug Martin.

    The former Boise State star was limited to a career-low 16 yards on nine carries versus the Saints. With 1,250 rushing yards, he needs 295 against the Rams and the Falcons in the season finale to break James Wilder team season record of 1,544.

    "I think it would be not a good time in our program's development to say, 'Hey, Doug, why don't you just cool off for next year,' " Schiano said. "I don't think that's where we are as a program. If he was on a veteran-laden team that for whatever reason didn't make the playoffs this year (and had) been in it for the last five or six years, maybe we want to rest him. But that's not the case."

    The Bucs also are hoping for a bounce-back game from quarterback Josh Freeman, who is coming off one of his worst performances of the year. Against the Saints he threw four interceptions and lost a fumble.

    "I think the thing nobody can argue with is the high level of execution that has been on display at times there on the field," offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said of Freeman. "We can go on and on about some of the positives, and you certainly can point out some of the things that can improve. … It's an ongoing process. We are excited across the entire body of work, a lot of good things.

    "Everything that doesn't go well is on me. I accept responsibility for that. … In terms of inconsistency, I think the thing that really jumps out is when we turn the ball over or we have the penalties. If we can just tighten that up, hopefully it can get us back to where we want to be."

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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    TAMPA — Even more than two years ago, when Greg Schiano first discussed with P.J. Fleck a position on the Rutgers coaching staff, the current Bucs coach knew the young assistant might one day become a head coach.

    "When you hire good coaches, you know that's part and parcel, especially if they have aspirations to be a head coach," Schiano said "I knew from the day I interviewed P.J. back then that that's what his ultimate goal was. And that's good."

    Fleck, the Bucs' receivers coach, got his first chance this week when he was hired Monday as Western Michigan's head coach. He'll remain with the Bucs for their final two games, but he's being pulled in several directions by the new job and a new daughter, born Monday.

    Offensive assistant Ben McDaniels, the brother of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, works alongside Fleck and will pick up the slack.

    "Together we're not going to miss a beat," Schiano said.

    Schiano listed the qualities he believes will make Fleck, 32, a former standout receiver at Northern Illinois and a two-year member of the 49ers, a good head coach:

    "I think he has very strong beliefs. He's very sure of himself. … At one point, I was the youngest head coach in the country (at Rutgers). Hey, you don't have experience. You just do what you think is right, and if it's wrong, you fix it, and you keep moving. But the one thing he has is great energy, he's got great focus and strong beliefs.

    "If you have that, 80 percent of leadership is knowing where you're going."

    Said WR Tiquan Underwood of Fleck: "We've (developed) a relationship. He's helped me grow as a person and as a player. Those guys at Western Michigan are lucky to have him."

    TOPIC DU JOUR: The struggles of QB Josh Freeman continue to be a common topic of discussion at One Buc Place, with offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan addressing it Wednesday in his weekly news conference.

    Like Schiano, Sullivan had made it a point to not overreact in the wake of Freeman's four-interception performance in the 41-0 loss to the Saints on Sunday and his slump in the past three games.

    For Sullivan, the focus is on Freeman's performance over the course of the season.

    "There are so many things that we need to improve, that we took a few steps back on, that go well beyond Josh or any individual player," he said.

    DOUBLING UP: DE Michael Bennett is trying to become the first Tampa Bay player to reach double digits in sacks since Simeon Rice in 2005.

    Bennett enters Sunday's game against the Rams with nine sacks, the most since Rice's 14 in 2005.

    With Bennett entering free agency this offseason, reaching double digits would look nice on the resume, but he would settle for a much-needed victory.

    "Getting double digits in sacks, that's my job," Bennett said. "I would like to get double digits. But winning is the most important thing. Everybody puts a big emphasis on me getting sacks. But I would rather win the game."

    INJURY REPORT: TE Luke Stocker (head/nose) and DE Aaron Morgan (shoulder) were limited in practice.

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    GAINESVILLE — His tenure with Florida since arriving as a transfer from Rutgers has sometimes been rocky, but Mike Rosario has never wavered in his belief that when he's playing his best, he's pretty good.

    Rosario spent the preseason working hard to improve his work ethic, and the result was on full display against Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday night.

