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    Times wires
    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    STANFORD, Calif. — Swarmed by three defenders for much of the game, Chiney Ogwumike released the ball off-balance or just plain forced it to try to somehow get No. 1 Stanford going.

    Not much worked as Connecticut dominated on a home court the Cardinal has ruled year after year.

    Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and second-ranked UConn played streak-buster this time, snapping Stanford's nation-leading 82-game run in Maples Pavilion with a surprisingly easy 61-35 victory Saturday.

    "I don't think I've experienced anything like this," Ogwumike said. "That Connecticut team we played for 40 minutes is the standard. And the great thing is now we've experienced the standard."

    The Huskies sure got a thrill from leaving with a rout and silencing a typically raucous crowd.

    It was UConn that saw the end of its NCAA record 90-game winning streak at Maples Pavilion with a 71-59 loss two years ago, almost to the day on Dec. 30.

    "The last time we were here it was a big event for them and they treated it like it was a big event, and God bless them," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "But for us to win a game here in late December, it's no more than just a big game against a really good team."

    Mosqueda-Lewis scored 19 as UConn (11-0) thoroughly outplayed Stanford (11-1) at both ends.

    NO. 3 BAYLOR 106, SE LA. 41: Jordan Madden scored 13, all in the first half, and the Bears (10-1) took control early en route to their nation-best 46th straight home win.

    NO. 5 NOTRE DAME 74, NO. 11 PURDUE 47: Kayla McBride scored 18 as the host Irish (10-1) routed the Boilermakers (11-2) for their fifth win in a row.

    NO. 9 MARYLAND 72, HARTFORD 40: Alyssa Thomas had 22 points and 11 rebounds for Maryland (10-2) in the championship game of its Terrapin Classic.

    NO. 18 OKLA. 79, CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE 57: Aaryn Ellenberg scored 24 for the host Sooners (10-2), who made 12 of 28 3-pointers.

    NO. 19 S.C. 66, W. CAROLINA 44: Tiffany Mitchell had 12 points and Ieasia Walker had five blocks to push her over 200 for her career for the host Gamecocks (12-2).

    NO. 23 COLORADO 84, NEW MEXICO 39: Lexy Kresl scored 20 and tied a school mark by making five 3-pointers without a miss for the host Buffaloes (11-0).

    Bulls coach one shy of 200

    TAMPA — Andrea Smith had 29 points and twin Andrell Smith added 26 to lead USF to a 100-75 victory over Florida A&M at the Sun Dome, giving coach Jose Fernandez his 199th career win. USF (10-2), which set a season high for points, put it away early in the second half with a 15-0 run for a 62-40 lead.

    Fernandez, in his 13th season coaching USF, gets his first shot at win No. 200 Monday against Detroit Mercy at 2 p.m. at the Sun Dome. "To be in a position to win 200 games at a school with the amount of turnover there is in college basketball today, it's special," he said.

    SAINT LEO 60, URSULINE 55: Chelsea Williams had 23 points and 16 rebounds, and the host Lions (5-4) held on.


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    Darek Sharp, Times Correspondent
    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    TAMPA — Last year was a breakthrough season for the Academy at the Lakes girls basketball team, which turned a first trip to the playoffs into a state Final Four appearance. But the Wildcats may have outdone that achievement Saturday.

    AATL soundly defeated Plant 51-37 to win the championship of the Jaguar Holiday Classic at Academy of Holy Names.

    "We're a 2A school, and so to beat an 8A team like we did, oh, absolutely it's our biggest win," AATL coach Karim Nohra said.

    The Wildcats, now 15-0, were led by 6-foot-2 senior Tatiana Manuel. Not only did she score 17 points and grab 11 rebounds, she shut down Plant inside with nine blocks and other shot alterations.

    With the Wildcats down to six players — "our bench is out of town" Nohra said — Plant tried to force the issue but fell short.

    "Our big concern was foul trouble," Manuel said. "They tried to come inside on me right from the start. But I guess they got the hint after I got a few balls out of there."

    Manuel, Andrea Mauger (14 points) and Taylor Polasky played all 32 minutes while tournament MVP Timecia Cohen only sat for a brief spell. Yet AATL played man-to-man defense and put a halfcourt press on the Panthers (12-5).

    That harried Plant, which has been without starting guards Christina Tamargo and Caroline Carey. Coach Carrie Mahon likened the season-ending injuries, both coming Dec. 17, to "losing our quarterback and our running back in a span of 3 1/2 minutes."

    It showed Saturday as Plant turned it over 22 times, nine in the first quarter as AATL went up 12-5. Plant rallied to 15-all, but the Wildcats scored the final six points of the half to start a game-breaking 17-0 run.

    "Of course we got tired but, you got to push through it if you want to win," Cohen said.

    Madelyn Carey led Plant with 15 points and Ray Brown had 16 rebounds.

    In the third-place game, Steinbrenner beat host Academy of the Holy Names 44-30 as Bailey Hooker scored 14.


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    By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    Dee Milliner

    We won't know where the Bucs will pick in the 2013 draft until after today's games. But wherever they do, they likely will go after a cornerback. It won't be a great draft for cornerbacks, but the Bucs' need means they might have to reach. In any case, many analysts consider Milliner the only cornerback worth taking in the first round. He plays a pro-style defense for Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide and could join former college teammate Mark Barron in the Bucs secondary.

    Yaroslava Shvedova

    This 25-year-old Kazakhstani tennis star made a bit of history in 2012, becoming only the second player in the Open era of Wimbledon (since 1968) to record a "golden set.'' That means she won an entire set without losing a point. Shvedova, who is ranked No. 29 in the world, has won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and has a good enough game on all surfaces to make a deep run in any of the majors. Watch out for her at Wimbledon.

    Harris English

    Just 23 and out of the University of Georgia, English burst onto the golf scene during his rookie year in 2012 by posting an incredible 60 and 63 to qualify for the British Open. (He finished tied for 54th.) Just as impressive, English had three top-10 finishes and ended the year ranked 80th in the world. We're not predicting he's about to win a major, but don't be surprised if English wins a PGA event in 2013.

    Nail Yakupov

    This is the seventh year we've done this list, and only twice before has an athlete been named twice: golfer Michelle Wie (2007, 2009) and Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix (2008, 2012). Yakupov, 19, is the third and the first to be listed two years in a row. We listed the right wing a year ago in anticipation he would be the first pick in the NHL draft and become an immediate star. Well, he was, indeed, drafted first, by the Oilers, but has yet to play because of the lockout. After playing in juniors the past two seasons for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League, Yakupov is playing this season in Russia for the KHL's Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, for whom he has 10 goals and eight assists in 22 games. We're hoping the NHL returns in 2013 and you will see this dynamic scorer.

    Seth Jones

    This is a really cool story. His dad is Popeye Jones, the former NBA player and current assistant coach with the Nets. When he played for the Nuggets, Popeye approached then-Avalanche great Joe Sakic for advice because Popeye's son was interested in hockey. Now Seth, 18, is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman playing juniors in the Western Hockey League and the early favorite to be the top pick in the 2013 draft.

