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Top 25 Takeaways: Contenders live on edge, where TCU thrives

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College Football Playoff contenders lived on the edge in Week 12, with the top four teams all teetering to varying degrees and at various points. Then No. 5 Tennessee went down with a thud.

For No. 4 TCU, it was just another Saturday.

“It looks more frantic than it is,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said about the game-winning play. He could have been describing the Horned Frogs’ season.

TCU and No. 3 Michigan both needed field goals in the final second to stay unbeaten.

No. 1 Georgia slogged through a road game against Kentucky, never seriously threatened but never truly comfortable.

No. 2 Ohio State trailed at the half against Maryland, and had the Terps bearing down in the fourth quarter before closing them out.

While it looked a little shaky at times, Michigan (11-0) against Ohio State (11-0) for the right to go to the Big Ten championship is set. Hopefully, the Wolverines will have star tailback Blake Corum (knee) close to 100%.

“What more could you ask for?” Buckeyes defensive end Zach Harrison said.

The big upset came under the lights in Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks, a team that lost 38-6 at Florida last week and was averaging 20 points per game in Southeastern Conference play coming in, took apart Tennessee.

No unranked teams had ever scored more points against a top-five team. Spencer Rattler, the Oklahoma transfer, threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns and Tennessee’s Heisman contender Hendon Hooker went out in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.

“For us to grow as a program, we need to look at this opportunity and understand what happened,” Vols coach Josh Heupel said.

With the Vols’ loss, several weeks of chatter about multiple SEC teams making the playoff pretty much goes out the window. It could still happen if LSU beats Georgia in the SEC title game. But good luck with that, Tigers.

As for TCU, the Hypnotoads don’t have to worry about anybody else. The final chapter of one of the best stories of the season has yet to be written.

Dykes, who replaced TCU great Gary Patterson after last season, didn’t remake the roster through the transfer portal. He took what he had and turned it into a playoff contender in what is the most competitive conference, top to bottom, in the country.

TCU is a turnaround team led by a quarterback who didn’t even win the job heading into the season.

Chandler Morris was the man coming out of the preseason, but an injury cleared the way for Max Duggan. The senior has shown flashes of greatness, if not consistency, during his time in Fort Worth, seized the opportunity and has become a star.

Duggan passed for 327 yards against Baylor and marched the Frogs into field-goal range as the clock wound down.

“I thought Max did what Max does,” Dykes said.

It looked like a fire drill as TCU ran its field-goal unit on the field, but Griffin Kell calmly booted a 40-yarder as time expired.

The Frogs have won eight games by 10 points or fewer. By comparison, Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan have a combined four victories by 10 points of fewer. The Buckeyes have none.

That’s not a knock on TCU, but it is fair to wonder when the magic will run out. Since the Big 12 went to a nine-game conference schedule in 2011, only once has a team gone 9-0 in the league and never has a team entered the championship game unbeaten overall.

The Frogs head home next week to face Iowa State, which is in last place in the Big 12 but perfectly epitomizes the conference. The Cyclones have lost five games by single-digit margins.

Awaiting the Frogs in the Big 12 title game will likely be No. 19 Kansas State. The Wildcats need to beat Kansas next week to lock up a spot. Texas is still alive, too.

K-State, you might remember, led TCU 28-10 before the Frogs came roaring back — and the Wildcats were forced to play a third-string quarterback because of injuries. The Frogs won 38-28.

Among the blue bloods vying for a spot in the CFP, the Horned Frogs maybe the outliers but they are without question worthy.


Lincoln Riley’s portal all-stars at Southern California are now at the center of the college football universe.

The seventh-ranked Trojans beat No. 16 UCLA in exactly the type of back-and-forth point-spree that was expected.

Caleb Williams, the quarterback who followed Riley from Oklahoma to USC, had 502 total yards.

Williams and the Trojans have rolled through a soft schedule, getting few big-stage games before Saturday. The Pac-12 showdown in the Rose Bowl between the future Big Ten schools was the first of what could be three straight that could determine a playoff spot and the Heisman Trophy.

If USC can beat No. 18 Notre Dame next week and then win the Pac-12 title game, it’ll be hard to keep the Trojans out of the playoff at 12-1 and the brilliant Williams from becoming the eighth Southern Cal player to win the Heisman.

“I just want to say, college gootball on the West Coast, and here in LA, is alive and well,” Riley told reporters.