    The fifth-year senior scored 17 of his 20 in the first half and had a season-high six rebounds to lead No. 8 Florida to an 82-43 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in front of 8,057 at the O'Connell Center. It was the sixth time this season the Gators held an opponent to fewer than 50 points.

    Over the past three games, Rosario is 19-of-31 and has 50 points. He said it's a byproduct of putting together everything coach Billy Donovan has been emphasizing the past two years.

    "(It's) just using what I know I do best, and I can score the ball," Rosario said. "I've been being aggressive on the offensive end, I've been being aggressive on the defensive end, and it's just creating offense for me as well. And I feel like my teammates have been getting me involved a lot, too. I've been doing my best to knock down open shots, and I've been knocking them down."

    Florida (8-1) led 43-26 at halftime after shooting 57.1 percent from the field and holding the Lions to 9-of-27 from the field and 2-of-10 from 3-point range. The Gators held the Lions (1-8) to four points in the first 10:25 of the second half.

    "This was a game that I thought was good for us from the standpoint that one, we won, but also it was a discipline game," Donovan said. "I thought our discipline in the second half was really good."

    Despite his continued shooting slump (28.5 percent from 3-point range this season), Florida senior guard Kenny Boyton hit a 3-pointer with 9:15 left to become the fifth Gator to reach 1,700 career points.

    Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    Times wires
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With the attention Wednesday night focused on the coaching battle between father and son, Louisville senior guard Peyton Siva grabbed the spotlight by applying what he learned from both.

    Especially from the father, who's always in his ear.

    Siva's career highs of five 3-pointers and 12 assists helped the fifth-ranked Cardinals roll past Florida International 79-55 in the 11th Billy Minardi Classic.

    "The last couple of games teams have been playing me more for the drive and Russ (Smith) for 3s, so (Wednesday) was more rhythm," said Siva, who made 5 of 8 3s after not hitting one in his past three games.

    "I just took my open shots. I'm not going to make one every game, but tonight it felt good and they played me for the 3 and I just took the shots."

    It was fitting that Siva played a prominent role in the first meeting between Louisville coach Rick Pitino and Richard Pitino, his son and Panthers counterpart. The younger Pitino, 30, served two stints as a Louisville assistant before taking over for Isiah Thomas at FIU this season.

    Both have helped Siva develop into one of the nation's top point guards, which paid off Wednesday with his first double double since the season opener and being selected the game's MVP.

    "He's the most special kid out there, and it's not even close," Richard Pitino said. "I love him like a brother."

    Wayne Blackshear tied his career best with 18 points for the Cardinals (10-1), and Chane Behanan added 14 points and 11 rebounds for his first double double this season. Louisville held FIU to 33 percent shooting and forced 14 turnovers.

    NO. 1 DUKE 88, CORNELL 47: Seth Curry scored 20, Mason Plumlee added 18 and the host Blue Devils (10-0) reeled off 23 straight points in one stretch. Duke shot a season-best 56.7 percent and forced a season-high 26 turnovers.

    NO. 6 INDIANA 93, MOUNT ST. MARY'S 54: Cody Zeller had 16 points and six rebounds for the host Hoosiers (10-1), who romped four days after their first loss. Earlier, Indiana said backup guard Maurice Creek will be out indefinitely after sustaining an undisclosed injury to his right foot during Sunday's practice.

    NO. 11 CINCinnati 60, XAVIER 45: Sean Kilpatrick scored 25 and led a second-half surge that carried the Bearcats (11-0) at a downtown Cincinnati arena as the crosstown rivalry was renewed amicably one year after it was marred by a brawl.

    NO. 14 GONZAGA 74, CAMPBELL 52: Przemek Karnowski scored 14 to lead four players in double figures for the host Bulldogs (11-1).

    NO. 16 NEW MEXICO 68, NEW MEXICO ST. 63: Kendall Williams tied a career high with 24 points, including nine during a first-half run that brought the visiting Lobos (12-0) back from a double-digit deficit.

    NO. 17 CREIGHTON 71, TULSA 54: Avery Dingman had 14 of his career-high 21 points in the second half, and Doug McDermott overcame a slow start to score 16 for the host Bluejays (11-1), who won their fifth straight.

