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Atlanta mayor: Plenty of potential Hawks buyers

ATLANTA (AP) — The mayor has already heard from plenty of potential buyers for the Atlanta Hawks. And the city is ready to kick in a hefty sum to make the deal happen. Flanked by Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins and other city leaders, Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday he expects the sale of the team to move briskly after racially charged comments by owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry. "I have had conversations with no less than six prospective buyers," Reed said during a City Hall news conference. "All six of those prospective buyers will have to go through a process to be vetted by the NBA. That process is going to occur very quickly." The Hawks have been under fire since it was revealed Levenson sent an email two years ago theorizing that many suburban whites would not attend NBA games because of the team's African-American fans. He agreed to sell his share of the team, but it also emerged that Ferry had disparaged then-free agent Luol Deng on a conference call with team owners this past summer, saying he "has a little African in him." Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence. The NBA, meanwhile, is left to deal with another embarrassing case after stripping the Los Angeles Clippers from longtime owner Donald Sterling. He was forced out for telling his girlfriend on a secretly recorded audio not to bring black fans to his games. Reed said he plans to meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Sept. 26 in New York to discuss the sale of the Hawks. According to the mayor, the league is already lining up an investment bank to look into the finances of any potential buyer. "I think we're going to end up in a superior position, based on everything we know today, than we were before," Reed said. He didn't identify the prospective buyers, but whoever steps in would apparently have majority ownership. Levenson owns 24 percent of the team, and his Washington partner, Ed Peskowitz, has also agreed to sell his share, meaning that 50.1 percent of the team is now available, Reed said. In addition, Reed said the city will likely be willing to offer concessions to any new owner to ensure the Hawks commit to remaining in Atlanta for another 30 years. He said there could be as much as $150 million available after the city sells Turner Field, the current home of the Braves, though the mayor said that process has been held up by the baseball team's refusal to negotiate terms for its departure. The Braves are planning to move to a new stadium in suburban Cobb County in 2017. Team spokeswoman Beth Marshall said the Braves aren't required to notify the stadium authority of its plans until Dec. 31, 2015, but added, "It is our hope to be able to work with them, the city of Atlanta and Fulton County, on negotiating an exit so they can best prepare for the future of the Turner Field site." In the meantime, Reed said the city would be heavily involved in efforts to find new ownership for the Hawks, since it is responsible for the debt on 15-year-old Philips Arena. Wilkins, a former Hawks star who now serves as a team vice president and television commentator, said he would "absolutely" be interested in taking on a greater role with the franchise. The city already plans to honor him with a statue outside Philips Arena before a March 6 game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Reed said city leaders would look favorably on Wilkins' involvement with any new ownership group, especially if it gives the team more diversity in the front office. Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has refused calls to fire Ferry, saying he believes the general manager can learn from the experience. Ferry met privately Monday with civil rights leaders, hoping to mend fences within the city, and has said he will undergo sensitivity training during his leave. But Ferry's future is still very much in doubt, with the start of training camp only two weeks away. Wilkins would neither endorse Ferry nor call for him to be ousted, knowing that any decision about the general manager will likely rest with the new owner. "That's not a choice I can make," Wilkins said. "The only thing I can say is whatever pieces are put in place are going to be the right pieces to help our franchise heal from what we've been through." ___ Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

  • icon Posted: September 17

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Friday 09/12/2014
Editor's Column: Falcons get big win over rival Saints; Weekend picks
Posted: September 12, 2014

Positives, negatives from Falcons’ win over Saints

Sponsors keep close watch on NFL investigation
Posted: September 12, 2014

Major brand sponsors are watching closely to make sure the National Football League doesn't fumble the investigation into how its executives handled evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

For big companies like Anheuser-Busch, General Motors and Procter & Gamble, an NFL sponsorship is a coveted prize. The deals can cost up to $10 million per brand, but they deliver eyeballs. An average of 17.4 million viewers watched professional football games during the 2013 season, according to Nielsen.

Now that the NFL is investigating how its executives handled a video showing Baltimore running back Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee, sponsors are forced to balance the exposure NFL games offer with the risk of alienating customers.

