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Rays trade pitcher Drew Smyly for Mallex Smith, prospects

The Tampa Bay Rays, still trying to escape from the AL East cellar, have added some speed to their roster.

The Rays traded pitcher Drew Smiley for young outfielder Mallex  Smith and prospects Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough. Smith will fit into a suddenly crowded outfield, which also will feature free agent Colby Rasmus, signed two days ago.

Smith stole 16 bases for the Atlanta Braves last year. He has 299 steals in the minor leagues.

Smith, 23, would help the Rays’ outfield makeup by added speed and defense. Rasmus, too, is considered a plus outfielder. He hit .238 last year.

You have to give up something to get something,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said on the team’s website. “But the type of deal we made, the return we got, we thought was something that made sense for us. We’re eager to see how it plays out from here.

“We are heavier with starting pitching than we are in some other areas. And this is an opportunity for us. One of the goals we set out to accomplish this winter was to put ourselves in position to be competitive in 2017, and we’re really doing everything we can to increase competition within our group, be more dynamic and have a greater mix and see how it shakes out.”

Smyly was available because of the Rays’ glut of starting pitchers and his salary. He was schedule to make $6.9 million this season through arbitration. Acquired from Detroit at the July 31, 2014 trade deadline in the David Price trade, Smyly was 15-15 with a 3.95 ERA in 49 starts with the Rays, including 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA last season.

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Examining the expectations for Florida football teams in 2017

If the early prognostications mean anything, then a level of success is going to surround the state of Florida in 2017.

Most of the too-soon predictions for next season have FSU contending for a playoff spot. They think USF could have its best season ever. They think Florida and Miami will both be solid. The predictions come despite FSU losing Dalvin Cook, despite Florida losing much of its defense, despite USF losing Marlon Mack and despite UM losing Brad Kaaya.

ESPN has FSU second in the nation to Alabama. CBS has the Seminoles third. Sporting News has FSU sixth, same as Pro Football Focus. SB Nation has FSU fourth.

USF is 10th by CBS. They’re 20th on ESPN, 25th on Sporting News, 15th by Pro Football Focus and 21st by SB Nation.

Florida is ranked 21st by ESPN, 14th by Sporting News, 21st by Pro Football Focus and 18th by SB Nation. They are unranked by CBS.

UM is 16th by ESPN, 24th by CBS, 21st by Sporting News, 17th by Pro Football Focus and 19th by SB Nation.

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Have we reached the point of ticket scalping for FSU basketball?

It is January, when the Florida State faithful like to talk about the impending National Signing Day for football or spring practice, which is nearly three months away. We have breaking news. People are actually talking about basketball in the state capital.

The FSU men’s basketball team has the attention of Seminole Nation. It took a top ten ranking (No. 9), a packed house and a spanking of seventh-ranked Duke, but the FSU bandwagon is now fully loaded.

Going into Tuesday night’s showdown with the Blue Devils, interest had piqued sufficiently to actually have students and fans eagerly anticipating a basketball game in January. The conversation among Seminoles’ sports fans may have gone something like “it’s great that 5-star running back Cam Akers committed to FSU, but I need two tickets to the Duke game on Tuesday.”

People go to movies, attend plays, and go to concerts because they like the entertainment. Basketball teams can find ways to win games, but do not necessarily look good doing it.

These guys are truly entertaining to watch. (So, too, is the FSU women’s team, also ranked in the top ten).

The best comparison of the FSU style is to the “40 minutes of hell” storm employed by then-Arkansas Razorbacks’ Coach Nolan Richardson. The constant pressure defense carried out by superb athletes led the Hogs to the 1994 NCAA Championship.

That is unquestionably how FSU opponents feel after each game. Just ask Duke.

Wave after wave of either quick or long (or both) athletes coming at you has an effect. Coach Leonard Hamilton uses 10, 11 or even 12 players during a game to facilitate the attacking style.

Opponents, meanwhile, may have only six or seven players they can count on. By the second half they begin to wear down while the Seminoles keep their foot on the accelerator.

The result is a 16-1 record, their best start ever. They would be 17-0, but let an 18-point lead slip away against Temple on November 24.

At that point of the season, Florida State was playing something like “10 minutes of heck.” Since buying into Hamilton’s pressure defense scheme, they have won 12 consecutive games, a school record.

Hamilton has recruited several quality players to Tallahassee during his tenure at FSU, but his teams have not been able to put everything together. They won the ACC Tournament in 2012, but were an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

They have not returned since.

Hamilton had even more success on the recruiting trail over the past two years. Dwayne Bacon was a highly-regarded player out of Lakeland, who had a sterling freshman season last year and has improved upon that.

