No. 8 Florida, Miami embrace spotlight as they start season

By MARK LONG AP Sports Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida and Miami have the college football stage to themselves for 3 ½ hours Saturday, a new chapter in their once-heated and storied rivalry.
The eighth-ranked Gators and the rebuilding Hurricanes will usher in the 2019 season inside a packed stadium in Orlando, surrounded by sideline celebrities and in front of a coast-to-coast television audience.
“Everybody’s watching,” Florida receiver Freddie Swain said. “Who doesn’t like attention?”
The winner surely will revel in the spotlight, and both teams have embraced the opportunity to set the tone for the season in front of way more than friends, fans and family members.
“What are they going to see?” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “What’s our stamp? When every college person in the country turns on their TV, what’s their thought when they see the Florida Gators? We have to go out there and live up to that on the field.
“What do you want them to think about you?”
The Gators certainly think highly of themselves, especially after notching 10 wins in Mullen’s first season and closing out that inaugural campaign with resounding victories against Florida State (41-14) and Michigan (41-15).
Florida now has its highest preseason ranking since Urban Meyer’s final year in Gainesville in 2010 and sounds more than optimistic heading into the opener. Players don’t seem to care — most don’t even know — that they’ve lost seven of the last eight and 12 of 16 against Miami.
“I think this team is really special,” Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “We expect to go out there and win every Saturday and try to make it a playoff contender and win a championship here again. That’s the expectations here every year.”
It hasn’t been the reality since Meyer’s departure.
But Mullen has the program on the upswing. Florida jumped eight spots, from 13th to fifth, in scoring in the Southeastern Conference during Mullen’s debut season — the kind of offensive prowess that’s been missing in Gainesville since Tim Tebow graduated.
Miami coach Manny Diaz, who spent two years working for Mullen at Mississippi State, can only hope for something similar in his first season as a head coach. The team’s former defensive coordinator inherited a team mixed with holdovers and holes.
“I want to find out can we handle adversity,” he said.
Diaz brought in former Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, who also won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, to speak to his players this week. Mullen countered with Tebow, who won his only game against the Hurricanes.
Johnson went 3-1 against Florida during his stint with the Canes and certainly has more insight into the series than others around town.
“Being in this city, with so much history and things like that, it’s hard to stay focused,” Miami linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “You can go to Winn-Dixie and a fan will try to give you the illustrious history of Miami and why this game is so important.”
Here are some other things to know about the 56th meeting between the schools:
Miami’s Jarren Williams will become the Hurricanes’ 13th different starting quarterback in the last 20 years , and if history is any indicator, he won’t put up massive numbers against the Gators. Starting with Ken Dorsey’s debut in 1999, Miami quarterbacks have averaged 177 yards passing in their first starts. Malik Rosier threw for the most out of that group, 272 yards against Duke in 2015.
“He hasn’t been in that fire. He hasn’t been in the heat. He hasn’t seen a bunch of pressure coming at him,” Florida defensive tackle Adam Shuler said. “If we do our job, we can rattle him.”
Keep an eye on both offensive lines, which could have their hands full against stout defenses.
Florida has four new starters up front, including tackles Stone Forsythe and Jean Delance. Miami is even younger, with tackles Zion Nelson and John Campbell making their first career starts against the Gators.
ESPN will air its signature “College GameDay” show from Disney World’s Magic Kingdom on Saturday, but there are rules — such as no signs and no flags. And that means the Washington State flag, which has flown at every GameDay site since 2003, might see its appearance streak end. Ol’ Crimson, as it is known, has been to at least 72 cities and 34 states for GameDay since its streak of flying high on the show began.
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Unbeaten Japan takes on Curacao in Little League semifinal