On Wednesday, the NFL said it hired former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller to lead the investigation. League Commissioner Roger Goodell previously said no one at the NFL had seen the video before it surfaced on Monday, but the AP reported Wednesday that a law enforcement official sent the tape to the organization in April.

With the investigation just beginning, experts say there is little else sponsors can do but wait and see.

"These situations often develop and change direction very rapidly, so sponsors need to be incredibly agile," said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates. "What's true right now may not be true in two hours, so (sponsors) will have to monitor how the NFL reacts, and then how consumers react to the reactions."

When a scandal hits an individual athlete, brands usually move swiftly to cut ties. Nike severed its relationship with Rice after the video surfaced. Video game maker Electronic Arts said it would scrub Rice's image from its latest Madden 15 release.

But no sponsor company has said it will end its relationship with the NFL — yet.

"Obviously all the sponsors are incredibly worried, but it's hard for a sponsor to disconnect from the entire NFL. It's so important to business," said Atlanta-based marketing consultant Laura Ries. "If Roger Goodell had any sponsors, he'd probably lose those, but there's no one person attached to this."

TD Ameritrade said the company has received little reaction from clients about its NFL sponsorship, which it just announced last week.

"This incident brings to light a disturbing act that we believe is wrong, and while the NFL has, admittedly, not done everything right, we hope that it will quickly learn from its mistakes and work to improve a culture that values the inclusion, safety and respect of its employees and their families," the company said in a statement. "This means holding people fully accountable for their actions and the consequences associated with them."

TD Ameritrade and the NFL announced a three-year sponsorship deal on Sept. 4. The online brokerage said it is not making changes but added that "as with any sponsorship, media buy, etc., we carefully monitor the effect it has on our business and brand, and if we feel those assets are being compromised, we'll make the appropriate decisions."

General Motors, a sponsor since 2001, has no plans to change its advertising on NFL games because of the Rice case, said spokeswoman Ryndee Carney.

Carney said she was not aware of the company receiving complaints about its football advertising. GM said it supports the NFL's decision to conduct an investigation. "We will continue to monitor future developments regarding this issue," Carney said.

FedEx also said it is monitoring the situation.

"We are watching developments in this matter closely and we are confident that the League will take the appropriate steps," said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior vice president of marketing and communications at FedEx.

PepsiCo said it was encouraged to see that the NFL "is now treating this with the seriousness it deserves."

Other large NFL sponsors, such as Anheuser-Busch and Procter & Gamble, did not respond to requests to comment or declined to comment.

For now, analysts don't expect a big change in viewership during NFL games.

"Games will go on and fans will — for the most part — want to watch," Ries said.

Thursday 09/11/2014
NFL to look into its handling of Rice case
Posted: September 11, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL called in a former FBI director to examine how it pursued and handled evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence case as pressure increased for the league to be more transparent about its original investigation.

The move late Wednesday came hours after The Associated Press reported that a law enforcement officer said he sent an NFL executive a video in April that showed Rice striking his then-fiancee at a casino. Goodell has maintained that no one in the NFL saw the video until it was released by TMZ Sports Monday.

Women's organizations, members of Congress and players have called for more detail about the NFL's handling of the Rice case. The criticism intensified after the law enforcement official's account.

Goodell turned to Robert S. Mueller III, who was the director of the FBI for 12 years, to lead the inquiry. The probe will be overseen by owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, two of Goodell's strongest supporters. Both are members of key NFL committees and have closely advised Goodell throughout his tenure.

The NFL called the probe independent, and did not discuss how the owners will work with Mueller. But there could be an appearance of conflict: Mara has already indicated he doesn't think Goodell's job should be in jeopardy.

"My understanding is that the league and the Ravens made repeated requests to obtain the video of the Ray Rice incident and were denied each time," Mara said a few hours before the AP story broke. "The notion that the league should have gone around law enforcement to obtain the video is, in my opinion, misguided, as is the notion that the commissioner's job is now in jeopardy."

The law firm where Mueller is now a partner, WilmerHale, has connections to the NFL. The firm has represented Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and several former members of the firm have taken positions with NFL teams.