    NO. 22 NOTRE DAME 85, KENNESAW ST. 57: Jack Cooley had 14 points and 13 rebounds for his fifth double double in seven games for the host Irish (11-1).

    NO. 21 UNLV 73, N. IOWA 59: Anthony Bennett had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the host Runnin' Rebels in the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.

    TEXAS 85, NO. 23 UNC 67: Sheldon McClellan scored 18 for the host Longhorns, who handed the Tar Heels (8-3) their first loss since a Nov. 27 rout by Indiana.

    NO. 24 OKLA. ST. 69, TEXAS-ARLINGTON 44: Markel Brown scored 17 and Phil Forte 13 for the host Cowboys (9-1).

    TAMPA 109, P.R.-MAYAGUEZ 61: Anthony Griffis had 22 points and Callum Townsend 21 as the Spartans (9-0) rolled in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

    ECKERD 97, TUSKEGEE 69: Alex Bodney had a career-high 25 points to lead five players in double figures, and the host Tritons (4-2) set a season high for points.

    SOUTH ALABAMA: Ronnie Arrow, the winningest coach in program and Sun Belt history, retired effective immediately. Arrow, 65, went 211-61 in 13-plus seasons.


    NO. 23 FSU 94, MERCER 42: Natasha Howard led five players in double figures with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the host Seminoles (9-1), the only team in the country with five players averaging double figures in scoring.

    TAMPA 58, N. ALABAMA 49: Illyssa Vivo had 18 points and nine rebounds for the host Spartans (9-0), who held on to match the 2009-10 squad for the best start in program history.

    VALDOSTA ST. 69, SAINT LEO 64, 2OT: The visiting Lions (5-4) fell short after erasing a 14-point deficit in the second half. Chelsea Williams had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Saint Leo.

    NO. 1 STANFORD 53, NO. 21 S. CAROLINA 49: Chiney Ogwumike had 21 points and 15 rebounds, Mikaela Ruef had a tiebreaking basket with 53 seconds left and the visiting Cardinal (10-0) held on against the rising Gamecocks (10-1).

    NO. 2 UCONN 97, OAKLAND (MICH.) 25: Bria Hartley and Breanna Stewart scored 21 each for the host Huskies (9-0). Connecticut held a pregame ceremony in memory of the 26 shooting victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School in nearby Newtown.

    NO. 5 NOTRE DAME 100, ALABAMA A&M 39: Kayla McBride scored 16 to lead five players in double figures for the Irish (7-1) in the first round of the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas.

    NO. 6 GEORGIA 72, TCU 59: Erika Ford scored 10 in a span of just more than 6½ minutes during a 15-3 run midway through the first half that lifted the visiting Bulldogs (12-0).

    NO. 17 UNC 76, ECU 67: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored 24 and the Tar Heels (11-1) pulled away in the second half in the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

    NO. 22 TEXAS A&M 83, KANSAS ST. 60: Kelsey Bone scored 22 on 11-of-13 shooting to lead the Aggies (7-3) to their seventh straight win at the World Vision Classic.

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    By Mark Puente, Times Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays want to look for a new home in Tampa, but the team president bought a mansion 5 miles from Tropicana Field.

    Rays president Matt Silverman paid $1.5 million this month for the 3,505-square-foot home described as a "Tuscan Mediterranean masterpiece." The luxurious estate sits on an oversized lot on 34th Avenue NE in northeast St. Petersburg.

    The home's proximity to the Trop doesn't mean the Rays have abandoned the desire to explore potential stadium sites outside the city. Silverman's driveway is 19 miles from downtown Tampa.

    He declined to comment.

    The selling agent said the home "will leave you speechless. A must see for any serious luxury buyer at a price dramatically below construction costs."

    The home is filled with cypress ceilings, marble, stone and granite. The sauna, pool and hot tub overlook the water. A $100,000 smart-house system controls the entire home.

    Steeped in Italian tradition, the villa went on the market in September for $1.6 million. In baseball dollars, the selling price equals what the team paid catcher Jose Molina last season.

    Silverman bought the home from Glenn and Melissa Witt, who paid $1.1 million in 2010.

    Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    In Jason Robins' perfect world, he would be playing a professional sport.