    Max Browne

    Browne, the Gatorade national player of the year, is coming off one of the greatest seasons ever for a high school quarterback. The Sammamish (Wash.) star completed 73 percent of his passes and threw for 4,526 yards, 49 touchdowns and five interceptions in leading his school to a state championship. He also is the state's career leader in passing yards with 12,947. He has orally committed to Southern Cal and plans to enroll in January to be ready by the fall. He will have to beat out redshirt freshman Max Wittek, but Browne is expected to eventually continue USC's tradition of great quarterbacks.

    Gerrit Cole

    Let's hope the Rays' Wil Myers will be the American League rookie of the year. So who is the NL favorite? We like Cole, a power right-handed pitcher for the Pirates who was the first overall pick of the 2011 draft. He jumped all the way from Class A to Triple A last season, striking out more than a batter per inning and giving up less than a hit per inning. It isn't clear if he will start the season in Pittsburgh, but many already believe he is the best pitcher in the entire organization and will be its ace the moment he is called up.

    Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

    Stenhouse is on the right track for success in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. He was the Nationwide Series rookie of the year in 2010 then followed that up with series championships in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, he will race full time for Roush Fenway, replacing Matt Kenseth. Here's some extra intrigue: Stenhouse and Danica Patrick are entering their first full season on the Sprint Cup schedule and will battle each other for rookie of the year. And there was a rumor last month that the two might be dating.

    Tom Jones can be reached at tjones@tampabay.com.

    As we close out another year, we begin to look ahead to a new one. So welcome to our seventh annual list of athletes to watch during the upcoming year.

    We're not talking about well-established stars — the LeBrons, Peytons and Tigers. We're talking about younger athletes looking to break out in 2013.

    In years past, we've put you on the lookout for Tim Tebow (2007), Steven Stamkos (2008), Delmon Young (2007) and Stephen Strasburg (2010).

    We believe there are a few future superstars on this list. Here are our athletes to watch in 2013.

    Wil Myers

    Most in Tampa Bay are already familiar with Myers, the Rays' key acquisition in the trade that shipped pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals. But few of us have seen the 22-year-old 2012 minor-league player of the year actually play. There will be spring training. But after that, who knows when the outfielder will join the Rays? It might be opening day. It might be May 1. It might be later. But at some point in 2013, Myers will join the Rays — hopefully for the next decade or so.

    Nerlens Noel

    As many as seven current college freshmen could go among the first 10 picks of the 2013 NBA draft. But the best of the bunch could be this 6-foot-10 center from Kentucky. For starters, he has one of the coolest hi-top fade haircuts in the country. He can play, too. He is shooting 54.8 percent from the floor and averaging 10.5 points and nine rebounds. And he's a terrific defender, making him one of the top NBA prospects — assuming he comes out after his freshman season.


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    TAMPA — With point guard Anthony Collins gone for the final 10 minutes, taken off the court strapped to a stretcher and hospitalized with a neck injury, USF held off a late rally by George Mason, going 10-for-10 on free throws in the final two minutes to pull out a 61-57 win at the Sun Dome on Saturday night.

    USF (8-3) had gone 6-for-17 on free throws until the final two minutes, but guard Jawanza Poland hit six in a row himself on the way to a team-high 16 points after the Patriots (7-5) had cut a 13-point lead to two with 33 seconds left.

    The Bulls also finished the game without forward Victor Rudd, a national player of the week last week, who suffered a concussion late in the game, coach Stan Heath said.

    Heath reiterated after the game that Collins — a central figure in last year's NCAA Tournament run — had sensation in his arms and legs.

    The sophomore had left the game earlier after being poked in the eye, but then with 10:30 left in the game he took a knee to the head in a collision with a George Mason player. Collins was strapped to a board by EMS workers and taken off the court on a stretcher after lying still on his back for about 10 minutes as trainers stabilized his head and neck.

    "AC does have sensation in his extremities, in his hands and feet, so that's a good sign. We'll learn a little bit more (Saturday night). They're still doing tests on him," Heath said.

    "… We already came into the game a little shorthanded, and we're banged up even more. I'll give our team a lot of credit. We could have folded and we didn't. We battled. We played really hard … we fought like crazy on the defensive end and made some tough plays as well."

    The Bulls started the night with three scholarship players out with injuries, guards Shaun Noriega (foot) and JaVontae Hawkins (back) and forward Kore White (toe). Heath said Noriega and Hawkins won't be back for Wednesday's game at UCF, and though White has a chance, the Bulls could be down five key players for their final nonconference game.

    USF used a 12-0 run early in the second half to build a 34-24 lead, and even after Collins' injury, the Bulls were in control, leading 49-36 with 5:12 to play. But the Patriots answered with a 10-2 run to cut the lead to five, and free throws whittled that down to 55-53 with 33 seconds to go.

    The Bulls won with free throws, but their concern was still for Collins and hope for a quick and full recovery.

    "It was rough to take in," said Martino Brock, who took over at point guard and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. "He's our point guard, the one that starts everything, the leader on our team. It was rough to see him go down. I pray that everything goes good with him."

    USF travels to face Central Florida — which beat the Bulls in the season opener in Tampa — on Wednesday, with the Big East opener following Jan. 6 at home against No. 9 Syracuse.


    OCTAVIO JONES   |   TimesOCTAVIO JONES | Times

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    Thomas P. Corwin, Special to the Times
    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    FORT MYERS — Bartow guard Zykira Lewis scored a hefty share of her team's points Saturday against the Freedom girls basketball team, but none meant more than the final two.

    Lewis dribbled from mid-court all the way in for a layup at the buzzer, lifting the Yellowjackets to a 49-47 overtime win in the Emerald Division final at the Queen of Palms tournament.

    The Patriots tied the game at 44 with 1:12 left when Whitney Ivey hit two free throws. That turned out to be the last points for Freedom in regulation.

    In the overtime, the Patriots were whistled for traveling with 10.3 seconds left, opening the door for Lewis, who finished with 26 points.

    Taylor Emery had 25 points for Freedom. Both Lewis and Emery were named to the all-tournament team.

    "This was a great game for us. The girls responded beautifully to pressure," Bartow coach Richard Murvin said. "This was a game we needed, not just because it was for a championship. We needed to win a close game against a really good team."

    The final play was a normal one for Bartow.

    "That was typical inbounds-pass play that we run a lot," Murvin said. "Zykira is pretty much the best player on our team, and she just took over. She has a lot of speed and just cut through everyone on the way to the basket."

    Freedom led 6-0 but then just 10-9 after one period. Bartow started the second quarter with a 9-0 run to lead by eight, but a 3-pointer and layup by Emery in the final 35 seconds sent the teams to the half tied at 22.

    Lake Highland Prep 64, Seffner Christian 50: At first glance, one might think Seffner Christian coach Greg Fawbush would be disappointed in going 1-2 at a major tournament.