The law enforcement official who described sending the video to the NFL spoke on condition of anonymity because an investigation is ongoing. He said he sent the tape five months ago, and played a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. A female voice expresses thanks and says: "You're right. It's terrible."

The official says he had no further communication with any NFL employee and can't confirm anyone watched the video. The person said he was unauthorized to release the video but shared it unsolicited, because he wanted the NFL to have it before deciding on Rice's punishment.

The NFL has said it asked for the video from law enforcement, but was denied.

The video shows Ravens running back Rice and Janay Palmer — now Janay Rice — shouting obscenities at each other, and she appears to spit at Rice right before he throws a brutal punch.

Rice had been charged with felony aggravated assault, but in May he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail time. That could lead to the charge being purged from his record. He was cut from the Ravens and suspended by the league indefinitely on Monday after TMZ posted video of the punch.

Questions about the league's handling of the case have come from all over.

Sixteen female senators have called on the NFL to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence in a letter they wrote to Goodell on Thursday. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California put the letter together. It's signed by 14 Democrats and two Republicans.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a former member of the players' union executive committee, questioned the league's accountability. Brees compared it to the Saints' bounty program in which players, coaches and the general manager were suspended and the organization was fined.

"We're all held accountable for our actions as players," he said. "Certainly every owner should be held accountable for their actions, the commissioner should be held accountable for his actions."

The National Organization for Women said Goodell should resign and an independent committee should be appointed to suggest lasting reforms, and later said that the Mueller investigation was "not enough" and "just window dressing."

Goodell has led the league through several controversies. While league revenues have grown to the $10 billion range, the NFL went through a four-month player lockout in 2011; a lockout of officials in 2012; the Saints' bounties; a bullying scandal on the Dolphins; and the Patriots spying on an opponent.

He's weathered those situations relatively well, in part because the owners certainly like seeing such profits, but also because of his leadership.

Under his watch, the NFL has clamped down on drug use and player misconduct. Goodell has not been afraid to discipline teams and owners for on- or off-field misconduct, as he did with heavy fines for the Patriots, Saints and, most recently, the Colts.

But the Rice case has shaken America's most popular sport, with fans talking more about domestic abuse than games. The Ravens play the rival Steelers in Baltimore Thursday night on national TV, but all the talk will be about the Rice case.

Despite the pressure, Goodell's job is secure, said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting firm SportsCorp and a confidant of many NFL owners.

"Roger Goodell is the best leader of any sports league on the planet today," Ganis said. "The NFL that he runs is managed better than any sports league — ever. The people that know this best are those who pay his contract, the owners.

"There is not any chance that they will ask him to step down. Not in this life or the next."

___

AP Pro Sports Writers Tom Canavan and Brett Martel contributed to this story.

___

Wednesday 09/10/2014
Professional Soccer: Nasco makes MLS debut, record books
Posted: September 10, 2014

Former Gordon County Sheriff's deputy Joe Nasco got his first action in Major League Soccer recently for the Colorado Rapids. Nasco signed with the Rapids in February.

Tuesday 09/09/2014
Hawks discipline GM Ferry for racist comments
Posted: September 09, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — The fallout from racially charged comments by Atlanta Hawks' leadership continued on Tuesday as general manager Danny Ferry was disciplined for making inflammatory comments about Luol Deng.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has imposed undisclosed discipline on Ferry for comments the GM made to the ownership group in June when the team pursued Deng as a free agent.

Atlanta media outlets obtained a letter Monday night from Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. which cites Ferry telling the ownership group that Deng "has a little African in him."

Gearon's letter to co-owner Bruce Levenson said Ferry went on to say, "Not in a bad way, but he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.

"Ferry completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat."

In the letter, Gearon recommended that Ferry resign or be fired.

Gearon said he and the other co-owners "were appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call."

Gearon declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Tuesday and Deng's agent, Ron Shade, could not be immediately reached.

Hawks spokesman Garin Narain said the team's investigation of Ferry's comments uncovered a racially inflammatory email written two years ago by Levenson. That discovery led to Levenson's announcement Sunday that he will sell his controlling share of the team.

Ferry apologized Tuesday but said he was only repeating comments he had heard about Deng.