    "Unfortunately," he said, laughing, "I'm not good enough to play any of them" at that level.

    But Robins said he can analyze statistics and follow player trends, and his competitive urge to show off that knowledge led him to fantasy sports websites. "I can't even remember how long I've been playing," he said.

    But for Robins of Boston and a couple of his fantasy-playing buddies, that wasn't enough. So they found some investors — getting $1.4 million in seed money, the Boston Business Journal reported — ditched their corporate executive jobs and in April launched a fantasy site of their own, draftkings.com.

    They also devised what they believe is a unique way to drive eyeballs, and perhaps dollars, to their site: a one-day football contest with $250,000 in prizes, including $100,000 to the winner.

    "You sit down in the morning, and by the end of the day you have $100,000 in your account," Robins said in a phone interview. "That's a pretty exciting idea."

    Sunday's game is limited to 1,400 participants. Registration is $200.

    "We're anxious to see what happens," Robins said.

    What could happen is the contest clears $30,000; 1,400 players at $200 each equals $280,000. That would be a modest payout, and Robins, 32, said he and partners Matt Kalish, 31, and Paul Liberman, 29, could have allowed more contestants.

    "But I worried that if people thought we were taking too high a percentage, they wouldn't want to play," Robins said. "We're looking at the payoff more in terms of attracting new players. … My guess is we could lose a pretty substantial amount of money on this, but I wouldn't consider it a loss, per se, because I think it gives us an opportunity to get the word out about this."

    Fantasy sports websites offering monetary prizes occupy an interesting niche. Though players risk money and can win or lose, it is not considered gambling, which is illegal on the Internet in the United States.

    Credit the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act of 2006.

    "What that federal law did is say fantasy-type sports games are exempt because they take skill," said Boston business attorney Travis Jacobs.

    In other words, winning is not predominantly based on chance but by "accumulating statistical results of sporting events," the act says.

    Prizes, the act says, also must be "established in advance."

    What's been the reaction to DraftKing's $250,000 challenge? As of midnight Thursday, without much publicity, 613 of 1,400 spots were claimed.

    Whatever the final count, Robins figures it will be worth it to further boost a site that in November had its best month, with 263,615 unique visitors, says compete.com, which monitors web-based fantasy sports traffic.

    "We wanted to do something big that would draw people in," he said. "Even if it cost us some money, we thought the amount of interest it could attract by doing something this size would be worth it."

    Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    TAMPA — Bucs QB Josh Freeman has experienced a roller-coaster season in which the highs have been high (four consecutive wins, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions) and the lows have been low (four consecutive losses, four touchdowns, five interceptions). However, he says his confidence is unwavering.

    "My confidence has been where it's been really the entire season," Freeman said. "I've got a lot of confidence in myself. I've got a lot of confidence in my coaches and my teammates. And it doesn't really change regardless.

    "I feel like there are so many different things that people allow to affect their confidence and their thought process. The way I look at it, if I focus on getting just one-tenth of 1 percent better every day, just work my butt off to continue to improve, then I've got no reason to worry. I don't worry, 'When are we going to make a mistake?' It's kind of, 'Oh, I made a mistake.' It's not really ever doubting my abilities and ever doubting my teammates."

    This is the fourth straight season — his third as a starting quarterback — that will end for Freeman without a trip to the postseason. That's disappointing, he said, but it has been a year of learning with the new coaching staff.

    "Every year every team has the same goal until you get to this point and they say there's no chance to win it," Freeman said. "You want to get into the tournament, into the playoff, and secondly you want to go all the way. That's what you play for. If you don't believe you can do it, you're never going to do it.

    "I have a lot of confidence in the team, and I believe this season has been a learning season. You hate to say it because that's not what we want to be at all. We've had success, and we're doing everything we can to be good this Sunday."

    RAMS GAME BLACKED OUT: For the eighth time in 10 games this season (including preseason), a Bucs game will be blacked out on local TV. The team failed to sell at least 85 percent of the general tickets for Sunday's home finale against the Rams before the 1 p.m. Thursday deadline.

    PRO BOWL BOUND? Ronde Barber, in his 16th season, led all NFC free safeties in fan voting for the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. The voting counts as one-third of the process; coaches and players also cast ballots.