    But after sizing up the competition, Fawbush wasn't that upset after the Crusaders fell to Lake Highland Prep in the Diamond Division third-place game. Karrah Johnson scored 22 and Destinee Walker added 18 for Lake Highland.

    "I'm pleased that we were able to play such great competition here this week," Fawbush said. "Lake Highland is probably a favorite, after all, to win the state 4A title."

    Peyton Walker scored 19 for the Crusaders, and Sabrina Whiting chipped in 13.

    "She is a very special player," Fawbush said of Walker. "She's good enough to score from anywhere. Lake Highland Prep can really shoot the ball. We came here and may have lost two of three, but I think we commanded some respect. It was more worthwhile than staying at home and dominating a local tournament."

    In other games involving area teams, Tampa Bay Tech fell to the Community School of Naples 52-30 and Tarpon Springs lost to Fort Lauderdale Archbishop McCarthy 42-28.


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    Times wires
    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    SAN ANTONIO — David Ash wasn't sure he would start the Alamo Bowl. No one will remember that after the way he finished Texas' rocky season with a dazzling victory.

    The sophomore threw a 36-yard strike to Marquise Goodwin with 2:24 left for the last of two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, stunning No. 15 Oregon State and lifting the Longhorns to a 31-27 comeback victory Saturday night.

    Goodwin scored his second touchdown on a deep post pattern, one down after Texas (9-4) converted a fourth-and-1 play.

    "I guess in every situation you have to be thankful," said Ash, who was pulled in a loss to TCU on Nov. 22 and wasn't immediately selected the starter for the Alamo Bowl. "I learned a lot at TCU. It was a tough situation I was in. I was just really thankful I got another opportunity to play a game I love."

    Storm Woods ran for 118 yards and scored two touchdowns for the Beavers (9-4), who led 20-10 at halftime.

    Texas came in under a cloud of questions after the suspensions of backup quarterback Chase McCoy and injured linebacker Jordan Hicks.

    Ash, whose been pulled at times for McCoy this season, was 21 of 33 for 241 yards.

    Brown announced the suspensions Friday but wouldn't reveal which players were sent home. AP had reported that the players were McCoy and Hicks.

    A local TV report said police were investigating two unidentified Texas players in an alleged sexual assault at a San Antonio hotel. Police released a heavily redacted incident report that only identifies the suspects as two students.

    Syracuse leaving Big East in style

    NEW YORK — The weather made passing at the Pinstripe Bowl perilous, so Syracuse sent Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith dashing through West Virginia and the snow.

    Gulley ran for a career-best 208 yards and had three touchdowns, Smith added 157 yards, and the Orange bid a blustery farewell to the Big East with a 38-14 victory over West Virginia.

    Syracuse (8-5) enters the ACC on a roll after finishing this season with six wins in its last seven games, capped by its second postseason victory at Yankee Stadium in three years.

    "The football gods brought snow," said Smith, who carried a season-high 30 times. "The football gods from Syracuse brought us some snow and it changed even West Virginia's game. They had to run a little bit more than they were used to."

    Syracuse had a season-high 369 yards rushing and beat its former Big East rival from West Virginia, now in the Big 12, for a third straight time.

    Geno Smith hit Stedman Bailey for two touchdowns for West Virginia (7-6), but the Mountaineers quarterback was sacked in the end zone in the first half and called for intentional grounding in the end zone in the third quarter to give Syracuse a second safety.

    FIGHT HUNGER BOWL: Taylor Kelly threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth as Arizona State had touchdowns on its first nine possessions to win a bowl for the first time in seven years, 62-28 over Navy, in San Francisco. Offensive MVP Marion Grice ran for 159 yards and two TDs for the Sun Devils (8-5), who used their fast-paced spread offense to gain 648 yards. The Sun Devils capped their first season under coach Todd Graham by beating rival Arizona and winning a bowl, a double they had accomplished just once in the previous 33 seasons. Gee Gee Greene had a 95-yard kickoff return for a score in the third quarter for Navy (8-5).

    ARMED FORCES BOWL: Freshman quarterback Driphus Jackson threw for 264 yards in relief, including two touchdowns to Jordan Taylor, and the Owls beat Air Force 33-14 in Fort Worth, Texas. Jackson took over for Taylor McHargue (head injury) for the Owls (7-6), who scored 26 unanswered points. Taylor caught nine passes for 153 yards, with a 16-yard TD from McHargue in the first quarter. Air Force (6-7), which scored on consecutive drives in the second quarter with backup quarterback Kale Pearson in the game, was held to a season-low 214 total yards.

    LATE FRIDAY: D.J. Johnson returned an interception 39 yards and Ryan Bustin hit a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give Texas Tech a 34-31 win over Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston. Seth Doege found Eric Ward on a short pass, and he outran a defender for a 35-yard touchdown for the Red Raiders (8-5) to tie it at 31 with 1:10 left. Michael Carter intercepted Doege twice in the fourth quarter but Minnesota (6-7) couldn't convert either into points.

    NOTRE DAME: Coach Brian Kelly said the top-ranked Fighting Irish will have an early curfew nightly in Miami, where they play No. 2 Alabama on Jan. 7 for the national title. Kelly said he usually has a 2 a.m. curfew the first night or two on bowl trips but this time it will be 11 p.m. every night.


    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    Rodney Page, Times Staff Writer
    Saturday, December 29, 2012

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon hoped his team's hot shooting and stifling defense would continue in the final of the Northeast Christmas Invitational on Saturday night. Boca Ciega coach Randy Shuman hoped his team's habit of starting slowly would end.

    Only Fenlon got his wish.

    The Terrapins blitzed the Pirates with 40 first-half points, including eight 3-pointers, then held on to win 71-61.

    "Going into the (Friday semifinal against Wharton), we could've come out of here with two losses," Fenlon said. "This was a very strong field. So to win this is very nice. Collectively, we had guys step up.

    "You never know who it's going to be from game to game."

    Against Boca Ciega (14-2), it was senior guard Josh Heath. He scored a team-high 17 points before fouling out with three minutes to play. Heath was named the tournament's most valuable player.

    But the real catalyst was senior guard Andy Fullerton. Fullerton drilled all four first-half 3-pointers he attempted, including three in the first quarter that gave Tampa Prep (15-0) the lead. After the first quarter, the Terrapins led 19-11, and nine of those points were from Fullerton.

    The lead continued to grow in the second quarter behind two 3-pointers from Heath, one from Ephraim Lavey and another from Fullerton. By halftime, the Terrapins led 40-18 and looked in control.

    "We've just been notorious this year for slow starts," Shuman said. "It got to us tonight. You can't spot them 22 points. We just dug ourselves a big hole. You're not going to come back against good teams when you do that. We have to figure it out."

    Boca Ciega did not give up, however.

    Five minutes into the third quarter, it trailed by 22 but slowly chipped away. It ended the quarter on an 11-0 run that cut the lead to 47-33. During that run, Dallas Moore got hot and made three jumpers, including a 15-footer at the buzzer to take momentum into the fourth quarter.