"In regards to the insensitive remarks that were used during our due diligence process, I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players," Ferry said in a statement released by the team.

"I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process. Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning."

In his letter to Levenson, Gearon compared Ferry's remarks to comments made former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell the team this year when his racist comments were disclosed.

"We believe these comments by Ferry were far worse than Sterling's because they were not from a private personal conversation — they were in a business environment on a business matter in front of a dozen or more people," Gearon wrote. "If Ferry would make such a slur in a semi-public forum, we can only imagine what he has said in smaller groups or to individuals."

Gearon also said in the letter that he wanted to point out Ferry's comments to Levenson because he wasn't sure Levenson was listening to the full conference call. Gearon said his belief, confirmed by his consultations with two attorneys, was the fallout from Ferry's comments could be "devastating."

Gearon warned Levenson he believed Ferry's comments "could be fatal to the franchise" if made public.

In his letter of apology, Ferry pledged he would learn from the incident.

"I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation," Ferry said. "I fully understand we have work to do in order to help us create a better organization; one that our players and fans will be proud of, on and off the court, and that is where my focus is moving forward."

NFL: Rogers, Durham both inactive in Week 1
Posted: September 09, 2014

While both former Calhoun High standout receivers made the opening-day roster for NFL teams, the pair will have to wait a little longer before they make any plays on the field in a game.

What we learned at US Open: New guys can win Slams
Updated: September 09, 2014 - 3:57 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Suspended at this time in 2013, Marin Cilic showed at the 2014 U.S. Open that he could win a Grand Slam title.

Kei Nishikori proved that he can come very close.

And Cilic hopes the last 15 days made clear there are players that casual fans might not be familiar with who are capable of doing these things, too.

"It's, I feel, very inspirational for all the other guys out there who are working and sometimes losing motivation, having trouble to dig deep and to believe in the achievements," the 25-year-old Cilic said. "I would definitely feel much stronger if I would see somebody like me accomplish things like this. It sort of came out of nowhere for me."

The 14th-seeded and 16th-ranked Cilic's 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Nishikori in the final at Flushing Meadows on Monday made him the first player in a decade to win a major championship while ranked outside the top 10. (His victory pushed him up to No. 9).

It also made him only the second man from Croatia to earn a Grand Slam singles title; his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, won Wimbledon in 2001.

Cilic did it by winning his last 10 sets against four opponents who had beaten him in a combined 19 of 24 matches coming in: Gilles Simon in the fourth round, Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, Roger Federer in the semifinals, and Nishikori in the final.

"Something clicked in his head," Ivanisevic said. "To play like that against Berdych, to play against Federer — that was just art of tennis."

Japan's Nishikori was trying to become the first man from any Asian country to join the major singles champion club in tennis. Even if he didn't quite manage to do that, the 24-year-old Nishikori did demonstrate that he has the stuff to contend by eliminating three of the top five seeded men: No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka and No. 5 Milos Raonic.

"Sorry I couldn't get a trophy today," Nishikori said, "but for sure, next time."

After testing positive for a stimulant he said he ingested through a glucose tablet from a pharmacy, Cilic wound up serving a four-month ban last year that was reduced on appeal. Rankings points and prize money initially taken away from him were restored.

He now credits that enforced absence with giving him time to work on his game alongside Ivanisevic — and for making him tougher.

"Trying to enjoy on the court and enjoy every moment ... helped me to be much more relaxed," Cilic said.

Here are other things we learned during the year's last Grand Slam tournament:

BIG 3: This was the first Grand Slam final since the 2005 Australian Open that didn't involve at least one of Djokovic, Federer or Rafael Nadal (whose right wrist injury prevented him from trying to defend his 2013 U.S. Open title). That trio also had won 34 of the last 38 major titles. Only one other man, Andy Murray, even won two in that span. It should be fascinating to see how that group manages to regroup in January.

SERENA's 18TH: Serena Williams has joked about trying to keep up with Federer in the Grand Slam title count. Well, she surpassed his total of 17 by winning her 18th major championship Sunday at the U.S. Open with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Caroline Wozniacki in the final. Williams is now even with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova at 18, and only three women have more: Helen Wills Moody with 19, Steffi Graf with an Open-era record 22, and Margaret Court with 24. For now, Williams said, her aim is to get to 19, but if "I get to 19, knowing me, 20 will be my goal."