By TYLER KING Associated Press
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Japan is just one win away from its eighth Little League World Series championship game appearance this decade. The Chofu City Little League team is continuing what has been a dominant run in South Williamsport for a country with a population of nearly 127 million.
The only thing standing in Japan’s way? A team from the tiny island of Curacao, which has a population of just 162,000. That’s smaller than the population of Chofu City, which has almost 230,000 residents.
But this is no David vs. Goliath matchup.
The teams will meet Saturday at Lamade Stadium, with the victor earning a place in the championship game against either Hawaii or Louisiana.
STORY SO FAR: While Japan has outscored its opponents by 30 runs in its 3-0 start to the tournament, Curacao has a run differential of plus-23 in its five games in South Williamsport.
Outside of two solo home runs allowed against South Korea on Wednesday, the Japanese pitching staff has had an unblemished performance. Japan blew out Italy 20-0 in its opening game then followed that with convincing wins over Mexico (5-0) and South Korea (7-2) to reach this point.
Curacao has had to fight back through the losers’ bracket this week to make it to Saturday’s game. The Caribbean regional champions lost to South Korea 4-0 on Sunday, but got redemption on Thursday with a 5-3 win that included a first inning grand slam by Clay Winklaar.
WHO TO WATCH: Japan will have every member of its talented pitching staff available to throw in Saturday’s game, but it might be the only player not to start a game who has stood out the most. Yuto Misaki has made a relief appearance in all three of Japan’s games and hasn’t allowed a run in 5 ? innings, while striking out nine batters.
Curacao’s Curley Martha has been a force at the plate all tournament. He’s 8-for-13 with a pair of home runs and six RBIs. His solo home run helped provide an insurance run in the win over South Korea on Thursday and he’s driven in a run in all but one of Curacao’s games so far.
DID YOU KNOW: Jurdrick Profar, the youngest brother of Oakland Athletics infielder Jurickson Profar, is the third Profar brother to play in the Little League World Series and has been a key contributor to the Curacao team. When Jurdrick takes the field Saturday, all three of the Profar brothers will have made it as far as the international championship.
Jurickson helped lead Curacao to its only Little League title in 2004, while Juremi was a part of the team that lost to Japan in the international championship in 2007.
Tyler King is a journalism student at Penn State University.

Raiders edge Packers on 80-yard field in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Daniel Carlson kicked a 33-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining, and the Oakland Raiders earned a bizarre 22-21 preseason victory over the Green Bay Packers on a field shortened to 80 yards for player safety.
End zones were marked by bright orange pylons at the 10-yard lines and there were no kickoffs. The field was reconfigured because of concerns about the areas where the goal posts for the CFL’s Winnipeg franchise were removed and covered with turf.
Before warmups, game officials and staff from both clubs examined the turf that covered the goal post spots for 110-yard CFL games. The goal posts would have been inside the NFL end zones.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur decided to sit 33 players, including star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and running back Aaron Jones. Rodgers hasn’t played in the preseason.
Oakland didn’t play starters, including quarterback Derek Carr or receiver Antonio Brown.
“We were going to have all our starters play, and it was just one of those deals,” LaFleur said. “We certainly have all played on much worse surfaces in our life, but it was just one of those deals where they weren’t playing their starters and so we just decided to sit them.”
It was the first NFL game in Canada since the Buffalo Bills faced the Atlanta Falcons in December 2013 to finish a run of eight games in Toronto.
Packers quarterback Tim Boyle said he checked out a turf-covered spot during warmup.
“It was just a little raised,” Boyle said. “But it’s something you don’t really want to play around with, especially guys who, this is their living. This puts food on the table for them, so you don’t want to mess around with injuries.”
Oakland coach Jon Gruden said the playing surface didn’t concern him.
“I’m not going to make a big deal about the field,” Gruden said. “We liked the field. We thought the field was perfectly ready to roll. You’ll have to ask Green Bay about that.”
The Raiders decided to move one of their two home exhibition games to Winnipeg in a move that saved them $500,000 in rent at the Oakland Coliseum. The team is planning to move to Las Vegas in 2020.
Tim Boyle, Rodgers’ backup, threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Davis and a 26-yarder to Jake Kumerow. Tra Carson ran for a touchdown for the Packers, and Green Bay led 21-10 at halftime.
The Raiders’ Nathan Peterman threw two touchdown passes, including a 17-yarder to De’Mornay Pierson-El in the fourth quarter that cut Green Bay’s lead to 21-19. His 2-point conversion attempt was intercepted. Peterman finished 23 of 37 for 210 yards.
Packers: End their preseason schedule by hosting the Kansas City Chiefs next Thursday night.
Raiders: At Seattle on Thursday night.
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Alabama QB Tagovailoa absorbs lessons from title game

