Miami, OSU battle for national title
TEMPE, Az., Jan. 3 (UPI) -- In a contest of the nation's only unbeatens, Miami and Ohio State play Friday night for the national championship of college football.
The two will play at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Az.
The defending champion Hurricanes have won 34 consecutive games, the longest winning streak in college football since Toledo won 35 in a row from 1969-71. They have won 24 straight games under Coach Larry Coker.
Miami (12-0) can become the first team to win back-to-back national championships since Nebraska in 1994 and '95.
Ohio State is playing for its fourth national championship and first since 1968.
A win at Sun Devil Stadium inevitably will bring up talk of whether Miami can make a run at one of the great streaks in sports history -- Oklahoma's record 47-game winning streak from 1953-57. Coker grew up in the Sooner State at the time Bud Wilkinson was putting together a string of success often compared to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
"Bud Wilkinson was one of my idols growing up," Coker said. "But playing one more game for the national championship is more important right now."
Miami arguably has been the best program in college football over the last two decades, winning five national titles, but this can be the first Hurricane team to win two in a row.
Ohio State (13-0) is looking to make its own claim to history. The storied program known for Woody Hayes and Archie Griffin has not won a national championship since 1968.
Jim Tressel, like Coker in his second year at his current job, will assure himself of a prized place in Buckeye lore with a win in Tempe. Ohio State also won national championships in 1942, '54 and 1957.
The Hurricanes have been installed as a double-digit favorite, and the question is whether they can be stopped when they are clicking on all cylinders.
Miami has rolled up 105 points and 1,121 points in its last two games, including a 56-45 triumph over Virginia Tech. Ohio State, by contrast, has scored less than 20 points in four of its last six games.
McGahee, a sophomore, ran for 1,686 yards and 27 touchdowns. Dorsey came under criticism for not putting up huge numbers, but still threw for 3,073 yards and 26 touchdowns, and improved to 38-1 as a starter.
Ohio State has allowed just 12.2 points per game and close November wins over Purdue, Illinois and Michigan all came down to big plays on defense.
The heart of the OSU defense is linebacker Matt Wilhelm, who had 111 tackles and 16 1/2 for losses, and defensive backs Chris Gamble and Michael Doss. Gamble has started the last five games at flanker and cornerback.
Also, running back Maurice Clarett set a Buckeye record for rushing yards by a freshman with 1,190 yards.
A healthy Clarett takes some of the pressure off underrated quarterback Craig Krenzel, who threw for 1,988 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Split end Michael Jenkins is a big-play receiver who caught 57 passes for 1,031 yards and six scores.
"We respect Miami and we know they're a great team, but there's not a guy on this team who doesn't think we can't compete, who doesn't think we can't go out and win," Krenzel said.
Miami has lost all three of its trips to the Fiesta Bowl, most recently a 29-0 setback to Arizona following the 1993 campaign. The most notable of the visits was a 14-10 loss to Penn State on Jan. 2, 1987, with the national title at stake.
Quarterbacks on display in NFL playoffs
GREEN BAY, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Quarterbacks will be in the spotlight as usual Saturday when the National Football League playoffs get underway with games at four sites.
One of the signal-callers, Brett Favre of the Packers, is a three-time MVP seeking his third trip to the Super Bowl. One, Peyton Manning, is a three-time Pro Bowler hoping for his first playoff win. Two others, Michael Vick and Chad Pennington, made the postseason in their first years as starters.
Favre and the Green Bay Packers (12-4) withstood a strong challenge by Vick and the Atlanta Falcons (9-6-1) in their season opener. The two will meet again at historic Lambeau Field Saturday night in the NFC wild-card round.
"It's old school against new school with Favre and Vick, and we think it's time for the new era," said Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan said.
Former division rivals face off in the AFC wild-card game when Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (10-6) visit Pennington and the New York Jets (9-7) Saturday afternoon.
The toughest assignment belongs to Vick, who will be asked to do what's never been done before: beat the Packers in a playoff game at Lambeau Field.
The most pressure is probably on Manning, who needs to win a playoff game to validate his standing as one of the league's elite quarterbacks.
Favre , 33, is the playoff veteran with the Super Bowl ring who thrives in the cold weather. At game time, 8 p.m. Eastern time, the temperature could be below freezing.
If so, that's when Favre has been unbeatable, going 35-0 in his career.
Originally drafted by the Falcons in 1991, Favre was traded to Green Bay a year later for a first-round pick and beat his former team in the playoffs here in 1995, 37-20. A year later, Favre led Green Bay to its first Super Bowl title in 29 years and another trip to the Super Bowl the following season.