    "Usually, the third quarter is our best quarter," Fenlon said. "But we let them back into the game in the third quarter."

    The Pirates continued to hang around and cut the lead to 10 thanks to a Joe Lampley basket, a technical foul on Tampa Prep and a 3-pointer from Moore. Moore ended with a game-high 29 points.

    The lead was cut to 61-54 midway through the fourth quarter when Moore hit a 3-pointer from almost 10 feet behind the line.

    The closest the Pirates got was six points, when Moore converted two free throws after another Terrapins technical foul. But the Terrapins were able to break Boca Ciega's press and get easy layups to put the game away.

    "We fought back," Shuman said. "We played hard. It's almost like the guys are thinking, 'Hey, we might lose.' And then they start to play. Well, sometimes it's too late to do that."

    Fullerton said he figured the game would play into his 3-point shooting strength.

    "It was going to be a fast-paced game, and when it's like that, I can get some (3-point) looks," Fullerton said. "Josh (Heath) is good at finding me. I just had to knock them down."

    Aside from Heath, Lavey and Bern­hard Woodside were named to the all-tournament team. Boca Ciega's Michael Clark and Moore also were all-tournament selections. Clark had 17 points for the Pirates.

    Double-digit scorers for Tampa Prep were Juwan Durham, who had 13 points, and Fullerton and Lavey, who had 12.

    Rodney Page can be reached at page@tampabay.com.


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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    ATLANTA — Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and Bucs safety Ronde Barber walked off the field together at the Georgia Dome Sunday.

    Both had just completed their 16th regular NFL season, and while the outcome had no impact on the standings, don't think the game meant nothing to these iconic players.

    On fourth-and-10 from his own 33-yard line, needing a touchdown to win late in the fourth quarter, Gonzalez ran a seam route over the middle and reached for a pass from quarterback Matt Ryan — only to have it swatted away by rookie safety Mark Barron, preserving the Bucs' 22-17 victory.

    The 36-year-old Gonzalez, who has announced this will be his last season, has a least one more game to play when the Falcons host a divisional playoff game two weeks from now.

    For the 37-year-old Barber, it's the fifth straight year the Bucs will miss the post-season after snapping a five-game losing streak Sunday to finish 7-9 under coach Greg Schiano.

    When will Barber stop chasing the carrot and decide to eat it?

    "If it is (my last game), it is," Barber said Sunday. "I've always been all right with that. I've never been shy of saying I'm proud of what I put on the field and today was no different."

    He had reason to be proud of his team, as well.

    The Bucs went toe-to-toe with a Falcons (13-3), who had already clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs as the NFC's No. 1 seed but decided to play to win with their starters the entire game Sunday.

    Rookie running back Doug Martin rushed for 142 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown to give the Bucs some breathing room after the Falcons had cut the lead to 16-10 late in the third quarter.

    The game also served as a measure of redemption for quarterback Josh Freeman, who completed 19 of 35 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown and an interception, becoming the first Buccaneer in franchise history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season (4,065).

    Meanwhile, the Bucs defense, which had blown fourth quarter leads against the Giants, Redskins and Eagles this season, held the Falcons to just 278 yards and 3-of-14 on third down.

    "It was really about just manning up, going in here and playing hard and playing with a chip on our shoulder," defensive tackle Roy Miller said.

    "There was all kind of talk about who was going to play and this and that, and for us, it was kind of offensive. They're talking about the playoffs and all these other things and we're men. Just like any other man, you want some respect."

    Schiano said he was glad the Falcons elected to play all their starters, even though it came with a cost. Defensive end John Abraham was carted to the locker room after sustaining an ankle injury, and cornerback Dunta Robinson suffered a head injury after colliding with Martin in the first quarter.

    Can the victory carry some momentum into the offseason for the Bucs?

    "I don't think people realize how hard it is to do it, how much goes into each and every game," Schiano said. "You get your scars, you get tougher and you learn to do it."

    After the game, Barber was unable to explain the wild swings this season for the Bucs, who had losing streaks of three and five games sandwiched around a four-game win streak..

    "Things seemed well, we got in a rut, obviously, couldn't win a game," Barber said. "Probably a lot of reasons for that and those will be explored in the offseason, but this team has some parts. We need our great players to play great every week and if we start doing that, we're going to be a really good football team.

    "There are some positives you can bring out of this now 7-9 season. We have some young, really kind of explosive talent, guys you can build on. That's important to identify, even in a losing season. Guys, who even in a losing situation, put it on their back to keep playing."

    Barber said he will take a month or two to ponder his future as he has done the past three off-seasons. "I can't tell you what those factors will be, but you guys will know when I make a decision," he said.

    After the game, Barber posed for photographs with his mother and entire family — wife, kids, nieces and nephews. After Sunday, you wonder if he can picture the Bucs with a brighter end to the season in 2013?


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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    By Brent Gaskill, Times Correspondent
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    What's hot: Warming trends between cold fronts produce the best action. Staying in tune with weather patterns and fish movements is vital this time of year. Most inshore game fish move to warmer, deeper water protected from the wind. The sunny days following can put the fish back in a feeding mood in preparation for the next approaching front.

    Tips: Live shrimp is the bait of choice. They draw hits from a variety of fish. Allow the shrimp to crawl naturally across the bottom as most fish will be down deep.

    Brent Gaskill can be reached at captbrent@summer­vacationcharters.com and (727) 510-1009.


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    By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    Best result

    We can debate just how hard the Falcons actually put out in what was a meaningless game for them, and thus we can debate just how meaningful the Bucs' victory was.

    While we're at it, don't put too much stock in the theory that Sunday's victory gives the Bucs momentum heading into next season. Winning Sunday isn't going to do much for a team that won't play a real game again for nine months.

    But this is Sport 101: winning beats losing. And that's true regardless of the opponent or the opponent's will. Maybe beating a team that wasn't going all out isn't that impressive, but losing to such a team would have been disheartening. Besides, it looked like the Falcons were trying to me.

    If nothing else, the Bucs won't have to hear over and over for the next nine months that they ended the season with a six-game skid.

    Best player

    Based on this season, how many running backs would you take ahead of the Bucs' Doug Martin? There's the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, maybe the Texans' Arian Foster, then there's … uh. Seriously, you could argue that Martin, with his running and receiving skills, is among the NFL's top three all-around running backs.

    His 142 yards on the ground and his 18 receiving Sunday gave him a total of 1,766 from scrimmage. Especially impressive is the rookie touched the ball 336 times this season and fumbled only once.

    That's a team MVP right there.

    Biggest question

    How does a quarterback as tall as the 6-foot-6 Josh Freeman get so many of his passes tipped by defensive linemen?

    On the other hand, as much as some want to rip into Freeman, this is a fact: He set team records for passing yards and TD passes, and the Bucs offense scored more points and gained more yards than any team in franchise history. If you're looking to place blame for the Bucs' losing record, start on the other side of the ball.