    "You know how much I like and care about our team, so hopefully they'll get recognized," coach Greg Schiano said of his players. "But I believe your play talks for yourself, and I've always believed that. Maybe sometimes, over the years, different teams I've coached, maybe they haven't gotten the all-star recognition because I don't stump like maybe some guys do. But I think it'll come out in the wash as things get better.

    "If we're 11-5 (and) going to the playoffs, there's going to be a lot more guys considered for the Pro Bowl than when you're 6-8 right now."

    INJURIES: DE Aaron Morgan did not practice but road a bicycle.


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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    TAMPA — Patience is a virtue not possessed by many football fans. It's also not part of the makeup of most football coaches.

    But when it comes to the Bucs' passing game and the source of some of its recent struggles, a measure of patience is essential, players and coaches say.

    Though many of Josh Freeman's increasingly inaccurate passes are the result of pure misfires (he has a 48.3 completion percentage in his past three games), another factor has contributed.

    The "read routes" employed in the offense — ones that require the quarterback and his receivers to make split-second decisions in unison after the snap — have proven more difficult to execute than anticipated.

    So when you see a pass land nowhere near its intended receiver, followed by shrugs and puzzled looks, there is a reason.

    The receivers' routes in the Bucs offense typically vary based on the defense's coverage. Reading the coverage is another layer of responsibility for the quarterback beyond traditional progressions. For the receivers, it puts more on their plates, giving them more to contend with than a garden-variety pass route.

    "People who don't understand (the difficulty), I would tell them to look at our playbook," receiver Mike Williams said. "There are different coverages you have to (read). I might see Cover 2, and (Freeman) might see Cover 3. (Opponents are) disguising coverages, trying to fool you, so when you have 'read routes' and they're trying to trick you, they might fool one person, and sometimes things can happen. If you saw the playbook, you'd see how difficult it is."

    One of Freeman's four interceptions in the 41-0 loss to the Saints on Sunday was a result of a "miscommunication," as players have described wrong reads. Freeman, looking deep for Vincent Jackson from the Saints 26-yard line, threw the ball inside while Jackson streaked down the field on the outside. Defensive back Rafael Bush intercepted the ball at the 9 and returned it 40 yards, ending one of the Bucs' best chances to score.

    Who was at fault? It's not clear, and it doesn't matter. Here's another question: Why, after 14 games, is this still happening?

    "You can run the same play 100 times and you could have 60 to 70 different scenarios with how different (defenders) are playing it, how the leverage (is)," Freeman said. "There's a number of different looks you can get, and the thing is just getting on the same page."

    Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said: "Any one particular pass could have a number of options off it, not merely just stepping inside or outside, but some subtleties with that. Without giving away too much, there are a lot of variables there. While (wrong reads are) not what we want to have happening right now — and in my estimation, it would be great if we were further along — I certainly can see as part of the growing pains and part of the process within the system how sometimes you have those."

    That strongly suggests this is something you sort of have to live with in the Bucs' system. But when the reads are executed properly, the results suggest it's worth it.

    The Bucs' finer offensive moments this season bear that out. Since Week 5, Tampa Bay's offense ranks fifth in average yards per game (392.1) and sixth in points per game (27.2). But growing pains are inescapable when playing in a challenging offense.

    "It takes a smart guy to play in this system," receiver Tiquan Underwood said. "But we're all smart here, and we all can handle it, and it's our job. We just have to keep repping it in practice and let it carry over to Sunday."

    Williams points to Giants quarterback Eli Manning — who runs such a system with the Giants, with whom Sullivan previously worked — having had his share of challenges in the system's early stages.

    "The quarterback we got this offense from, who has two Super Bowl rings, it took him six years to really get this offense," Williams said.

    With the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of the NFL, no one has that kind of time. The task is to get things right as often as possible and when the occasional wrong read occurs, limit the damage.

    "When they do happen, they end up being, ideally, incompletions, or we end up having to punt the football," Sullivan said. "Both of which we don't like, but it's far better than turning the ball over."

    Follow Stephen F. Holder on Twitter at @HolderStephen.


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    ST. PETERSBURG — George O'Leary understands his UCF team could have taken its lumps, serving a one-year postseason ban this fall and entering the Big East next season with a clean slate.