A three-time MVP, Favre was runnerup for the award this season after throwing for 3,658 yards and 27 touchdowns, leading the Packers to the NFC North title.
Vick, 22, is the youngest and fastest quarterback in the NFL and led the Falcons to their first playoff berth since 1998 in his first year as a starter. After completing 60 percent of his passes with just two interceptions in his first 11 games, Vick completed just 48 percent with six interceptions in his last five.
The Packers know firsthand about him. They needed overtime to beat the Falcons, 37-34 in the season opener.
Favre completed 25-of-36 for 284 yards and a touchdown, rallying the Packers from a 21-13 halftime deficit.
Vick made a big impression on the Packers, completing 15-of-23 for 209 yards and running for 72 yards and a touchdown.
"All everybody wanted to talk about after the game was how good Vick was and he was unbelievable," said Packers Coach Mike Sherman. "We knew he was capable of making them a playoff team and he did."
Making the playoffs is no longer good enough for Manning, who at age 26 has made the Pro Bowl three times but is 0-2 in the postseason heading into Saturday's game.
"I guess if you were asking me after my 15th or 16th year, I might have a different answer," Manning said when asked of his playoff record. "But here I am, in my fifth year, and we're going to try to do a lot more than just win a playoff game this year."
Manning, the only quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, has been haunted somewhat by what he has not accomplished.
At Tennessee, he was 0-4 against rival Florida. For the Colts, he completed 19-of-42 passes for 227 yards in a home playoff loss to Tennessee three years ago, and threw for just 194 yards in a postseason loss at Miami two years ago.
"I think he's heard this a lot and people are going to say, 'Well, that's the measure of a quarterback in this league," said Colts Coach Tony Dungy. "All the good guys have heard that."
Meanwhile, Pennington hopes to continue a storybook season with a win in his first playoff game. After replacing Vinny Testaverde, Pennington led the Jets to an 8-4 record and an AFC East title.
With the Jets in must-win situations over the last two weeks of the season, Pennington threw for seven touchdowns and beat both reigning Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and Favre.
"You can't say enough about him," said Jets running back Curtis Martin. "We were in trouble early in the season and he took the baton and ran with it."
Pennington, a first-round pick in 2000, completing nearly 69 percent of his passes, throwing 22 touchdowns with six interceptions for a league-high passer rating of 104.2. He could become the fourth straight quarterback to start training camp as the backup and win a Super Bowl, following Kurt Warner of St. Louis, Trent Dilfer of Baltimore and Brady of New England.
This marks the first time since 1986 both New York teams made the playoffs in the same season.
The New York Giants (10-6), who won their last four games, visit the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers (10-6) on Sunday afternoon in the wild card round. The Cleveland Browns (9-7) are in the playoffs for the first time since the franchise was reborn in 1999 and will meet longtime division rival Pittsburgh (10-5-1) in the AFC wild card game on Sunday.
Report: Bryant to play in 2004 Olympics
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- It appears that Kobe Bryant will be a player in the Summer Olympics in 2004.
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that Bryant has notified USA Basketball of his intention to accept its invitation to play for the team in Athens, as well as next year's qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico.
"I just want to play," the Los Angeles Lakers star guard told the newspaper. "I want to compete and bring home what's rightfully ours."
With a team made up of players that clearly were not the best the NBA had to offer, the United States lost three times last summer and finished sixth in the World Championships, played at Indianapolis.
Superstar center Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to their third straight NBA title, did not play, nor did reigning MVP Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets, and Tracy McGrady of the Orlando Magic.
Duncan, Kidd, McGrady, and Milwaukee Bucks guard Ray Allen have committed to represent the U.S. in 2004, and Bryant reportedly has followed suit, although USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team Committee Chairman Stu Jackson has
not confirmed Bryant's acceptance.
In order to defend its Olympic gold medal in 2004, the U.S. must enter a team in next summer's FIBA America Olympic Qualifying Tournament and place in the top three.
O'Neal, who once dubbed himself the "Big Aristotle," said he likely would not play in the 2004 Olympics if Philadelphia's Larry Brown was named as Team USA coach instead of Phil Jackson of the Lakers, but did not entirely close the door on his participation.
Brown was named coach by USA Basketball on Nov. 26.
The U.S. is 109-2 all-time in the Olympics. The first loss was to Russia in the gold medal game in 1972. The second also came to Russia in the semifinals of the 1988 Games and prompted the use of professionals.