    Three things that popped into my head

    1. You know which loss will keep the Bucs up all offseason? The 23-21 home clunker to the hapless Eagles on Dec. 9. That was Philly's only victory in its final 12 games. Just think how much better you'd feel about the Bucs if they had won that game and finished 8-8.

    2. The victory could have cost the Bucs a few spots in the draft, but it's not like they lost themselves the first overall pick. With several games Sunday affecting the draft order, and draft-day trades and free agency changing the needs of teams, you cannot suggest the Bucs should have purposefully lost to get a higher pick.

    3. Ronde, how about one more season, okay?

    Final thought

    Rays pitchers and catchers report in 43 days.


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    . TODAY

    USF women vs. Detroit Mercy

    When/where: 2; Sun Dome, Tampa

    Radio: 1010-AM

    Records: USF 10-2, Detroit Mercy 7-4

    Notable: A victory would make Jose Fernandez the first USF basketball coach, men's or women's, to reach 200 for his career as the Bulls wrap up their nonconference schedule. … USF is coming off scoring 100 in a rout of Florida A&M, and one-tenth of a point separates twin guards Andrell and Andrea Smith for the team scoring lead, with Andrell at 16.9 and Andrea at 16.8. … Detroit Mercy has the nation's leading scorer in forward Shareta Brown, who averages 26.3 points. … The Titans have won their past three by a combined 128 points, albeit against lesser competition; they gave No. 6 Penn State a scare with an eight-point loss and lost to Michigan by only eight as well.

    Greg Auman, Times staff writer


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    By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    TAMPA — Wanting more speed to defend against a mobile quarterback in Tuesday's Outback Bowl, expect South Carolina to break loose its "Rabbit" defensive package, which uses four defensive ends in obvious passing situations.

    "We've totally dedicated ourselves to playing with four ends in passing situations this season," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Sunday after a morning practice at Jefferson High School. "You want to utilize your talent, and we didn't think we had much power inside. What we want to do to counteract that in passing situations is, instead of having guys push the pocket, let's put more speed out there."

    The Gamecocks have an All-American end in sophomore Jadeveon Clowney (13 sacks), but the package showcases their depth at the position — backups Chaz Sutton (five sacks) and Aldrick Fordham (41/2) play in the Rabbit. The alignment is the creation of defensive line coach Brad Lawing, going back 25 years to his early days at Appalachian State.

    "He does a great job of attacking people and the way they protect (against) us," Ward said. "I've never been around (a four-end look), nowhere I've ever been."

    Third down could be a key — Michigan, with a pair of dual-threat passers in Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, ranks sixth nationally in third-down conversions at 51 percent. South Carolina's third-down defense ranks 36th nationally at 36 percent.

    "Down and distance is what dictates it, but we'll definitely put the Rabbits on the field," Ward said.

    RUNNING AGAIN: South Carolina lost top RB Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending knee injury four games ago, and the injuries mounted enough that the Gamecocks finished a win against Clemson with WR Bruce Ellington getting five carries.

    The five weeks since have allowed backs Kenny Miles (358 yards) and Mike Davis (275 yards) to fully recover. The two combined for 27 carries for 90 yards in a win against Arkansas and 28 carries for 88 yards against Clemson, with Miles rushing for 127 yards in an easy win against Wofford.

    HOPING TO RUN: Robinson has been Michigan's best running threat, but the Wolverines have struggled at running back since losing starter Fitzgerald Toussaint to a late-season ankle injury. Backups Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls combined for just 14 yards on 10 carries in the last game, a loss to undefeated Ohio State, but coach Brady Hoke is confident they'll have more of a traditional running game Tuesday.

    "We have not been a football team that has run the ball great from the tailback perspective for multiple reasons, so that's going to be a challenge we'll start with," Hoke said Saturday. "In the game of football, you've got to take care of the football and you've got to be able to run the ball and stop the run. If you can do those things, you've got a chance."

    THIS AND THAT: The two schools have only played twice: South Carolina rallied from a 14-3 deficit behind Heisman winner George Rogers for a 17-14 win in 1980, and Michigan cruised 34-3 in 1985. … A win would give Steve Spurrier the most bowl wins of any South Carolina head coach — three. "(Michigan has) a history of playing well in bowl games," Spurrier said Saturday. "Our history is so-so, not all that super." … Hoke, on Robinson's versatility: "He could do about anything. He doesn't punt real well, but he can do a lot of things."


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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    NEW ORLEANS — As he prepares to end a career which sometimes caused him frustration and doubt, Florida RB Mike Gillislee is going out exactly as he had hoped: he will be remembered.

    Gillislee ended the regular season as Florida's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 (and eighth overall), and will have his picture hung among the other Gator greats.

    "It's something I always wanted to do (have his photo on the wall in the running backs' meeting room among 1,000-yard rushers)," Gillislee said Sunday in advance of Wednesday's Sugar Bowl game against Louisville. "I want to always be remembered."

    His success is no surprise to Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and RB coach Kenny Carter. Both are former UF assistants and Carter recruited Gillislee. "When he came on campus, he was a young man, built like an I-back," Bedford said. "At the time at Florida we were running spread offense which didn't suit his talents. … They're running an offense that suits him, that's why he has over a thousand yards."

    WHAT UNDERDOGS?: Florida is a 14-point favorite over Louisville, but the Gators said they have learned throughout the season not to take any opponent for granted.

    "We've just got to play our game," junior OL Jon Halapio said. "We can't really sleep on Louisville just because they are in the Big East or anything like that. I think they are a really good defense and it should be a good game."

    PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: Depending on how the game goes, Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he would like to get backup RBs Matt Jones (Armwood) and Mack Brown playing time. Jones took over in the victory at Florida State after Gillislee was injured and had eight carries for 81 yards and one touchdown.

    "They've gotten a lot of reps in the practices that we've had, because Mike's had repetitions all season," Pease said. "He's still got the reps he needed and we're trying to keep him fresh. And they've (Jones, Brown) earned some opportunity. Now, we got great trust in Mike and if he's got to be the guy … we'll put him out there. But in the same sense I think Matt did some good things in the Florida State game and really toward the end of the season, Mack as well."

    FINAL WORD: "That was a big time game for Florida. The whole offense was really clicking. Riley Cooper made a ton of plays that game. Hopefully, we can repeat that performance." — Florida sophomore QB Jeff Driskel talking about watching on TV when UF routed Cincinnati in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.


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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    ATLANTA — Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and Bucs safety Ronde Barber walked off the field together at the Georgia Dome Sunday.

    Both had just completed their 16th NFL regular season, and while the outcome had no impact on the standings, don't think the game meant nothing to these iconic players.

    On fourth and 10 from his 33-yard line, needing a touchdown to win late in the fourth quarter, Gonzalez ran a seam route over the middle and reached for a pass from quarterback Matt Ryan — only to have it swatted away by rookie safety Mark Barron, preserving the Bucs' 22-17 victory.

    Gonzalez, 36, who has announced this will be his last season, has at least one more game to play when the Falcons host an NFC division playoff game in two weeks.