ANYONE ELSE?: Williams won all 14 of her sets, never ceding more than three games in any, but otherwise the women's tournament was filled with surprises, including early losses by highly seeded players such as Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. So can anyone challenge Williams when she is at her best? "I think she's eager and she's strong," Navratilova said, "and there's nobody nipping at her heels."

___

AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.

___

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Saturday 09/06/2014
College Football: Griffith's big day leads to recognition
Posted: September 06, 2014

Several former local football stars have moved on to the next level where they are making an impact in college football. Close to 20 former players from Calhoun, Gordon Central and Sonoraville appear on college rosters, and many of them saw action this past weekend their teams’ games.

Friday 09/05/2014
Editor's Column: Griffith's success in Bama opener; Weekend picks
Posted: September 05, 2014

Griffith bounces back in Bama opener

Baseball Update: Culberson gets start at shortstop
Posted: September 05, 2014

Four former local stars are playing professional baseball at different levels. Here is an update on how each of them are doing currently:

Thursday 09/04/2014
Harbin Clinic’s Zombie-thon 5K & Health Walk registration is open
Posted: September 04, 2014

On Saturday, October 25, Zombies return to downtown Rome for Harbin Clinic’s Zombie-thon 5K & Apocalyptic Block Party where runners and walkers brave the wave of the Zombie Apocalypse and try to survive!

Wednesday 09/03/2014
ACC teams matching up with more nickel defenses
Posted: September 03, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference aren't waiting for passing situations to bring on another defensive back.

Instead, they're starting with the nickel package.

It's an effort to cover more ground and avoid mismatches against offenses that keep flooding the field with receivers and attacking from sideline to sideline without substituting.

Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are using a 4-2-5 — four linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs — as their base scheme and the starting point for what they do every week.

Other teams are using the nickel heavily, including reigning national champion Florida State.

Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof says the game has evolved, and now defenses are trying to match up and disguise coverages with the nickel.

College Football: Griffith earns SEC award after stellar performance in opener
Posted: September 03, 2014

ATLANTA — He was one of 15 University of Alabama players looking to make a mark in front of his home-state fans Saturday night, and Adam Griffith didn’t disappoint.

Tuesday 09/02/2014
NFL: Rogers makes Colts; Durham now a Titan
Posted: September 02, 2014

Former Calhoun High standouts Da'Rick Rogers and Kris Durham will both be on NFL Opening-Day rosters after the final round of preseason cuts this past weekend.

Saturday 08/30/2014
Baseball Update: Hyde still staying steady at Tri-City
Posted: August 30, 2014

Four former local stars are playing professional baseball at different levels. Here is an update on how each of them are doing currently:

Friday 08/29/2014
Editor's Column: Impact of Chicago LLWS team; College picks for Week 1
Posted: August 29, 2014

Little League World Series run shows progress

Thursday 08/28/2014
Alabama's Saban faces boyhood team, West Virginia
Posted: August 28, 2014

Growing up in West Virginia, Nick Saban would peek through the rails at the old WVU Fieldhouse as Jerry West played basketball far below.

Watching West Virginia play football, meanwhile, "was like the highlight of my year," Saban said.

When Saban leads No. 2 Alabama against the Mountaineers in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, his priority as always on fall Saturdays will be to win a football game — even against his home state program.

He seemed to enjoy waxing nostalgic this week about his favorite boyhood team in memories that include the heartache of listening to his transistor radio when West and the Mountaineers fell 71-70 — yes, Saban remembers the score — to California in the 1959 national championship game.

"You don't forget stuff like that," Saban said, "but now I'm Alabama's coach. I'm an Alabama fan. We don't really have to be concerned about any of that. We want to do what's best for our team and the relationships that we have here.

"But we also respect their traditions and the relationships that we've developed through the years in West Virginia."

Those ties will be evidenced by friends and family traveling to Atlanta for the game, people who say they saw Saban's potential way back when.