    However, as the Knights prepare for tonight's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl against Ball State at Tropicana Field, the veteran coach is excited to be playing in a bowl game and confident his team will be able to do the same next season.

    "I would never do that to the senior class," O'Leary said Thursday of UCF's decision to appeal the NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations, potentially pushing the bowl ban to 2013.

    "I think we did the right thing. I thought the sanctions were unwarranted for what we did. We didn't meet the criteria a postseason ban calls for, and I think the president and athletic director made the right decision. I think we have a great case to fight."

    The appeal allowed UCF to be eligible to win Conference USA's East Division. (It lost the title game after Tulsa blocked a field goal in overtime.)

    And a win tonight gives UCF's seniors 34, the school's most in a four-year period. Just as important, playing a bowl game gave UCF extra practices to build momentum toward next season.

    "You head into that offseason with a good taste in your mouth," O'Leary said. "That's what a bowl does. A lot of young kids have a good experience. A win leaves some confidence for the kids coming back, so they hit the offseason conditioning with a positive state of mind."

    Ball State, like UCF, has nine wins, including over USF at home Sept. 22. But the most glaring difference is experience. O'Leary is in his 13th bowl while Cardinals coach Pete Lembo, a veteran of two Division I-AA playoff runs at Lehigh and one at Elon, is in his first. The week leading up to kickoff is packed with activities that, while part of the bowl experience, can distract from a team's focus.

    "I remember the first time I took a team to a bowl. They forgot we were playing a game that week," O'Leary said, referencing the 1985 Cherry Bowl in Pontiac, Mich., when he was an assistant for a Syracuse team that lost 35-18 to Maryland. "It's important that you have kids who have been to bowls before and understand what's supposed to happen."

    UCF is the first team to return to Tropicana Field in the bowl's five-year history. It lost to Rutgers 45-24 in 2009, a game that saw current seniors playing as freshmen. Quincy McDuffie, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this year, had 165 yards on kickoff returns in the '09 game. Defensive back Kemal Ishmael had an interception and six tackles, and Largo High graduate Brynn Harvey rushed for 32 yards.

    O'Leary reminded his seniors this week that the final bowl game, good or bad, will stick in a player's mind long after his career is over, so the memories forged tonight are important.

    "Ten, 15 years from now, when you have a reunion, that's the one you're talking about," O'Leary said. "I'm sorry to say our guys 20 years ago had bowls they still talk about as the last game they played. You play a bunch of great games, but this bowl game is the last one you remember."

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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    Even now, his followers believe.

    Even now, they imagine greatness.

    It does not matter John Elway traded him for a whole bunch of nothing, or Joe Namath slammed him along the way, or Rex Ryan thinks the immortal Greg McElroy is a better choice at quarterback.

    It does not matter anonymous teammates say he is terrible, or he has made $2.1 million for throwing eight passes this year, or he has spent the season sitting behind the perfectly wretched Mark Sanchez without being seriously considered as an alternative.

    To those who believe in Tim Tebow, every skeptic is misguided, every statistic is meaningless and every wobbly pass is an out-and-out lie.

    To them, greatness for Tebow is only a trade away, and if the Bucs are considering getting involved, why, they are all for it.

    Once the news was out that the Jets and Tebow had fallen out of love with each other, the Tebow-to-the-Bucs idea was bound to occur to someone. Just like that, there are fans who think Tebow dressed in pewter and red would make a splendid Christmas card. Just call him Tim TeBuc and open the ticket windows.

    After all, there are fans who think Tebow can do nothing wrong and those who think incumbent Bucs starter Josh Freeman can do nothing right. If they could get Tebow into the lineup, there are those who would bench Freeman before Sunday's game against the Rams.

    As for me? I think it's a terrible idea, but I'll admit this: It would be the most popular bad idea in team history. It wouldn't work out, but at the outset, man, would the applause be deafening.

    And here we go again. Tebow is still the loudest argument in sports. On the day the world ends — and today isn't over yet — the final sound you hear will be a debate about Tebow, who is either wonderful or terrible, a fine idea or a bad one, an underused star or an overhyped backup.

    What he is not is a Buc.

    Nor should he be.