By JOHN ZENOR AP Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Tua Tagovailoa has been studying men from the Bible, incluiding Joseph, Moses and David.
The Alabama quarterback believes he can draw from their successes and failures and the fact that they each had some of both. Tagovailoa can relate to their experiences after an almost too-good-to-be-true start to his college career.
National championship game hero. Heisman Trophy front-runner. Gaudy stats.
Then came his very public run-in with failure in January’s national title matchup against Clemson, when Tagovailoa threw an early pick-six and was outplayed by Tigers freshman Trevor Lawrence . The topics of his Bible studies with little brother and fellow Crimson Tide quarterback, Taulia, and team chaplain Scotty Hollins give a glimpse of how Tagovailoa views that experience.
For him, it’s something to grow from.
“It’s almost like a ‘Facing the Giants’ type thing, guys who have been successful within the Bible,” Tagovailoa said in an interview shortly before one of his regular lunches with Hollins and Taulia. “But with them being successful, they had to go through all these trials. And some of them were successful at an early age then they went through trials and were humbled and then became successful (again). And some were just failures and then they became a success.
“It’s just awesome how it can relate to something like football.”
The parallel for Alabama and its star quarterback started early with Tagovailoa and the Tide rolling through the 2018 regular season looking virtually unstoppable and racking up such huge numbers that he scarcely had to play in the fourth quarters.
Then things stopped going so smoothly. Tagovailoa struggled in the Southeastern Conference championship game after injuring his left ankle early and later exited after the right one got hurt, too.
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman and Tagovailoa was second. Their respective conference championship game performances certainly didn’t help Tagovailoa’s case.
Tagovailoa, who led the nation in passing efficiency, will again be among the Heisman favorites going into this season when Alabama opens Aug. 31 against Duke in Atlanta.
His debut season as starter — after coming off the bench to lead a rally in the national title game against Georgia as a freshman — would be hard to improve on. Except, of course, for the ending.
Hard but not impossible.
“I think Tua is the kind of guy that’s never really satisfied,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “And I think he had an outstanding year last year. Are there things that he can improve on? I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
One offseason emphasis has been to better know when to settle for the safe play instead of trying to force a big one. Another focus has been shedding the weight Tagovailoa gained while recovering from the late-season injury. He cut out starches and sweets and drinks mainly water. His Dad, Galu, helped enforce the healthy habits over the summer with his sons.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Tagovailoa believes he’s in significantly better shape this season. He bought an Apple Watch to keep track of his steps, racking up a personal high of 28,000-plus.
There was no raiding the fridge or snack-hunting trips at night when at home.
“My Dad makes us diet,” he said. “We can’t really drive a car to go eat late at night or what-not. The nearest gas station is pretty far from us, too, so we can’t get any snacks. The kitchen is right where they’re sleeping.”
Tagovailoa set Alabama single-season records with 3,966 passing yards and 43 touchdowns while leading the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense. With then-offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and a dangerous group of receivers led by Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, Tagovailoa turned Alabama’s offense into a passing and scoring machine . It was anything but the typical Tide offense.
Tagovailoa only threw six interceptions, but four of them came in the national and SEC title games. Tagovailoa knows that some fans — especially of opposing teams — are going to judge him by that finale.
“I think anyone, even the guys who are in the NFL, can say this: You’re only as good as your last play,” Tagovailoa said. “And I definitely think that every single day, you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to prove yourself. It doesn’t matter if you had success on one game or 14 games. If you don’t have success in one game, I mean you’re only as good as your last game.
“People don’t see the 14 games, they only see that last game.”
Tagovailoa is hoping for a happier ending this time.
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Ex-NFL lineman Bennett, wife found dead; son sought