That group includes U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a former West Virginia governor, who grew up less than 10 miles away from the Sabans and still calls him "one of my best friends in the whole world."

Manchin played on youth sports teams coached by Saban's father, Nick Sr., who also operated a service station while running an ice cream shop/restaurant with his wife in front of their modest home just outside Monongah. Nick Sr., Manchin said, "was a builder of men" and his son was always there soaking it in when he wasn't helping out by washing cars or pumping gas.

"He had all the genes for it and he had the tutelage of his father, who was very rigid and stoic about how he did things," Manchin recalled. "You just saw the success come. He saw it by hard work, sacrificing, planning. He knew what it took to succeed, and Nick took it to the next level.

"I always thought he would be the greatest football coach, I believe, in the country today and will go down in history as one of the greatest. And it's all because of that coal-mining town."

Nick Sr. died of a heart attack in 1973 when the undersized Saban, spurned by the Mountaineers, was playing baseball and football at Kent State.

Both Manchin and Saban played quarterback in high school. Manchin graduated from Farmington High in 1965, Saban from Monongah High in 1969.

"The biggest mistake WVU ever made was not offering young Nick Saban a scholarship," said Manchin, whose West Virginia career was ended early by a knee injury. "He was one of the best athletes to ever come out of the area. His size gave them pause to ever offer him a scholarship."

Sharing childhood memories weren't the only time Saban showed a lighter side leading up to this game. He also challenged Manchin and others, including Florida coach Will Muschamp, to participate in the ice bucket challenge that's gone viral in efforts to raise funds to fight Lou Gehrig's disease.

Manchin's wife, Gayle, dumped the senator with ice water.

Manchin said this game is one instance where he'll be rooting against Saban.

Not so for Saban's sister, Dianna Thompson, who lives in the Marion County community of Worthington and has had three kids graduate from West Virginia.

"That's a no brainer: Roll Tide," Thompson said. She has to pull for the man she's always called "Brother."

"When West Virginia's playing anybody else, we cheer for West Virginia," she said. "But we can't cheer against Brother."

If Saban had his way as a teenager, Saturday's game wouldn't just be against his old favorite team. He'd be facing his alma mater.

"He really wanted to go to WVU but they wouldn't give him a scholarship," Thompson said. "They told him he could walk on but he got a scholarship to Kent State, so he went to Kent State. He would have gone to WVU if he had been offered a scholarship there."

Clemson-Georgia game highlights SEC's first week
Posted: August 28, 2014

A look at things to watch in the Southeastern Conference during Week 1 of the season:

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia. One year ago, these two teams provided one of the best opening-weekend matchups in a game Clemson won 38-35. Georgia has the home-field advantage in Saturday's rematch, which again has as much intrigue as just about any first-week game across the nation. This game could come down to whether Clemson's defense can slow down Georgia running back Todd Gurley and whether Georgia's offensive line can keep Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley away from Bulldogs quarterback Hunter Mason. Georgia is 36-1 in home nonconference games since 2001.

BEST MATCHUP: Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn. The Razorbacks travel to face the Tigers in a game most notable for the chilly relationship between coaches Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn. Bielema is an unapologetic basher of the hurry-up offense, claiming it leads to more injuries — while few push the offensive pace like Malzahn. The Razorbacks are clearly longshots in this matchup, coming off a 0-8 record in the SEC last season, but they would love nothing more than to spoil Auburn's opener after the Tigers played for a national title last season.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Only five of the SEC's 14 members have quarterbacks who started the majority of games for their respective teams last season. Those five teams are Arkansas (Brandon Allen), Auburn (Nick Marshall), Mississippi (Bo Wallace), Mississippi State (Dak Prescott) and Tennessee (Justin Worley). Wallace's 6,340 career passing yards lead active league QBs by a wide margin.

LONG SHOT: Tennessee has more overall talent than six-point underdog Utah State, but the Aggies enter Sunday's season opener with more experience and the better quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, who is making his first appearance since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament midway through last season. "All you have to do is put their film on," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "If you know anything about football, then you say this is a really, really good football team." The youth of Tennessee's roster makes this game hard to predict. If Utah State grabs an early lead, how will all the newcomers on Tennessee's roster respond?