Jonathan Isaac from Naples was a top-15 national high school player, who has already demonstrated his talent this year. Trent Forrest and C.J. Walker are other freshmen adding depth. Sophomores Terrance Mann and PJ Savoy add quickness and a shooting touch, respectively.

Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes is dynamite when he’s focused while graduate student Michael Ojo has improved enough to make solid contributions at center. Plus, Ojo is so big (7’1”, 305 lbs.) he seemingly blots out the opposing basket. One could literally list a dozen players that have made contributions to this team.

FSU is in the middle of a brutal stretch of games where they play six consecutive ranked teams. With the win over Duke, they are now 3-0 in those games.

A big test looms on Saturday when they face No. 11 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. They have already proven they can win in tough places with their 60-58 victory at eleventh-ranked Virginia. Hardly anyone wins there.

During FSU’s NCAA Tournament drought, Hamilton has heard several cries calling for his ouster. No one wants to fire Hamilton now.

After this six-game stretch concludes, the basketball world may know not only whether Florida State is a candidate for the tournament, but whether they are Final Four material. Or better?

Following the North Carolina game, No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 14 Louisville come to the Tucker Civic Center.

Barring significant injuries, they will be in the conversation. But as coaches like to preach (correctly), it’s one game at a time.

Two months ago, which would have been the most unlikely to occur? Donald J. Trump elected President or basketball ticket scalping at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center?

Tough call.

 

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No. 9 FSU beats No. 7 Duke for record 12th straight win

Florida State celebrated its return to the top 10 with another impressive performance, wearing down Duke with its size and depth.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, helping the ninth-ranked Seminoles pull away from the No. 7 Blue Devils for an 88-72 win on Tuesday night.

Playing its first regular-season game as a top-10 team since 1993, Florida State rolled to its school-record 12th straight victory, breaking a mark that had stood since 1970. The Seminoles (16-1, 4-0) also improved to 4-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time.

“They definitely got frustrated in the second half because they don’t have as many guys they can sub as we do,” said Dwayne Bacon, who had 13 points. “We’re gonna wear teams down all year until a team that can match our depth will be able to play with us like we have.”

Florida State’s reserves outscored their counterparts 21-4, but the biggest difference was points in the paint. With Duke’s Amile Jefferson sidelined by a bone bruise in his right foot, the Seminoles enjoyed a 56-28 scoring advantage inside.

When Duke started putting more pressure on Bacon and Terance Mann (13 points) in the second half, it created more space for Rathan-Mayes, who was 7 for 13 from the floor for the game.

“It was me taking and reading what the defense gave me,” Rathan-Mayes said. “They were trying to take Bacon out of his sweet spot and I saw a few gaps where I was able to be aggressive and knock down a few jumpers.”

The Blue Devils took a 50-48 lead on a Luke Kennard jumper before the Seminoles grabbed control with a 16-4 run over a five-minute span. All but two of the points came in the paint.

“They are a good team to keep out of the paint. They drive and ball screen you to death,” Duke interim coach Jeff Capel said. “Obviously size they can throw it up there and hurt you on the glass. They throw guys on you and wear you out.”

Kennard led Duke (14-3, 2-2) with 23 points, and Jayson Tatum had 21.

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Clemson, Alabama overshadow Jaguars personnel moves

The College Football Playoff Championship Game was a victim of bad scheduling. When news emerged that the Jacksonville Jaguars had hired Doug Marrone as their Head Coach and Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice-President of Football Operations, who cared about a silly college football game?

While Deshaun Watson and company were upsetting Alabama on Monday night, didn’t much of the nation miss part of it because they were glued to the NFL Network?

The answer is, of course, an emphatic NO.

This little exercise in sarcasm is designed to question the Jaguars’ timing, not the wisdom, of this all-important announcement for their fans and community.

Not that these are anything but quality hires. That will be determined later, but the rollout does cause a bit of head scratching.

Why would you make such an announcement on a day football fans are focused on the college championship? Yes, things were beginning to leak out, as they always do, but that does not mean the team had to comment unless they wished to do so.

“We cannot confirm those rumors,” is a line that always works, because it is always true.

The hiring of Marrone, Coughlin and the extension of team general manager David Caldwell represent the biggest moves the team will make until draft day. Jags.com described them as “eye-opening changes.” You bet they are.

On the other hand, by the time Hunter Renfrow caught the championship-winning pass for Clemson, how many were unaware – even in Jacksonville – about these eye-openers before closing their eyes to sleep early Tuesday morning?