Driesell set to call it quits
ATLANTA, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Georgia State basketball coach Charles "Lefty" Driesell, the fourth winningest coach in Division I basketball history, will end his 41-year coaching career Friday.
A school spokesman said Driesell would either walk away immediately or make one final coaching appearance Saturday night at home against Gardner-Webb.
Driesell, 71, one of 14 finalists last year for the Basketball Hall of Fame, has 785 career wins and is the only coach to win 100 games at four different schools. He also shares an NCAA record by taking four teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Driesell missed the Panthers' 73-62 victory at Furman on Thursday night with the flu.
In his sixth season at the school, Driesell has a 102-59 record, but his team has struggled this season with a 4-6 mark.
At Georgia State, Driesell built the Panthers into a power, amassing five straight winning seasons and their first NCAA Tournament victory in 2001, when his club upset Wisconsin. It was at reigning national champion Maryland where Driesell left his mark.
Saying he wanted to built the school into "the UCLA of the East," he compiled a 348-159 record from 1969-86. In 1970, Driesell invented "Midnight Madness," where teams begin their seasons with a practice at midnight.
With the Terrapins, Driesell coached forward Len Bias, who later died of a drug overdose after being selected by the Boston Celtics in the NBA draft. He also recruited Moses Malone to Maryland, although Malone opted for the NBA rather than college.
After his departure from Maryland, Driesell coached for nine seasons at James Madison, going 159-111 before taking the Georgia State job in March 1997.
Driesell started his coaching career at Davidson, posting a 175-65 record from 1960-69.
Cubs ink Veres
CHICAGO, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The Chicago Cubs Friday signed righthander Dave Veres, a workhorse reliever, to a one-year contract.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal is reportedly worth $2 million.
The Cubs' bullpen was a major part of the team's struggles last season. Veres made 71 appearances each of the last three seasons, and totaled 48 saves for division St. Louis.
Veres, 36, went 5-8 with four saves and a 3.48 ERA last season. He was used primarily used as the set-up man for closer Jason Isringhausen.
Veres allowed 67 hits, walked 39 and struck out 68 in 82 2/3 innings. He had a career-high 31 saves in 1999 for the Colorado Rockies and 29 in 2000 for the Cardinals.
The nine-year veteran also has pitched for Houston and Montreal. He has a career record of 34-34 with 94 saves and a 3.38 ERA in 574 games.
Chicago (67-95) finished 30 games behind first-place St. Louis in the National League Central, and part of the reason was a weak bullpen.
The Cubs signed All-Star lefthanded reliever Mike Remlinger to a three-year contract on Dec. 3 to help the beleaguered bullpen.
Remlinger, 36, excelled as a setup man for the Braves last season, posting a 7-3 record and 1.99 ERA in 73 appearances.
Thursday, the Cubs agreed to terms on a minor league contract with former closer Rod Beck.
Beck, 34, who missed all of 2002 after undergoing "Tommy John" surgery on his pitching elbow, was 6-4 with six saves and a 3.90 ERA in 68 games with the Boston Red Sox in 2001.
Beck was with the Cubs from 1998-99, and is 35-41 with 266 saves and a 3.28 ERA in 642 career games. He had 51 saves with the Cubs in 1998, and received an invitation to spring training.
U.S. advances at Hopman
PERTH, Australia, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Australia beat the Czech Republic Thursday to advance to the final of the $1 million Hopman Cup.
The win came despite the loss suffered by world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, who was beaten by Jiri Novak, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. He had five titles in the 2002 season, including the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, and won easily in his first two Hopman matches this week.
Alicia Molik had given the Australians the lead as she beat Daja Bedanova, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5. Molik rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the first set, and then teamed with Hewitt for a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4) victory over Bedanova and Novak.
The tournament uses a "super" tiebreaker, in which the first team to 10 points, by at least two points, wins.
Earlier Thursday, Kim Clijsters and Xavier Malisse led Belgium to a 3-0 win over Uzbekistan. Clijsters, the fourth-ranked woman in the world, cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 romp over Iroda Tulyagnova in a match that lasted just 57 minutes. Malisse had a little more difficulty, but posted a 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2 victory over Oleg Ogorodov.
Clijsters and Malisse routed Tulyaganova and Ogorodov, 6-1, 6-1, in 41 minutes to advance to a meeting with the United States on Friday. The U.S. beat defending champion Spain, 3-0, on Wednesday.
Australia faces the U.S. or Belgium in the final Saturday.