Miami plays for unbeaten record
MIAMI, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Top-ranked Miami hosts Big East rival Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon. At stake is an unblemished regular season mark, a league title, a berth in the Fiesta Bowl opposite Ohio State on Jan. 3, and a chance to win a second straight national championship.
If UCLA can beat No. 7 Washington State, the matchups of the other three BCS bowls -- the Rose, Orange and Sugar -- could fall into place without a lot of criticism.
If Miami loses, it likely will cause widespread turmoil.
Miami (11-0) takes a 34-game winning streak, the longest current run in the nation, into the contest, and Virginia Tech (9-3) again serves as the final regular season obstacle.
The Hurricanes advanced to the Rose Bowl last season with a razor-thin 26-24 victory at Virginia Tech in early December last season. The Hokies' Ernest Wilford dropped a two-point conversion pass with 6:03 left, and Miami intercepted four passes.
Miami left nothing to chance in a 49-7 win over Syracuse last week, and would love nothing better than to do the same thing against the Hokies, who snapped a three-game losing streak with a 21-9 win over archrival Virginia, and likely will provide stiffer competition.
"Virginia Tech is going to come in with a lot of energy," said quarterback Ken Dorsey.
The question will be if the Hurricanes show up with that same intensity. Miami came out flat against Florida State and Rutgers, and was lackluster at times in a win over Pittsburgh. When Miami is in high gear, it can be unstoppable.
"The only thing that can beat us is us," said running back Willis McGahee.
The Hurricanes can clinch their eighth Big East Conference title with a win in a contest where a number of streaks are on the line.
Miami has won 23 straight Big East games since a loss to Virginia Tech in 1999, and has won its last 21 home games. Also, Miami has won all 23 of its games under second-year coach Larry Coker.
The contest also will be the final Heisman Trophy audition for Dorsey and McGahee.
Elsewhere, Washington State (9-2) can clinch the Pac-10 title with a win over UCLA, but a loss gives the league title to No. 5 Southern California (10-2).
Washington State missed a chance to wrap up just its second Pac-10 title when it was knocked off by archrival Washington, 29-26, in overtime, on Nov. 23.
A loss to the Bruins likely will send the Cougars to the Holiday Bowl.
Southern California made its case for an at-large BCS berth with a 44-13 rout of Notre Dame last week. It rose to fourth in the latest BCS standings, and would gain at least an at-large berth if it stays there when the final BCS standings are announced on Sunday afternoon.
An injury to star Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser could help the Trojans' chances. Gesser suffered a high ankle sprain, a bruised knee, and a pulled calf in the Washington setback, and was on crutches until late last week.
Gesser is listed as questionable for UCLA. In either case, he will share duties with backup Matt Kegel, who played poorly against the Huskies.
Big Ten officials said Tuesday that third-ranked Iowa (11-1) has been assured a spot in the BCS, although BCS Coordinator Mike Tranghese has not confirmed that. If the Big Ten is correct, Iowa will be in the Rose Bowl should UCLA win and send the Hawkeyes to the Orange Bowl should Washington State win.
Because of its national appeal and ability to sell tickets, Notre Dame (10-2) has been mentioned as a candidate for a berth in the BCS, but there would be a major outcry if the Fighting Irish received a BCS berth over either Southern California or Iowa.
Wins by Miami and UCLA would solve that problem.
Two other BCS berths will be determined on Saturday.
No. 4 Georgia (11-1) makes its first appearance in the SEC title game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta when it faces No. 22 Arkansas (9-3).
The Bulldogs are third in the BCS and could be in line for the Fiesta Bowl should Miami lose.
The Razorbacks made their way to Atlanta by dethroning defending SEC champion LSU in dramatic fashion last week as Matt Jones tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Decori Birmingham with nine seconds remaining to give Arkansas a stunning 21-20 victory.
Ninth-ranked Oklahoma (10-2) will meet No. 12 Colorado (9-3) in the Big 12 championship game at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Saturday's contest is a rematch of a regular season meeting, won by Oklahoma, 27-11, in Norman on Nov. 2. There will be no national championship implications on the line.
Oklahoma State took care of that last week with a 38-28 upset of then fourth-ranked Sooners.