By participating in the story on Monday, the Jaguars have allowed others to control the narrative until Thursday’s official introductory press conference. Owner Shad Khan said the right things, including the introduction of the three, but those things could have been said on a day where competition for news coverage was far less intense.

“I have confidence that one day soon, we’ll look back on today’s news as the moment that inspired and ultimately established the Jacksonville Jaguars as a football team that wins, week to week and season to season,” Khan said in his statement. “The results will speak for themselves in time, but with Tom coming in to join Dave and Doug, there is no question the Jacksonville Jaguars are a stronger football team today.”

These moves are not likely to be fully embraced by what is left of Jaguar Nation. All three, in some aspects represent the past and the present. Only winning will win them over.

Those buying the tickets wanted change. Make the Jaguars Great Again!

Or at least 10-6!

On Thursday, the Jaguars will be the center of attention in their community. It is then the questions will come about the circumstances behind Marrone’s departure as Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, and will Marrone be intimidated by Coughlin hovering over him?

Hopefully the leadership team will be asked for their plan to make the Jags winners again.

Hopefully things will go well on Thursday. In the end, success will first be measured in season ticket sales before the team ever takes the field.

Confidence in the team’s direction will go a long way to putting people in seats at EverBank Field. The drive to make Khan’s statement come true begins now.

Correction; It began on Monday night.

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FSU ranked eighth in final AP poll; three other state teams ranked

In the final Associated Press poll of the year, the debate anymore is not who is No. 1.

It’s how the rest of the field sorts out.

This year, for instance, there was never any doubt that Clemson and Alabama would be 1-2 in the polls. But Southern Cal climbed to No. 3 in the final poll.

The two national semifinal losers finished behind the Trojans. Washington was fourth and Ohio State sixth (behind Oklahoma).

Four of Florida’s teams made the top 20 in the poll. FSU finished No. 8 and Florida No. 14 in the polls. USF finished 19th, the first time ever the team has been ranked in the final poll. Miami was 20th.

LSU was 13th. The Tigers, Florida and USF all climbed six spots in the final poll.

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The road for Deshaun Watson started with help from Warrick Dunn

Think of it as Warrick Dunn helping with a few more memories.

Dunn has given away homes to single parents for years as part of the legacy of his mother, an off-duty policewoman who was slain while escorting a businesswoman to the bank to make a deposit when Dunn was only 11 years old. In all, Dunn has given away 152 homes.

Turns out, one of those who benefitted from Dunn’s generosity was Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who grew up in a home provided by Dunn. His new home was furnished, came with a television and a computer, plus cabinets full of food and a lawn mower.

“I felt grown having my own room,” Watson said. “Just having my own bed, not really being squished, not really worrying about someone sneaking up on me, it was a great moment,  a special moment.”

Dunn was pleased to learn Watson’s family has done well.

“We just try to help put people in safer environments and give kids an opportunity,” Dunn told the Associated Press. “You never know what impact you will have. You hope it’s a positive impact.”

Watson had his second straight championship game with more than 400 yards passing and led a last-second comeback.

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Rays add Colby Rasmus to their outfield, need bullpen help

The Tampa Bay Rays may have to tweak their starting rotation.

Obviously, the bullpen needs work.

As far as the regular lineup, however, the Rays have gotten better this off-season with the addition of Colby Rasmus and catcher Wilson Ramos. Whether they have done enough remains to be seen, but it’s a start toward fixing last year’s 68-94 record, the only non-winning team in the AL East.

Rasmus has had four 20-home run seasons and is thought of as an excellent defender.

Part of the equation, of course, will be when, and how many games, Ramos can catch. Another part will be how much Rasmus can hit. Rasmus hit only .206 last year in an injury-plagued year.

Still, the lineup of Brad Miller at first, Logan Forsythe at second, Matt Duffy at short, Evan Longoria at third and Ramos behind the plate has some promise. Rasmus would slide into left, with Corey Dickerson at DH. Kevin Kiermaier is in center and Steven Souza in right.

After Alex Colome, the pen needs attention, as does the rotation, where only Jake Odorizzi had a winning record a year ago.

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Clemson scores with one second left to dethrone Alabama

Deshaun Watson, it seems, had grown weary of the background.

No. 3 in the Heisman voting, 2015.

No. 2 in the Heisman voting, 2016.

No. 2 in the national championship playoffs, 2015.

For most of Monday night’s game against favored Alabama, it seemed that Watson might finish short of the finish line again. Instead, he led Clemson on a 68-yard drive in the last 127 seconds, throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow to pull out a 35-31 victory over the Crimson Tide.

It was an upset win for the Tigers, who were facing a team that many had begun to refer as the best team in history. A year ago, despite 405 yards passing by Watson, the Tigers had dropped a 45-40 decision to Alabama.