    Not now. Not next year. Not the year after.

    I know, I know. Tebow was one of the great college quarterbacks of all time at Florida. Granted. He's one of the best human beings in sports. Agreed. He has a charisma that allows fans to look past his shortcomings. No one is arguing that. I have written it before: I would have loved for Tebow to have become a great player in the NFL.

    This is the amazing thing about Tebow: He instills an unshakable belief in his fans. They seem not to see his stats, and they seem not to hear his critics. They believe in his intangibles, now and forever. There have been other great college quarterbacks who have not fit the NFL game, and many of them have had great character, too. None of them has inspired loyalty like that of Tebow's followers.

    When it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, however, a lot more arguments are against Tebow than for him.

    Let's start the discussion here: Say the Bucs decided to bring in Tebow as a backup next year. (And no team in the NFL is going to bring him in as a starter.)

    How many incomplete passes would Freeman have to throw before the call for Tebow began? How many losses would he have to suffer before fans stormed the gates? How long before the noise outside the locker room drowned out the noise inside? Put it this way: Having Tebow as a backup hasn't exactly contributed to peace in the Jets locker room, has it?

    Then there is this: The most common criticism anyone has about Freeman is his lack of accuracy. Compared to Tebow, Freeman is William Tell. Seriously. Over his career, Freeman has completed 59 percent of his passes; Tebow has completed 47.9.

    As for the argument Tebow would sell tickets, well, who is to say how long that would last. Fans don't pay to watch backup quarterbacks sit.

    In Tebow's defense, his supporters would say he wouldn't be a backup very long. They would point to his magic run of 2011, when legend says Tebow hoisted the Denver franchise onto his shoulders and delivered the Broncos to the playoffs.

    It didn't happen quite that way. The Broncos lost their final three regular-season games and squeaked into the playoffs with an 8-8 record. Tebow averaged 123.5 yards passing per game, which isn't exactly hoisting. It was fun while it lasted, but no, it wasn't the arrival of greatness.

    At least Elway didn't think so. After the season, Denver's executive VP of football operations didn't even keep Tebow around to be a backup and to learn from newly acquired Peyton Manning. He sent Tebow to the Jets for fourth- and sixth-round draft picks. That begs this question: If 2011 wasn't enough to convince Elway, should it convince the Bucs?

    This year Tebow has sat. Coaches who are fighting for their jobs do not want him to play. Teammates who wanted to reach the playoffs have not urged the team to put him in. Analysts who have looked on have not believed he would make a difference.

    Who has believed? Tebow's fans, that's who.

    And the rest of us? Eventually, Tebow's fans believe we will change our minds.

    I hope so. Once he gets to Jacksonville, I wish Tebow nothing but the best.

    Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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    By Steve Papen, Times Correspondent
    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    What's hot: This time of year most offshore fishermen take advantage of the incredible gag grouper bite. Gags are stacked on just about every little rock pile and ledge in just about all depths, providing incredible catch-and-release action since they are closed to all harvest. If seeking fish to eat, head to the deep water.

    Red grouper: Good numbers of reds are in depths of 70-90 feet and the largest concentrations are in 130-160 feet. Live bait has been the key to getting the larger fish, but we have gotten many on bucktail and vertical jigs.

    Mangrove snapper: Concentrate on high relief areas such as wrecks and big breaks for snapper. For smaller fish, chunk baits work well. Live bait is best for larger fish.

    Mahimahi: Straggler mahi are hanging around. Trips offshore produced many of these tasty fish. Small half-ounce bucktails work well when the school is behind the boat.

    Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.

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    Times wires
    Thursday, December 20, 2012


    Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

    Who: UCF (9-4, 7-2 C-USA) vs. Ball State (9-3, 6-2 MAC)

    When/where: 7:30; Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM, 1350-AM

    Line: UCF by 7

    Notable: The Knights seek to rebound from an overtime loss at Tulsa in the C-USA title game and finish with double-digit wins for the third time since moving up to Division I-A in 1996. The Cardinals seek their first bowl victory in their sixth attempt and third 10-win season in school history.