IMPACT PLAYER: LSU running back Leonard Fournette is only a freshman, but expectations for the highly-regarded recruit are through the roof. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from New Orleans is already generating Heisman Trophy talk down in Louisiana. While that may be premature, he has a chance to make a big impression when the No. 13 Tigers host No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday. Said Miles: "He's going to want the opportunity to do everything that he can do. And certainly he'll play a role in this game."

___

AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Oxford, Mississippi, contributed to this story.

Wednesday 08/27/2014
Many ACC teams set to open with unproven QBs
Posted: August 27, 2014

There's plenty of buzz around the Atlantic Coast Conference with the addition of a new team, the latest Heisman Trophy winner and the reigning national champion.

Top-ranked Florida State's run to the national title and the arrival of fast-rising Louisville have raised the ACC's national profile.

But the strength of the league as a whole this season could depend on the arms of numerous unproven commodities at quarterback — besides Jameis Winston, the Seminoles' Heisman winner, of course.

At least 10 schools will debut new starting QBs this week, including three transfers and a pair of true freshmen.

Those concerns might be unfounded, new Clemson starter Cole Stoudt said.

"According to some of the guys, we're not going to get a first down," said Stoudt, who is replacing three-year starter Tajh Boyd.

"I think people are going to be shocked by what we're going to do," he added. "People are underestimating what we have, looking at all the negatives instead of the positives we have."

The numbers perhaps tell a different story: According to STATS, only nine current ACC quarterbacks have made at least one career start — and three of them made those starts at other schools.

Only one ACC QB — Duke's Anthony Boone — ever started a game for his current school before last season.

And no one in the league has made more career starts than Winston — all 14 of his came during his big redshirt freshman season in 2013.

A major subplot this season will be whether the ACC can produce a serious challenger for the Seminoles — and along with that, whether there's another elite quarterback in the league who can make his team a legitimate threat to Florida State.

Boone says the league "absolutely" needs another quarterback to step up and challenge Winston — and naturally, he hopes he'll be the one to do it.

The Duke quarterback said he hung around with Winston over the summer at the Manning Passing Academy and the Heisman winner told him "I'll see you in Charlotte" for a rematch in the ACC championship game.

"As a competitor, you want to be the best on your team, you want to be the best in your league," Boone said. "If somebody told me that I can challenge (Winston), that's fine with me."

The league's only other returning full-time starter is Terrel Hunt of Syracuse. North Carolina is still deciding between Marquise Williams — who started six games last season due to injuries to regular starter Bryn Renner — and redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky.

David Watford started all 12 games of Virginia's 2-10 finish last year. But backup Greyson Lambert, a redshirt sophomore, beat Watford for the starting job with all of 75 college passes on his resume.

"His pass attempts have been more than nine of the likely starters to be named starters" in the ACC, coach Mike London said. "There is an experience that this year, this team, that the quarterbacks do have."

Plenty of other first-time starters also will get their chance this weekend.

Two transfers from Florida — Jacoby Brissett at North Carolina State and Tyler Murphy at Boston College — are pegged to start their new teams' openers along with ex-Texas Tech backup Michael Brewer, who's now at Virginia Tech.

Brissett, who made four total starts for the Gators in 2011 and '12, promised to "just make sure I don't mess up the first snap."

At Miami, true freshman Brad Kaaya beat out another transfer — Jake Heaps, formerly of BYU and Kansas. And John Wolford will become the first true freshman QB since 1974 to start a Wake Forest opener.

"He is our best quarterback, so I can't worry about whether he's a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior," new Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. "In a perfect world, you'd always love to have the guy be in the system for one or two years before he plays. But we're going to put the guys out there that give us the best chance to win. And he clearly won the job."

Now, it's time for all those new quarterbacks to show they can win games.

___

AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina; Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Will Graves in Pittsburgh; and Hank Kurz Jr. in Charlottesville, Virginia, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday 08/26/2014
NFL: Rogers makes catch in Colts preseason game vs. Saints
Posted: August 26, 2014

Former Calhoun High standout and current Indianapolis Colts receiver Da'Rick Rogers showed up in the box score after the team's preseason contest at home against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.