    For Barber, 37, it's the fifth straight year the Bucs will miss the postseason after snapping a five-game losing streak Sunday to finish 7-9 under first-year coach Greg Schiano.

    When will Barber stop chasing the carrot and decide to eat it?

    "If it is (the last game), it is," Barber said Sunday. "I've always been all right with that. I've never been shy of saying I'm proud of what I put on the field, and today was no different."

    He had reason to be proud of his team, as well.

    The Bucs went toe-to-toe with the Falcons (13-3), who had already clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs as the NFC's No. 1 seed but played to win with their starters in for the entire game.

    Bucs rookie running back Doug Martin rushed for 142 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown to provide breathing room after the Falcons had cut the lead to 16-10 late in the third quarter.

    The game served as a measure of redemption for quarterback Josh Freeman, who completed 19 of 35 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown and an interception, becoming the first in franchise history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season (4,065).

    Meanwhile, the Bucs defense, which had blown fourth-quarter leads against the Giants, Redskins and Eagles this season, held the Falcons to 278 yards and 3-of-14 on third down.

    "It was really about just manning up, going in here and playing hard and playing with a chip on our shoulder," defensive tackle Roy Miller said.

    "There was all kind of talk about who was going to play and this and that, and for us, it was kind of offensive. They're talking about the playoffs and all these other things, and we're men. Just like any other man, you want some respect."

    Schiano said he was glad the Falcons played all their starters, which came with a cost. Defensive end John Abraham was carted to the locker room after injuring his ankle, and cornerback Dunta Robinson suffered a head injury after colliding with Martin in the first quarter.

    Can the victory carry some momentum into the offseason for the Bucs?

    "I don't think people realize how hard it is to do it, how much goes into each and every game," Schiano said. "You get your scars, you get tougher and you learn to do it."

    After the game, Barber was unable to explain the wild swings this season for the Bucs, who had losing streaks of three and five games sandwiched around a four-game win streak.

    "Things seemed well, we got in a rut, obviously, couldn't win a game," Barber said. "Probably a lot of reasons for that, and those will be explored in the offseason, but this team has some parts. We need our great players to play great every week and if we start doing that, we're going to be a really good football team.

    "There are some positives you can bring out of this now 7-9 season. We have some young, really kind of explosive talent, guys you can build on. That's important to identify, even in a losing season. Guys, who even in a losing situation, put it on their back to keep playing."

    Barber said he will take a month or two to ponder his future as he has done the past three offseasons. "I can't tell you what those factors will be, but you guys will know when I make a decision," he said.

    After the game, Barber posed for photographs with his mother and entire family — wife, kids, nieces and nephews. After Sunday, you wonder if he can picture the Bucs with a brighter end to the season in 2013?


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    NEW ORLEANS — As he prepares to end a career that sometimes caused him frustration and doubt, Florida RB Mike Gillislee is going out exactly as he had hoped: He will be remembered.

    The senior from DeLand ended the regular season as the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 (and eighth overall) and will have his picture hung among the other Gator greats.

    "It's something I always wanted to do (have his photo on the wall in the running backs' meeting room among 1,000-yard rushers)," Gillislee said Sunday in advance of Wednesday's Sugar Bowl against Louisville. "I want to always be remembered."

    His success is no surprise to Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and RB coach Kenny Carter. Both are former UF assistants, and Carter recruited Gillislee. "When he came on campus, he was a young man, built like an I-back," Bedford said. "At the time at Florida we were running a spread offense, which didn't suit his talents. … They're running an offense that suits him, that's why he has over a thousand yards."

    WHAT UNDERDOGS? Florida is a 14-point favorite over Louisville, but the Gators said they have learned throughout the season not to take any opponent for granted. "We've just got to play our game," junior OL Jon Halapio said. "We can't really sleep on Louisville just because they are in the Big East or anything like that. I think they are a really good defense, and it should be a good game."

    PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: Depending on how the game goes, Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he would like to get backup RBs Matt Jones (Armwood) and Mack Brown playing time. Jones, a freshman, took over in the victory at Florida State after Gillislee was injured and had eight carries for 81 yards and one touchdown.

    "They've gotten a lot of reps in the practices that we've had, because Mike's had repetitions all season," Pease said. "He's still got the reps he needed, and we're trying to keep him fresh. And (Jones, Brown) earned some opportunity. Now, we got great trust in Mike and if he's got to be the guy … we'll put him out there. But in the same sense I think Matt did some good things in the Florida State game and really toward the end of the season, Mack as well."

    FINAL WORD: "That was a big-time game for Florida. The whole offense was really clicking. Riley Cooper made a ton of plays that game. Hopefully, we can repeat that performance." — UF sophomore QB Jeff Driskel talking about watching on TV when UF routed Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl ending the 2009 season.


    Getty ImagesGetty Images

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    By Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    TAMPA

    The bloomin' irony of this Outback Bowl is drenched in maize, blue and mystery: The most glaring quarterback conundrum in this game exists on the sideline opposite South Carolina's Steve Spurrier.

    As sure as the ball drops in Times Square, Spurrier will use both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson in Tuesday's game. What remains shrouded in cryptic quotes and vague clues is what will unfold when the Michigan Wolverines break their initial huddle.

    Specifically, what's the deal with Denard Robinson? And is his right elbow, injured in late October, functional enough for forward passing?

    "He can do about anything," coach Brady Hoke said.

    That's about as extensive as Hoke will get regarding his plans behind center. Offensive coordinator Al Borges isn't much more forthcoming.

    "He's going to have a variety of roles, that's all I'm going to say," Borges said.

    Maybe Robinson, a Deerfield Beach native and the greatest running quarterback in Wolverines history, adds a garnish to his glowing college career by starting his final game.

    Or junior Devin Gardner, highly efficient as Robinson's replacement the past four contests, remains the primary signal-caller while Robinson lines up at tailback, receiver, wildcat quarterback and return specialist.

    Or a combination of both.

    "Our defensive coaches feel like we've got to be prepared for both of 'em," Spurrier said.

    "Sometimes you never know who's coming out and who's going to be behind the center," said Robinson, who has been throwing in practice lately but hasn't thrown in a game in two months. "So that's always fun to hear and fun to do."

    With no one talking at length about the immediate future, one must revert to recent history to speculate on what could transpire Tuesday.

    A rangy QB-turned-receiver-turned-QB, the 6-foot-4 Gardner was summoned after Robinson sustained nerve damage to his throwing elbow — and sophomore Russell Bellomy flopped in relief — in a two-TD loss at Nebraska on Oct. 27.

    In the ensuing four contests (three wins), he has completed 63 percent of his passes (57-for-90) for 1,005 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. A sack-infested loss at Ohio State notwithstanding, he also has brandished some mobility.

    "You know, the more you play the better you understand, and he's just got a better feel, a little more body learning," Borges said. "Less sitting in the meeting and hearing me say it and actually doing it makes a heck of a difference."