LONG PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Authorities in Minnesota are investigating the deaths of a former NFL lineman and his wife and say the couple’s son is a suspect.
The bodies of 63-year-old Barry Bennett and his wife, Carol, were found Wednesday after a friend went to their home in Long Prairie for a welfare check.
Todd County Sheriff Todd Och said 22-year-old Dylan John Bennett is a suspect and asked anyone with information on his whereabouts to contact authorities.
Barry Bennett played 11 seasons with New Orleans, the New York Jets and Minnesota.
The Star Tribune reported Bennett had retired from teaching physical education in Long Prairie, a town of about 3,500 people about two hours northwest of Minneapolis. Superintendent Jon Kringen said Bennett rarely talked about his NFL career unless someone asked.

Baseball fan born in 1908 celebrates her 111th birthday

SUNAPEE, N.H. (AP) — A woman has celebrated her 111th birthday in New Hampshire with a bunch of cupcakes and a tribute from singers.
Hazel Nilson was born Aug. 21, 1908, in Chicago. A lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, she likes to say she was born the last time the team won the World Series before their big comeback in 2016.
Nilson, a former physical education teacher, has been a resident of Sunapee Cove in Sunapee, New Hampshire, since October 2014. Before that, she lived in Stone Lake, Wisconsin.
Wearing a cake-shaped hat, Nilson sampled a peach cupcake at her party Wednesday. The Sunapee Singers sang “Take Me out to the Ball Game” in her honor.
When asked if she has any secret to her longevity, she said don’t fret, smile, and enjoy life.

Ex-pitcher says he’s interested in running for House seat

PHOENIX (AP) — If former major league pitcher Curt Schilling runs for Congress in Arizona, he said it might be for Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran’s seat.
Schilling announced last week that he’s thinking about a bid for a U.S. House seat, and he has reached out to the Arizona Republican Party, the Arizona Republic reported Wednesday.
“Am I going to run? I don’t know yet,” Schilling said during a livestream on Facebook. “I honestly don’t know yet. It’s still an ongoing discussion in our home.”
Schilling, who lives in Massachusetts, said he’s interested in O’Halleran’s district. But he’s still planning out what he wants to do.
O’Halleran said Schilling has name recognition, but he’s not too concerned about a possible faceoff for the mostly rural district in eastern Arizona.
“If I were in a primary with him, I’d probably be a little more worried about him than I would be in a general election,” O’Halleran said.
O’Halleran is serving his second term. Democrats have won the seat five out of six times since 2008.
Schilling helped the Arizona Diamondbacks win its only World Series championship in 2001. He won another World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004.
He later worked as a commentator for ESPN, but he was fired in 2016 for controversial comments shared on Facebook.
“He has some pretty far-right issues concerning a number of different areas, and he hasn’t ever been involved in public policy — and he has some issues coming from the East Coast that he would have to bring with him,” O’Halleran said.
Schilling is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, who tweeted encouragement for the possible House run.
“If I were him, I’d be far more worried about the fact that Americans woke up in 2016, and apparently are wide awake now and seeing a radical socialist agenda being pushed on the American people,” Schilling said in response to O’Halleran’s comments.