This time, Watson threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Clemson comeback.

“I told my team that the lights they had shine inside of them would be brighter than the light that shined on them,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “It’s been 35 years.

“There was no upset tonight. That’s the last thing I told them when we left the locker room. I said, when we win the game tonight I don’t want to hear one word about this being an upset. The only upset is going to be if we don’t win the dadgum game. I don’t want to hear one word about it. This is an expectation, the last thing I told them. We expected to win the game. We expected to win it last year. When we take the field, we expect to win because we work our tails off, and we got a committed group of people, staff, players, everybody.”

Alabama took a 14-0 lead on two touchdown runs by Bo Scarbrough, who had to leave the game with an injury. But the Tide sputtered offensively for most of the game. It will always be a question how much harder coach Nick Saban made it by changing offensive coordinators the week before the title when he dumped Lane Kiffen.

“I think the players handled it very well,” Saban said.” I think we scored 31 points in the game, which I think was pretty good against a pretty good defense that actually shut out Ohio State last week. I think we had some drops. I think we had some tipped balls. I think there was things that we could have done better. But I thought the preparation was good. I thought the organization was good, and I thought we gave our players a chance in this game to have success.

“Was it challenging? Yes. Did everyone involved handle it extremely well? Absolutely.”

Watson hit Mike Williams for four yards and Wayne Gallman ran for one-yard to give Clemson a 28-24 win. But Alabama came back itself, and quarterback Jalen Hurts ran 30 yards to give the Tide the lead.

After that, Watson drove the Tigers downfield, hitting six of eight passes.

“As I said earlier, and I’ll say it again, he didn’t lose out on the Heisman, the Heisman lost out on him,” Swinney said. “They lost out on an opportunity to be attached to this guy forever. But this guy, his class, his humility, this was his Heisman tonight, and this was really what he wanted. This is what he came to Clemson to do.

“He’s just been an unbelievable, unbelievable player, preparer, leader, and ambassador for this university. He set the standard. He set the bar for everybody coming through. It’s just unreal. Over a 3.0, and I’m so proud of him. I mean, this guy deserves it. I told him, I said, you deserve it. And I’m just happy that we have this moment to share in it, and the rest of these seniors, they’ll take this with them forever. They’ll take this into their marriages, they’ll take this into their jobs. The moment will fade, but the work ethic, the will to win, the passion, the courage, the guts, the teamwork, the belief, how to think the right way, they’ll take that with them forever.”

Saban tried to find some consolation on the season his team had.

“I have to say that I’m extremely proud of our team for what they were able to accomplish this entire season,” said Saban. “I don’t think one game defines who you are, you know, as a person, as a competitor, or as a team and certainly not define what this group of young men was able to accomplish this year. It was a hard-fought game out there today, very disappointing to lose a game like that, and I wish there was something else that I could do for the players to help them be more successful in the game.”

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Jags hire Doug Marrone as coach, bring back Tom Coughlin as VP

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a new boss.

Two of them, in fact.

The Jags hired Doug Marrone as head coach and announced the return of Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice President in Charge of Football Operations. The team is hopeful the combination can turn the Jags around.

“I have confidence that one day soon we’ll look back on today’s news as the moment that inspired and ultimately established the Jacksonville Jaguars as a football team that wins, week to week and season to season,” Jaguars owner Shad Khan said.  “I am honored to welcome Tom Coughlin back to Jacksonville, where winning was customary under his leadership.  I know he expects the same in his return to head our football operations, and that’s good news for us and Jaguars fans everywhere.  The extension of Dave Caldwell’s contract speaks to his excellent work thus far and the continued importance of complementing our talented and promising roster.

“I am particularly enthused to introduce Doug Marrone as our new head coach.  Doug is a strong football man in every respect and offers us qualities that will serve us well in all facets of the team, from the meeting rooms to game day and much more.  The results will speak for themselves in time, but with Tom coming in to join Dave and Doug, there is no question the Jacksonville Jaguars are a stronger football team today.”

Marrone, 52, is the team’s fifth full-time head coach in franchise history, joining Coughlin (1995-2002), Jack Del Rio (2003-11), Mike Mularkey (2012) and Gus Bradley (2013-16). Marrone served as the team’s interim head coach for the final two games of the 2016 regular season. He joined the team as the assistant head coach-offense/offensive line coach on January 20, 2015, following a two-year stint as the head coach for the Buffalo Bills (2013-14).

Caldwell, the team’s general manager for the past four seasons (2013-16), has received a two-year contract extension that will run through 2019.

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