    Bay area grads: UCF — * OL Robert Gibbons (Jesuit), RB Brynn Harvey (Largo), RT Phil Smith (Jesuit), DB Brendin Straubel (Jefferson), * OL Michael Wiszowaty (Countryside). Ball State — * CB Tyree Holder (Tampa Catholic); CB Eric Patterson (Plant).

    * Redshirting this season

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    By Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors-Fitness Editor
    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    If the world doesn't end today, as the Mayan calendar predicts, you should pull out your light-tackle rig and go catch some spotted sea trout. The bite is on and the fishing will only get better with each successive cold front.

    Winter is prime time to use artificial lures. But you can never have too many plugs and jigs in your tackle box. So with just a few days left before Christmas, here are a few of my favorites that will make great stocking stuffers for some lucky angler.

    Terry's top three

    MirrOlure MR17-GBC, $7.99

    This suspending twitch bait sinks about 12 inches below the surface and will prove deadly in sandy potholes on the grass flats.

    Paul Brown Little Devil Pink, $9.99

    If your goal is to catch huge trout, this little devil will get it done. It works best over patchy bottom or over potholes.

    Paul Brown Original Black and Purple, $9.99

    This suspending twitch bait sinks quickly, so it is a good choice on the deeper flats and around docks. This bait catches big trout.

    For the novice

    DOA Deadly Combo, $5.99

    A great choice for the beginner or children, this bait will catch small, medium and big trout. It is very easy to use.

    Trout Master Tandem Lures, $2.19

    A longtime favorite with anglers, these jigs are reminiscent of the Love Lure, which is no longer in production. This bait covers a lot of ground and will catch two trout a time.

    All-around favorites

    Slayer Inc. Sinister series baits, $4.99

    This soft plastic is a great choice if you want to cover some serious ground on shallow or deep flats. Don't be surprised if it catches other species as well. Other color choices: Houdini, black and gold, molting and root beer.

    Slayer Inc. Jig Heads, $3.99

    This company uses quality hooks, which combined with the perfectly shaped lead head complements any soft plastic. The one-eighth-ounce and quarter-ounce are ideal weights for this area. Most local anglers prefer a red or white head.

    Heddon Zara Spooks, $7.59 to $9.49

    These baits are the best topwater plugs for trout. The Spook Jr. and the One Knocker Spook have caught their share of giant yellow-mouth gator trout.

    Mirrolure Lil John Plastics, $4.29

    A veritable guided missile for trout, this bait casts far and always finds its mark. Top colors: pink, gold, golden bream and watermelon red glitter.

    Runner Up

    Pro Cure Super Gel Attractant, $6.49

    A few drops on any lure will increase your chances of success. Some top scents are shrimp, menhaden and inshore.

    Source: Dogfish Tackle Co., 8750 Park Blvd., No. 102, Seminole. Call (727) 393-2102.

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    By David Rice, Times Correspondent
    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    TAMPA — Khoi Wilson had 14 points, five assists, three steals and two blocked shots to help Hills­borough beat Tampa Bay Tech 52-42 and leave the teams tied in the district standings on Thursday. Both are 5-2 in Class 7A, District 8, 11/2 games behind 6-0 Riverview.

    The Terriers (10-6) got off to a hot start using fastbreaks and efficient passing to get easy baskets and jump out to an 18-6 first-quarter lead. Wilson, a sophomore point guard, led the charge.

    "We knew we had to run and get off to a start like that in order to sustain and win the game," Terriers coach Babita Artabasy said.

    "We're a fast team, and Khoi did a great job of getting us running."

    The game was a rematch of an intense affair on Dec. 5 that Tampa Bay Tech won 56-47. This time, the Titans (10-5) struggled with their shooting, scoring a combined 14 points in the first and fourth quarters. They kept themselves in the game thanks to 15 offensive rebounds that provided second chances. Senior forward Erica Young led Tampa Bay Tech with 17 points.

    The Titans rallied to tie it at 31. But the Terriers quickly regained their composure to extend the lead.

    Freshman forward Trinity Baptiste finished with five blocked shots and was crucial in setting the defensive tone for Hillsborough.

    "We played them close the first time and felt like we could have won at their place," Artabasy said. "The girls all felt how important of a game this was for us to build on our season so far, and we know we can compete in this district.

    "I thought we got good effort and intensity from everyone."

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