Smith-Schuster now a youthful leader of Steelers’ receivers

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Still a wide-smiling 22-year-old, JuJu Smith-Schuster vows not to change the youthful, fun-loving persona that helped make him one of the NFL’s most recognizable young stars by his second season.
But that doesn’t mean he lacks the wisdom to recognize that he is now a veteran, nor the self-awareness to understand there is heightened pressure to produce now that he is the unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Obviously, all eyes are on me,” Smith-Schuster said before practice Wednesday, “and the biggest question is, ‘How are the Steelers going to be without two great players that we used to have?’ And, ‘How is JuJu going to do without AB?'”
AB, of course, is Antonio Brown, the former lead dog of the Steelers’ receivers corps who joined fellow former All Pro running back Le’Veon Bell in acrimoniously splitting from the team. Brown ultimately was traded to the Oakland Raiders.
That leaves Smith-Schuster, coming off a Pro Bowl sophomore NFL season, as the clear focal point of the Steelers’ passing game.
As Smith-Schuster alluded to, eyes across the league are on him to see if he can replicate his 111-catch, 1,426-yard 2018 he had now that Brown is not there to siphon opponents’ attention. Smith-Schuster alone figures to be the man on whom defensive coordinators devote their double-teams.
Off the field, Smith-Schuster quickly has gone from 20-year-old rookie to the Steelers’ longest continuously tenured piece of the team’s wide receivers room.
While part of his popularity among fans and likeability among teammates comes from the image of him riding his bicycle to work or getting into water balloon fights with kids, Smith-Schuster knows that even if he would have remained the youngest at his position on his team, things are different now.
“I’m still myself. I would never change that,” Smith-Schuster said. “But obviously, I have become more vocal in our receiver room.
“The amount of years playing on this team, the most experience, I fall in that category, so I can see myself being even more vocal and just being more of a leader in that room.”
Along with many teammates, Smith-Schuster had no choice but to mature when tragedy struck during training camp. Receivers coach Darryl Drake was found dead at 62 in his Saint Vincent College dormitory room earlier this month.
Addressing Drake’s death publicly for the first time since, Smith-Schuster said there’s “really no words” to describe Drake’s impact “because he was a great man in every category in life.”
Smith-Schuster was wearing two rubber bracelets he had made, one each with a quote Drake said to his players this year. “Shut out the noise” — a subtle reference to moving on without Brown — was Drake’s unofficial Steelers receivers 2019 credo. Smith-Schuster relayed Drake’s final daily inspirational saying that he passed along, too:
“‘Never choose good when great is available.’ And obviously that means don’t settle for less, don’t be satisfied for what you have now. When great is out there, go achieve it.”
That applies to Smith-Schuster, who if he can prove he can operate without Brown’s presence could elevate his league-wide status to superstar. If Smith-Schuster’s numbers improve on last season’s, there is little doubt it will.
“He’s a young guy, very energetic, he likes to fun,” new Steelers receiver Donte Moncrief, 26, said of Smith-Schuster. “But the thing about him is that at the same time, when it comes down to locking in and making plays and play ball, he’s ready. And that’s one thing I’ve learned about him, he’s ready to make plays and he’s ready to do the things people say he can’t do.”

LA Wildcats, DC Defenders among teams in new XFL

By Joe Reedy
AP Sports Writer

The XFL has names for its eight teams, now it needs players.
The league, which begins play in February, revealed team logos and names Wednesday. The teams are the Los Angeles Wildcats, New York Guardians, DC Defenders, Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, St. Louis BattleHawks, Seattle Dragons and Tampa Bay Vipers.
“We’re sincere in our belief that it is up to fans and players to write the story. We have written the headline and now the story will be what happens on the field,” league President and COO Jeffrey Pollack said.
Commissioner Oliver Luck said the league will soon announce additional signings from the first round of commissioner invitations that were extended earlier this month. The XFL recently signed former Oklahoma and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones as its first player.
“We’ve anxiously awaiting the Labor Day cuts that will take place where there will be another group of players available,” Luck said. “Things have gone as well as expected.”
Luck said the draft will be in October. Playing rules are still being tweaked after the league held a session in California with coaches, Fox and ESPN last month.
The XFL announced in 2017 that it was coming back after it went one season in 2001 before shutting down.