Chris Brown of Colorado had a big game in last year's Big 12 title game, rushing for 182 yards and three touchdowns in Colorado's 39-37 victory over Texas, but is out this year with a bruised sternum.
No. 18 Florida State (9-4) already has secured a BCS berth as champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Mid-American Conference also stages a title game Saturday as Marshall (9-2) hosts Toledo (9-3). The Thundering Herd are seeking their fifth MAC title in six years.
In other action, Army hosts Navy in a battle of 1-10 teams at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
Aggies make Franchione official
COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Dennis Franchione Friday was introduced as the new football coach at Texas A&M, succeeding R.C. Slocum while leaving a vacancy at Alabama.
On Thursday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Franchione, who held a similar post at Alabama the past two seasons, had agreed to terms on a multi-year deal with Texas A&M, which fired Slocum on Monday.
Texas A&M made the official announcement Friday at a news conference on Friday morning.
Joining Franchione at Friday's gathering was Bill Byrne, who was introduced as the school's new athletic director. He left Nebraska to take over for Wally Groff, who resigned on Tuesday.
"It's been an intense week for all of us," said A&M President Robert Gates. "There have been elements of sadness, mixed with joy and expectation. I think at the end of the week the term "T.G.I.F." has new meaning for me. At Texas A&M, we strive for excellence and integrity in all that we do in both academics and athletics. These two gentlemen in front of you exemplify those qualities, and we are proud to have them as a part of the Aggie family now."
Byrne was anxious about the hiring.
"This is really going to be an exciting era for Texas A&M University," Byrne said.
Slocum is the winningest football coach in A&M history. In 14 years at the school, he went 123-47-2, but Texas A&M is just 29-20 the past four seasons, going 6-6 in 2002.
Franchione, 51, has become renowned for turning programs around. He accomplished similar feats at New Mexico, Texas Christian, and Alabama.
The Crimson Tide were 3-8 in 2000, but went to the Independence Bowl in 2001, and posted a 10-3 mark this season.
Alabama is ineligible to play in a bowl game in 2002 and 2003 after being placed on NCAA probation.
"It's great to be back here in the great state of Texas, where football is so important at all levels," Franchione said. "I have had a deep passion for the high school coaches. The high school football in this state is second to none. They're such a great and professional group leading those programs, and certainly helps our opportunity to have great programs at the university level with the tremendous job they do. I look forward to being back working with the Texas high school coaches."
Franchione, who reportedly spurned a 10-year offer from Alabama, is 155-73-2 as a college coach, including 17-8 with the Crimson Tide.
He also served head coach at New Mexico (1992-97), Southwest Texas State (1990-91), Pittsburg (Ks.) State (1985-89), and Southwestern (Ks.) College (1981-82).
Franchione said he was eager to start his new job.
"It's an exciting time to be here in many ways," he said. "It's exciting because of the commitment we have to compete at the highest level. I'm coming here for a lot of reasons. Tradition and history are certainly a part of that. It's been 21 years, I believe, since Texas A&M has had a losing season. That's exciting to me because it's my first time to take one over that has a foundation in place and is not coming off a losing season. That's a nice way to get started and I'm certainly ready for that."
Slocum was fired with three years remaining on a seven-year contract that paid him more than $1 million a season.
Reports: Nevin-Griffey trade nixed
SAN DIEGO, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- A pair of marquee names in major league baseball, infielder Phil Nevin of San Diego and outfielder Ken Griffey of Cincinnati, are with the same teams today because Nevin rejected a trade to the Reds.
Nevin has a no-trade clause in his contract, and used it to kill the planned deal. It was supposed to happen last week, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"I let the Padres know how I felt," Nevin said when asked by the paper about his answer to the question about being shipped to Cincinnati.
The paper also reported that Padres General Manager, Kevin Towers, played golf at the same time and club with Nevin's agent, Barry Axelrod, on Thanksgiving Day.
"It was very casual," Axelrod said. "Kevin didn't say, 'Let me know by tomorrow.' It was in the context of a hundred different things that Kevin brought that out."
On Thursday, Towers said discussions with the Reds regarding Nevin, 31, and Griffey were held the week before Thanksgiving.