Just when Drake Maye’s Heisman campaign was heating up, No. 13 North Carolina was shut out in the second half in a surprising loss to Georgia Tech. Maye didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season. … Vanderbilt now has a two-game SEC winning streak. A week after the Commodores, snapped a 26-game conference skid against Kentucky, they beat Florida at home for the first time since 1988 … Indiana won for the first time since mid-September, beating Michigan State in overtime while completing two passes. … Not to be outdone, Army and Navy both won without completing a pass. The Midshipmen finished their non-Army portion of the schedule by upsetting No. 17 UCF. The loss doesn’t knock the Knights out of AAC championship game contention, but it does mean the winner of No. 21 Tulane and No. 22 Cincinnati on Black Friday will host it. … Arizona QB Jayden de Laura, a Washington State transfer, said Saturday’s game against his former team was “personal.” The Cougars won and intercepted de Laura four times. … In the Ohio Valley Conference, a tie for the league championship between Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri State was broken by a coin flip, streamed live online, because they didn’t play in the regular season. SEMO won the flip and an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. UT-Martin will await Sunday’s selection show and hope for an at-large bid. … Iowa is inevitable. The Hawkeyes won their fourth straight game in typical Iowa-fashion over Minnesota, and now need only to beat Nebraska on Black Friday to clinch the Big Ten West for the second straight year. … Wisconsin edged Nebraska with a late touchdown to secure bowl eligibility for the 21st consecutive year. It hasn’t been the prettiest 4-2 run for the Badgers. Will it be enough to get Wisconsin to take the interim tag off Jim Leonhard? Well, Wisconsin posted the job, as required by state law, right after the game. A good sign that it will name Leonhard after the required seven day wait.


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LeBron’s off-court legacy complements his basketball success

Mya Smiley is a student at the University of Akron thanks to an assist from LeBron James, and she is determined upon graduation to become a social worker that helps foster kids.

Her education and career path would not have been possible, the sophomore says, were it not for a scholarship and counseling that she received from the LeBron James Family Foundation. “He’s life-changing,” Smiley said.

For all his accomplishments on the basketball court — four championships, 19 All-Star Game nominations and an imminent coronation as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer — it is James’ ambitious pursuits off-the-court that may ultimately distinguish his legacy from other superstar athletes’.

James co-founded a successful media and entertainment company, bought stakes in storied professional baseball and soccer franchises and, with a big assist from product endorsements, his net worth is estimated to have grown above $1 billion. The off-court achievement that James is most proud of, he says, is working to uplift the lives of people like Smiley in his hometown of Akron.

Many athletes have excelled in one or more of these areas. But few have done all of them as well as James, who is closing in on passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s career scoring record.

“His goal, I believe, is to have 10% of his wealth go to causes and support communities, which is an amazing goal,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management at George Washington University. “I would say he’s maybe above and beyond others, just on that aspiration alone.”

James is, by any measure, an overwhelming success. And he makes Smiley — one of the many people in Akron who have received financial support from his foundation — believe that she can be a success as well.

“If I did not have the LeBron program, I probably wouldn’t have ever gone to college. I would be living in a not-so-positive environment,” said the 19-year-old Smiley.

“His ability to help people’s futures,” she added, “is what makes LeBron a great person.”

James, who entered the NBA straight after high school in 2003, planned early on to use his talents, fame — and, yes, his growing financial resources — to have on impact on the world beyond basketball.

“Even before I got into the NBA, I knew I wanted to find a way to give back to my community,” said James. Although James bounced from home to home during his childhood, and experienced financial insecurity for many of those years, he also was given enormous support from friends, neighbors and educators.

The LeBron James Family Foundation, founded in 2004, at first gained local attention by giving away bikes and backpacks. Then it began looking at after-school programs, with students scattered across several dozen schools, and eventually created a public school currently serving about 575 third through eighth graders. Today the school includes a family resource center that provides a wide-range of services to parents, including mental health, financial literacy, legal aid and GED courses.

Just down the street from the school, the foundation provides rent-free housing to as many as 16 different families — when needed — and it has plans to build 50 units of affordable housing.

“I couldn’t have guessed how much it would grow,” James said in late January. “But we got here by listening and responding to our community and what they need.”

James has made over $400 million in NBA salary during his time with Cleveland, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers. Another $100 million is on the way in the next 2-1/2 years or so.

James is a pitchman for Nike, GMC, AT&T and many more multinational companies. He owns a piece of the Boston Red Sox and Britain’s Liverpool football club. His entertainment company, SpringHill — named after the modest apartment complex he grew up in — is valued at $725 million and has produced movies for HBO and Netflix.