For Celtics, USA World Cup camp is a preseason bonus

By Tim Reynolds
AP Basketball Writer

Red, white and blue. The colors of USA Basketball.
Except this summer, green — Celtics green, to be precise — would work on that palette as well.
The Boston Celtics will have at least three and possibly four players on the final 12-man roster that USA Basketball will take to China next week for the FIBA World Cup. So these Team USA practices have been a get-to-know-you bonus of sorts for new Celtics guard Kemba Walker and Boston teammates Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.
“It’s pretty cool,” Brown said. “It’s a blessing, of course. I take it very seriously to be able to represent not only your family and Boston but the country. We take it serious, and we come to play basketball.”
Walker, Tatum and Brown seem like locks to make the final U.S. roster. Smart is perhaps a question mark only because of a strained calf that he’s been dealing with since the first week of training camp in Las Vegas earlier this month. He’s expected to play Thursday when the Americans play a pre-World Cup exhibition against Australia in Melbourne — with a crowd of about 50,000 expected.
The U.S.-Australia game is at Marvel Stadium, the third-biggest stadium in the Australian Football League. Ed Sheeran packed a total of more than a quarter-million people in there for a series of four concerts last year, about 45,000 fans were there for a FIFA World Cup qualifier in 2013 and now another massive crowd is coming for a FIBA World Cup warmup.
“This definitely will be the most amount of people I’ve ever played in front of,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said. “So I’m excited about it.”
For the Celtics, getting this time together before training camp in October is a clear perk — especially since Walker, who will take over for Kyrie Irving at point guard in Boston, could obviously benefit from extra time around his new teammates who all just happen to be very big parts of Celtics coach Brad Stevens’ game plans on a nightly basis.
But when USA is across their chest, they’re not thinking about what’ll be happening in Boston.
“I was already coming, regardless,” Walker said. “Before I even signed with the Celtics, I was already committed to this.”
The non-Celtics teammates have made a bit of a running joke about Boston bonds being formed in USA camp, talking about how when they see multiple Celtics together they immediately send someone over to break them up. The reality, of course, is that Brown, Tatum and Smart were close already.
And Walker feels like he has the personality to fit in with anyone.
“It goes hand in hand and for me I’m all about the camaraderie, all about the togetherness,” Walker said. “I’ve always felt that your off the court relationships translate on the court. I’ve always felt that way, I’ve always been big on that way so that’s why I’m trying my best to get acclimated to those guys as best I can.”
The games against Australia — the teams will meet again in Melbourne on Saturday — even get the Celtics a chance to face some former Celtics. Aron Baynes, a key player for Boston over the last two seasons before getting traded to Phoenix on draft night, is expected to be in the lineup for the Aussies.
“I played with Aron Baynes for two years with the Celtics and he was one of my favorite guys to play with, favorite people,” Tatum said. “So I’m excited to play against him, for a change.”
There will be other familiar ties during the U.S.-Australia games.
Among them: U.S. guard Donovan Mitchell and Australia guard Joe Ingles are teammates with the Utah Jazz, Australian center Andrew Bogut has been coached by U.S. assistant Steve Kerr when they’re together with Golden State, and U.S. coach Gregg Popovich will likely be seeing one of his longtime San Antonio players Patty Mills in uniform for the Australians.
Popovich sees these games as serious tests for the Americans.
“They are one of the teams that can win the whole thing, without a doubt,” Popovich said when asked about Australia’s World Cup chances. “I’m not saying that because I’m here. It’s just a fact.”
The Americans are taking these games seriously. Time is running out to get ready for their Sept. 1 World Cup opener in Shanghai against the Czech Republic, and Walker knows there’s much left to be done.
That’s why, he said, the focus is on the USA — not Boston, yet.
“Right now, we are just focused on getting our stuff down pat, the things we work on in practice, our plays, our defensive schemes, rotations, things like that,” Walker said. “We’re trying to clean those things up. Of course, we want to win. Both teams want to win. We’ll go out there and battle as much as we can, but the main goal right now is to get better game-by-game, day-by-day, practice-by-practice, leading up to China.”