"At one point, I guess it could have happened," Towers said. "But by the time everyone got wind of it, it was dead."
"I just don't really want to talk about it, honestly," Nevin told the Cincinnati Enquirer, which also said a deal was agreed upon.
Cincinnati General Manager Jim Bowden also spokes to the paper about the rumored trade.
"We have no deal with San Diego," Bowden said. "We're not going to have a deal with San Diego. There are no ongoing talks."
According to the paper, Griffey, who is coming off two injury-plagued seasons, will make $12 million next season, and by trading him for Nevin, the Reds would have saved $7 million in 2003, and freed up $55 million over the life of Griffey's contract.
The Cincinnati Post reported that Bowden did not have the authority to trade Griffey without the consent of owner Carl Lindner.
Nevin, a 6-2, 231-pounder from Fullerton, Ca., who can catch and play first or third, has a career batting average of .275 with 135 homers and 469 RBI. He also has played for Detroit, Houston, and Anaheim.
Griffey, who just turned 33 and broke into the majors with Seattle in 1989, is batting .295 for his career with 468 homers and 1,358 RBI.
Report: Olerud re-signs with Mariners
SEATTLE. Dec. 6 (UPI) -- First baseman John Olerud reportedly has agreed to a two-year contract worth between $15 million and $16 million to remain with the Seattle Mariners.
While he is eligible for an arbitration offer before Saturday's midnight Eastern time deadline, the Seattle Times reported Friday that Olerud, a 34-year-old Seattle native, negotiated his deal while vacationing in Hawaii with his family.
The team was unavailable for comment.
The report stated that the Mariners are expected to make the announcement Saturday instead of putting Olerud's name on the list of players they will offer salary arbitration.
Olerud collected a base salary of $6.95 million last season, when he hit .300 with 22 home runs and 102 RBI in 154 games.
The 13-year veteran also won his second Gold Glove in three seasons with the Mariners.
Olerud, who underwent brain surgery in 1989 to remove an aneurysm, is a lifetime .300 hitter with 229 homers and 1,062 RBI. He also has played for Toronto and the New York Mets.
The two-time All-Star had his best year in 1993, setting career highs in average (.363), doubles (54), home runs (24), RBI (107), runs scored (109), and hits (200).
The Mariners reportedly are considering offering arbitration to lefthanders Jamie Moyer and Norm Charlton. Moyer, one of the top starters in the American League the past few seasons, likely will command big dollars in the free agent market.
Hand surgery for Erstad
ANAHEIM, Ca., Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Gold Glove centerfielder Darin Erstad of the Anaheim Angels Thursday underwent surgery on his right hand. He is expected to be ready to play during spring training.
Dr. Norman Zemel, a hand and wrist specialist, removed the hook of the hamate bone in Erstad's hand at the Kerlan-Jobe Healthsouth Clinic in Los Angeles. Team officials said Erstad will wear a short cast for three weeks before beginning therapy.
"Surgery went as the doctor expected it would," said General Manager Bill Stoneman. "These aren't as common as arthroscopic surgeries for knees, but they are pretty common for hitters. I knew (former Angel) Todd Greene had one before I came on the scene three years ago, and I just found out that Garret Anderson had it before I got here, too. They're fine, so Ersty's gonna be fine. He may not be at a full one-hundred percent when we start our games in spring training, but he'll be pretty close. The timetable is about six weeks before he can do something with a bat, and about eight weeks before he'll be swinging the bat hard. We might have to have him take it easy in camp, which might be tougher on us than it is on him."
Erstad, 28, hit .283 with 10 home runs and 73 RBI in 150 games for the 2002 World Series champions. At season's end, he became the eighth player in franchise history to win a Gold Glove, the second of his career.
He batted .300 with three doubles and three RBI during Anaheim's World Series victory over San Francisco.
Haynes re-signs with Reds
CINCINNATI, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Jimmy Haynes, who enjoyed his best major league season in 2002, Friday was rewarded with a one-year contract for 2003, with a player option for 2004.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Reds signed one of their five free agent pitchers available for salary arbitration by Saturday's deadline.