    But for all of Gardner's progress, Hoke reiterated Saturday that this game is huge for his seniors. And what greater final flourish could Robinson — a lifelong Buccaneers fan — conjure than one last triumphant start at Raymond James Stadium, of all places?

    He started at quarterback against Ohio State but didn't attempt a pass. He now insists he can throw well enough to win, and he'll likely be the most dangerous running threat on the field Tuesday.

    In two games since returning, he has run for 220 yards. He needs 86 to eclipse former West Virginia star Pat White's NCAA career QB record of 4,480.

    "It's another headache for the defense," Gamecocks linebacker Shaq Wilson said.

    "When you have a guy as dynamic as Denard with his speed and throwing ability, everything, you can't not have him on the field," Wolverines left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "So he'll be all over the place on Jan. 1."

    Does that include quarterback? If so, for how long? Will he give more handoffs than he gets?

    "We'll see," Borges said.


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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    ATLANTA

    In the end, not even winning was enough.

    Yes, the Bucs finally won a game Sunday, and yes, that beats the alternative. If you have witnessed how desperately the Bucs have stumbled around over the last month and a half, you would have to agree this was one of the better days the team has endured lately.

    On the other hand, the playoffs were not achieved, and a winning season was not obtained, and face was not saved. Confetti did not fall, and no one took home a trophy, and it is not likely customers are charging the ticket window to guarantee seats for next year.

    As victories go, this one was not big enough to make anyone forget about the decade-long drought since this team has won a playoff game.

    So, yeah, it was a good victory, but it was a small one. It was one of those wistful games that suggests a team was capable of more all along. A memorable day in a lousy year, but not much more than that.

    Ah, but if you are among the hopeful who think that a victory such as this can be a promise of a better day to come, then perhaps the Bucs' 22-17 victory over a very good Falcons team is worth a smile, after all.

    And if you still know where such optimism lives, you might want to mention it to Gerald McCoy. He might rent a winter place there.

    "We don't plan on feeling this anymore," said McCoy, the Bucs' Pro Bowl defensive tackle. "When next season is over, we don't plan on being done. Next year, we plan on going into a bye week."

    It's time, isn't it? For the past decade, the Bucs have been among the bottom third of teams in the NFL. Only eight teams have won fewer games.

    Tampa Bay hasn't won a playoff game in 10 years and, in fact, it hasn't played in one for five years. The harsh truth is the Bucs are closer to the Browns than they are the Patriots, closer to the Chiefs than they are the Packers.

    Will next year be different?

    A day such as Sunday suggests … maybe.

    That's what winning does. It enables fans to imagine other victories to come. When you see Josh Freeman have a mostly good day, and when you see Doug Martin running loose in the secondary, and when you see Lavonte David run and tackle, it is easy to wonder how they will look with better teammates around them.

    When you see McCoy burst through the middle, or Mark Barron knock away a key pass at the end, or Mike Williams catch six passes, it is easy to wonder how much better they can get.

    You can say the same of head coach Greg Schiano, a rookie himself. There is no reason to assume Schiano won't be better next year; smart people learn as they go.

    "I think the hardest thing to do in pro sports is win an NFL football game," Schiano said. "I don't think people realize how hard it is to do it and how much goes into each and every game. You learn to do it, because of the pressure situations at the end, game on the line. You get better at that the more times you are in it together. It's just putting it in the bank."

    Oh, there is work to be done. As a franchise, talentwise the Bucs are still behind Atlanta and New Orleans, and if they are ahead of Carolina, it isn't by much.

    Defensively, the Bucs have some decisions to make. Can they continue to play a scheme that left them threatening to give up more passing yardage than any team in the history of the league? Mind you, the Bucs have had secondaries with Toast Jones and Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson, and this one gave up more than any of them. It gave up more than the 0-26 Bucs and the 0-16 Lions.

    Ah, yes, and then there is the quarterback. Overall, Freeman had a good day on Sunday, but his one interception was the kind that drives fans wacky. He stared down his receiver, again, and he threw into coverage, again, and he almost let the Falcons back in the game. The difference is that on his next drive, Freeman drove the Bucs 80 yards in four plays to score the eventual winning touchdown.

    What else do the Bucs need? They need a defensive end who makes quarterbacks weep at the mention of his name. They need a corner … or two … maybe three. They need a complete tight end. They need a slot receiver who is tough enough to catch the ball over the middle. They need a more dangerous kick returner.

    Most of all, what they need is a season that matters. They need the energy a team gets as it comes down the stretch with the playoffs within reach. They need the buzz from a city that has been too long without it. They need a highlight, or two, that fans will compare to the long-ago seasons.

    As long as you're counting, they could use a little more confetti.

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


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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    By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    Worst luck

    You have to feel a little for Fox. For the second straight season, it got a raw deal because of the NFL's flex scheduling.

    Last season, Fox was scheduled to show the Giants-Cowboys season finale that was to decide the NFC East title, but NBC opted to take that game for its Sunday Night Football telecast. It happened again Sunday. NBC scooped up the Redskins-Cowboys game that decided the NFC East crown.

    Worst analysis

    ESPN NFL analyst Merrill Hoge is so far past the line of objectivity when talking about Jets quarterback Tim Tebow that it's mind-boggling that ESPN even allows Hoge to say Tebow's name, let alone offer analysis about the guy.

    It's one thing to question whether or not Tebow is a good quarterback. Lots of analysts do that. But it's clear that Hoge's attacks have become personal. It appears that he takes glee whenever Tebow is not successful.

    The latest incident was when Hoge called Tebow a "phony'' after sketchy reports that Tebow begged out of playing the wildcat offense in last week's game.

    "To me it smells like three-day old fish. I think he's as phony as a $3 bill," Hoge said on ESPN's SportsCenter. "All of a sudden now it's unacceptable? All of a sudden now I want to play quarterback and I don't want to play the wildcat? There shouldn't even be this story. … I think this shows really what he's about."

    Subsequent reports seem clear that Tebow never quit on the Jets or refused to do what he was told by coaches.

    You can say a lot of things about Tebow. You can say he can't play quarterback, you can say that he can't throw a football properly, all of that. But every person who knows Tebow says he is authentic, genuine, real. In other words, not a phony.

    Hoge's credibility is shot when it comes to Tebow, and ESPN needs to recognize that. In fact, I'll go farther. Because of how he has handled himself regarding Tebow, Hoge's credibility about everything he says is shot. I simply don't trust anything this guy says anymore.

    Strangest story

    This Lomas Brown story is just flat-out bizarre. Brown, of course, is the former Gator, Buccaneer and longtime NFL offensive lineman. Brown admitted last week on ESPN that once, while with the Lions, he didn't block his man in hopes that his quarterback, Scott Mitchell, would get hurt. Brown apparently was frustrated with how poorly Mitchell was playing.

    Well, Mitchell suffered a broken wrist during the game.

    Immediately last week, Brown, a regular on ESPN's NFL coverage, was roundly criticized by current and former players. Brown apologized late last week, but also said he didn't feel bad at the time.