Haynes, a righthander, went 15-10 with a 4.12 ERA in 34 starts last season. He led the Reds' staff in starts, victories, innings pitched (196 2/3), and strikeouts (126), and established career highs in wins and starts.
"We're glad Jimmy has decided to return to Cincinnati," said General Manager Jim Bowden in a prepared release. "He had a great working relationship with pitching coach Don Gullett that produced obvious results on the field. We're looking forward to Jimmy being one of the solid starters on our pitching staff."
Haynes, 30, a non-roster invitee to spring training, went 10-6 before the All-Star break to become the first Reds pitcher with 10 wins in the first half of the season since Jack Armstrong in 1990. He went 12-5 with a 3.74 ERA in his last 25 starts of the season.
In his major league career, Haynes is 61-74 with a 5.24 ERA with Baltimore, Oakland, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati.
Red Sox re-sign Banks; claim Rupe
BOSTON, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Veteran righthander Willie Banks has signed a one-year deal for 2003 with the Boston Red Sox.
Financial terms were not made available.
Banks, 33, went 2-1 with a 3.23 ERA and one save in 29 relief appearances for the Red Sox last season.
In 39 innings, he gave up 32 hits, 15 runs (14 earned), with 14 walks and 26 strikeouts. He posted a 2.70 ERA in 17 games after the All-Star break, which included a 0.96 ERA in September, during which he allowed one earned run in 9 1/3 innings.
Overall in 2002, Banks held opponents to a .222 batting average (32-144), and limited righthanded hitters to a batting average of .200 (15-75). He did not allow an earned run in 21 of his 29 appearances.
Banks is 2-1 with a 2.72 ERA with one save in 34 appearances for Boston over the last two seasons. He signed with the Red Sox on Aug. 23, 2001. He has walked just 18 batters in 49 2/3 innings, and had 36 strikeouts. He is 5-1 with a 3.18 ERA and one save in his career at Fenway Park.
The Jersey City, N.J., native is a career 33-39 with an ERA of 4.75 in parts of nine major league seasons with seven different clubs, beginning with Minnesota in 1991. Banks also played in Japan from 1999-2000, and then pitched at Triple-A in both the New York Mets (2000) and Toronto (2001) organizations.
He was originally the third overall pick by the Minnesota Twins in the 1987 June Draft.
The Red Sox also claimed righthander Ryan Rupe off waivers from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
"We look at Rupe as someone who can start," said General Manager Theo Epstein. "But our plan right now is to use him in the bullpen. We already talked to him about that. He's got the arm strength to throw out of the pen. He has a natural sink on his fastball. He has a good changeup and he has a big, durable body."
Rupe, 27, spent his first four major league seasons with the Devil Rays. He had a record of 23-27 with a 5.84 ERA.
His 2002 campaign came to an end on July 15 because of tendinitis in his right knee. Rupe was a sixth-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 1998, and in June, 1999, became the team's first draft pick to reach the majors.
Knee surgery for Najera
DALLAS, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Dallas Mavericks forward Eduardo Najera Friday underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
He is expected to miss up to eight weeks.
The procedure was performed by team physician Dr. T.O. Souryal, who said Najera could return in six weeks.
Najera, 26, the second Mexican-born player to compete in the NBA, has averaged 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per contest in 15 games while shooting a team-best 60.2 percent from the field for the NBA-leading Mavericks.
He missed the last three games with a sore left knee.
Evan Burns ruled eligible
SAN DIEGO, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Evan Burns will be eligible to play for the San Diego State men's basketball team after the NCAA Thursday announced that the freshman forward's initial eligibility request has been approved.
Burns, a McDonald's All-American while at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, is now considered a qualifier. In addition to being able to participate in competition, he now can receive a full scholarship.
The 6-8, 220-pounder signed a letter-of-intent last April with UCLA, but it was voided by the school because he did not meet NCAA initial eligibility requirements.
The Bruins do not admit non- or partial qualifiers. Instead, he enrolled at San Diego State.
"We are excited for Evan Burns and San Diego State basketball," said Coach Steve Fisher. "He has an early Christmas present and now we need to help him grow as a college student and college basketball player."
Burns, an athletic scorer, averaged 22.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest while leading Fairfax to the Los Angeles City finals. In addition to earning prep All-America honors, he was a third-team Parade All-American, an all-state selection, Los Angeles Times Central City Player of the Year, and was nominated for Mr. Basketball in California.
"It has been a long wait, but I am excited to realize my dream of playing college basketball," he said. "I look forward to contributing to the team."
Burns is eligible just in time as the Aztecs (2-2) take on No. 1 Arizona on Saturday.
Johnson quits LSU basketball team
BATON ROUGE, La., Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Forward Shawnson Johnson is no longer a member of the men's basketball team at Louisiana State after leaving the squad in bizarre fashion three days ago.
At halftime of the Tigers' 65-44 win over Delaware State on Tuesday night, Johnson, a starter, told Coach John Brady that he was quitting.
According to Brady, Johnson, a 6-9, 242-pound junior from Shreveport, La., will not be allowed to rejoin the team.
"I need to move forward and coach the guys that want to be here," Brady said. "(Players) who understand what commitment is and what playing hard's about and accepting and taking coaching. There's some things we can do. We're going to be fine with that. It's a waste of my time to discuss it."
Various reports indicate Johnson, who has been unavailable for comment, was irked about a perceived lack of playing time.
Brady shrugged off the perception.
"We've got some guys on this team that have been through some tough times," said Brady. "They faced much bigger problems than not playing for 20 minutes."
This season, Johnson had a team-high 10 points and 13 rebounds in LSU's opener against Nicholls State. He played 19 minutes against South Alabama and 13 against Texas A&M.
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Johnson got into hot water in the Tigers' first exhibition game on Nov. 2 by going through warmups with his hair styled in cornrows, which is a violation of team rules. That standard was set by the players.
Fleury likely to play Friday
CHICAGO, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Chicago Blackhawks right wing Theo Fleury, who was suspended two months ago for violating the NHL's substance abuse aftercare program, is expected to make his season debut Friday night.
Fleury was cleared to return by the league Thursday.
Suspended indefinitely on Oct. 8, Fleury is expected to play Friday, when the Blackhawks host the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim at the United Center.
"He will not participate in an intensive aftercare plan monitored by the program doctors," said a joint statement by the league and the NHL Players Association.
The fiery Fleury, 34, received clearance to practice with the team on Nov. 25.
He signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract last August after three eventful seasons with the New York Rangers. He missed practice without permission on Oct. 2, telling team officials he was with his father, who has prostate cancer.
Fleury recorded his 400th goal, 600th assist, and 1,000th point, and played his 1,000th game during his stint with New York. While there, he also voluntarily checked himself into the NHL's substance abuse program on Feb. 28, 2001, and missed the final 20 games of the 2000-01 season.
Last season, Fleury played all 82 games. He had 24 goals and 39 assists, but had numerous run-ins with referees, stormed off the ice with eight minutes left in a game at Pittsburgh, and had a highly-publicized confrontation with the mascot of the San Jose Sharks.
Few were surprised when the Rangers did not pick up the $7 million option on his contract.
Fleury, listed at just 5-6 and 180 pounds, has 443 goals and 612 assists in 1,030 NHL games. He spent his first 10-plus seasons with the Calgary Flames, helping them capture the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 1989.
Utah Starzz moving to San Antonio
NEW YORK, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- The Utah Starzz will relocate to San Antonio for the 2003 season, and will be owned by Spurs Sports & Entertainment.
The announcement was made by WNBA President Val Ackerman.
The decision to move the franchise was made by the WNBA following last month's announcement that Spurs Sports & Entertainment (SS&E) had exceeded its season ticket pledge requirement of 6,000.
"We are extremely excited to have a team in place with the experience and caliber of the Starzz," said San Antonio WNBA Chief Operating Officer Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil. "We are looking forward to seeing our efforts brought to life with this group of players, who have demonstrated their competitiveness and will make San Antonio proud."
The Starzz are one of the WNBA's eight original teams. They made their second straight trip to the playoffs last season and advanced to the Western Conference finals before losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Sparks.
The league is continuing its discussions with potential owners in various cities who are interested in acquiring WNBA teams.
Last month, the Sol left Miami and the Orlando Miracle announced plans to move.