    I guess you have to at least respect that he didn't back down from his original story. What baffles me is why he would say it in the first place. One theory is that there is so much time to fill on ESPN, and analysts are trying to be provocative, so Brown let slip a story that he never intended to make public.

    Worst channel

    The biggest game, on paper anyway, over the weekend was actually a women's basketball game as the two top-ranked college teams in the country met on Saturday. The game turned out to be a dud as No. 2 UConn demolished No. 1 Stanford 61-35.

    What was disappointing was that the game was on ESPNU. It would have been nice to see this game get a little higher profile on ESPN, ESPN2 or even ABC instead of being relegated to one of the lesser-watched stations in ESPN's stable.

    Rumor the day

    Rumors are swirling that former Bucs coach Jon Gruden will be the next Eagles coach. I still think it's a long shot, particularly because Philly doesn't have an elite QB. I could be wrong, but I think it will take a better job than Philly to pry Gruden out of the Monday Night Football booth.

    The thing about Gruden, below, is that if he leaves to coach, he can always go back to broadcasting down the road. But he can't necessarily go back to Monday Night Football. That's a special broadcasting job, and he's not going to give it up for just any old NFL job.

    Best credit

    CBS aired a couple of episodes of its show 75 Years of March Madness over the weekend. The first show featured announcers Clark Kellogg, Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Greg Anthony and host Greg Gumbel.

    There have been plenty of theories about why the NCAA basketball tournament has become so popular. Some credit the 1979 championship between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Some credit office pool sheets. But Raftery had his own theory: He credited broadcasters Dick Enberg, Al McGuire and Billy Packer for turning the country on to just how special March Madness was. Good theory.

    Three things that popped into my head

    1. Considering he played with a mediocre QB and every team puts together a game plan to specifically stop him, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is my pick for the NFL's most valuable player.

    2. With the defending champion Giants eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday, we now won't have a back-to-back NFL champion for the eighth consecutive season — the second-longest such streak in NFL history.

    3. Let's hope that the Lightning will play its season opener in three weeks.

    tom jones' two cents

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Usually, when an athlete has one of his records broken, you hear him or her say that they're fine with it, that records are made to be broken, blah blah blah. So give former NFL great Eric Dickerson a little credit for being honest in saying he didn't want Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to break his single-season NFL rushing record. But he did it in a graceful way Sunday morning when he spoke on the NFL Network's First on the Field.

    "I don't go around saying 'Oh my, if he breaks my record, what am I going to do?' '' Dickerson, 52, said. "If anyone deserves a record like that, it is Adrian Peterson because he is that kind of player. I wouldn't be sad about it … but I don't want him to break it. I want to hold onto that record as long as I possibly can.'' Dickerson did, by 9 yards.

    Most honest

    We can all agree that there are too many college bowl games, especially when you see team such as 7-5 Texas Tech taking on 6-6 Minnesota. But not only aren't there enough teams for all these bowls, there aren't enough cities. Last week, there were bowl games in Washington, D.C. and New York City, where temperatures were in the low 30s. In fact, Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium was played in a snowstorm. And this is a reward for college teams? To play in the cold and snow? There was a bowl game last week in Charlotte, N.C., where temperatures were in the high 40s. Look, Charlotte is a fine city, but who wants to go there in December? Kids on bowl teams want to go to beaches and amusement parks. They want to wear shorts and sunglasses, not parkas and ear muffs. College bowl games and Super Bowls shouldn't be played in cold weather. My rule of thumb would be this: If you can't grow a palm tree, you shouldn't host a bowl game or a Super Bowl.

    Worst locations


    Times (1984)Times (1984)

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  • 12/30/12--18:45: Steelers 24, Browns 10
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    Steelers at .500

    PITTSBURGH — The Steelers remain convinced they're a tweak or two away from another Super Bowl run. The Browns are ready to start over. Again.

    Ben Roethlisberger threw three short touchdowns and the Steelers, out of the playoffs for the first time since 2009, avoided their first losing season in nearly a decade.

    As for the Browns, who missed a chance to sweep their biggest rival for the first time in 24 years, questions swirl around the futures of coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert.

    "You just wish you could go out with a win for him," linebacker and Seminole High graduate D'Qwell Jackson said of Shurmur.


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    Times wires
    Sunday, December 30, 2012

    TODAY

    Music City Bowl

    Who: N.C. State (7-5, 4-4 ACC) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3 SEC)

    When/where: Noon; Nashville

    TV: ESPN. Line: Vandy by 7½

    Notable: The Commodores seek their first nine-win season since 1915. Vanderbilt has the nation's fifth-stingiest pass efficiency defense, allowing 175.8 yards with a secondary led by Andre Hal and Trey Wilson. The Wolfpack has one of the top QBs available in the NFL draft, 6-foot-6 Mike Glennon (295-of-511 for 3,648 yards, 30 TDs and 14 INTs.)

    Sun Bowl

    Who: Southern California (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7, 5-3 ACC)

    When/where: 2; El Paso, Texas

    TV/radio: Ch. 10; 98.7-FM

    Line: USC by 7½

    Notable: Trojans redshirt freshman QB Max Wittek, making his second career start for Matt Barkley (right shoulder sprain), has had extra time to prepare for the No. 53-ranked defense. The Yellow Jackets' Tevin Washington, the ACC's all-time leader in QB rushing TDs (37), has passed for 1,764 yards and seven TDs and rushed for 638 and 19 TDs. The Tech offense is No. 4 in the nation in rushing at 323 yards. Southern Cal is unranked after opening the season at No. 1. "We wanted to be in a better bowl game, but we decided our own fate, and this is where we're at," All-America WR Marqise Lee said. "Things happen to the greatest teams out there.''

    Liberty Bowl

    Who: Iowa State (6-6, 3-6 Big Ten) vs. Tulsa (10-3, 7-1 C-USA)

    When/where: 3:30; Memphis

    TV/radio: ESPN; 1250-AM

    Line: Iowa State by 1

    Notable: The Cyclones beat the Golden Hurricane 38-23 in the season opener, but Tulsa believes it has come a long way since then. "We had to get our bumps and bruises over with,'' said LB DeAundre Brown, one of eight senior defensive starters. Iowa State's A.J. Klein, a first-team all-conference LB, has a team-high 98 tackles this season and has four career interception return TDs. Tulsa's Trey Watts, Ja'Terian Douglas and Alex Singleton have each run for at least 750 yards for the nation's 11th-ranked rushing offense.

    Chick-fil-A Bowl

    Who: LSU (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC)

    When/where: 7:30; Atlanta, Ga.

    TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

    Line: LSU by 6

    Notable: LB Kevin Minter, a second-team All-American who leads LSU with 111 tackles, will be a key to containing 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington and ACC player of the year Tajh Boyd's QB keepers. Clemson needs 25 points to break Florida State's ACC record of 532 points in 1995; Clemson has scored at least 37 in 10 of 12 games. "We want to be the most explosive offense in the country," Boyd said. LSU running backs have 271 carries without a fumble since two against Towson on Sept. 29.


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