“He’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially kids with lesser opportunity and haven’t had the same advantages as others,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said in 2018, a sentiment he’s repeated many times since. “They see in this guy somebody who has consistently exhibited excellence in the workplace and gives them a voice and lets them know that you can speak about anything.”

James puts so much focus on giving back to Akron because of the help people there gave to him and his family. “He’s never lost sight of that,” said Michele Campbell, the executive director of James’ foundation. “I think that keeps him grounded.”

Just how down to earth “King James” really was got called into question in 2010. That’s when he went on television to announce that he was leaving Cleveland to play in Miami. Billed as “The Decision” — and broadcast on ESPN — the live event was widely ripped as egotistical. But from James’ perspective, the broadcast raised around $4 million for charity, a fact was largely overlooked.

Just a couple of years later, James would use his star power to help draw attention to a cause bigger than himself.

In the aftermath of the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin — a Black Florida teen who was wearing a hoodie when he was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer — James tweeted a photo of Heat players wearing hoodies and bowing their heads that included the hashtag “WeWantJustice.”

In 2020, James helped lead the “More Than A Vote” movement, which included registration and early-vote drives and stressed the need for people — particularly Black voters — to get to the polls to fight disenfranchisement.

Also in 2020, in the aftermath of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, James was one of the players calling for an end to racial inequality and police brutality.

“Everything I do,” James said late last year, “has to have a purpose.”

James has all the money and all the fame that he ever wanted or needed. His NBA records, including the scoring title, are going to last for a very long time.

As will his off-court endeavors.

“His ability to help others and put others first is what makes him a great person,” Smiley said. “Not the baskets he shot.”


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Kyrgios pleads guilty to assault, has no conviction recorded

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Nick Kyrgios had suffered severe depression, suicidal ideation and insomnia in the past, a psychologist told a court on Friday when the Australian tennis star pleaded guilty to pushing a former girlfriend to the ground two years ago.

The 2022 Wimbledon runner-up pleaded guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to assaulting Chiara Passari during an argument in his hometown of Canberra in January 2021.

Magistrate Jane Campbell didn’t record a conviction against Kyrgios for reasons including that the offense was at the low end of seriousness for a common assault, and was not premeditated.

Campbell described it as an act of “stupidity” and “frustration.”

Kyrgios, who was using crutches following recent surgery on his left knee, didn’t speak to reporters as he left court but issued a statement through a management company.

“I respect today’s ruling and am grateful to the court for dismissing the charges without conviction,” Kyrgios said. “I was not in a good place when this took place and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret. I know it wasn’t OK and I’m sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused.

“Mental health is tough. Life can seem overwhelming. But I’ve found that getting help and working on myself has helped me to feel better and to be better.”

Kyrgios’ psychologist, Sam Borenstein, said in a written report and testimony by phone that Kyrgios had suffered major depressive episodes in the past and had used alcohol and drugs to cope. Kyrgios’ mental health led to impulsive and reckless behavior.

His recent knee injury had resulted in mild to moderate symptoms of depression, but his mental health was improving, Borenstein said.

“He’s doing very well,” Borenstein said. “His mental health has improved significantly.”

Lawyers for Kyrgios had sought to have an assault charge stemming from events two years ago dismissed on mental health grounds but the application was unsuccessful.

Kyrgios had been attempting to leave Passari during an argument at 10 p.m. on Jan. 10, 2021, outside her apartment in the inner-Canberra suburb of Kingston. He called an Uber but Passari stood in the way of him closing the front passenger side door. The driver wouldn’t leave with the door open.

Kyrgios eventually pushed Passari’s shoulders backward with open palms, causing her to fall to the pavement and graze her knee, according to agreed facts read to the court.

Passari signed a police statement alleging the assault 11 months later, after her relationship with Kyrgios had ended.

His current partner, Costeen Hatzi, wrote in a character reference that she had no concerns of violence in her relationship. Hatzi was among Kyrgios’ supporters who sat behind him in court.

Kyrgios, wearing a dark suit and using the crutches for support, first spoke in court when the magistrate asked him if he could stand to enter a plea.

Kyrgios replied: “Yep, no worries, Your Honor,” as he rose to plead guilty.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs last year to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last September to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

The 27-year-old Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because the knee injury which later required arthroscopic surgery.


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Bengals’ Joe Mixon charged with pointing gun at woman

CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon has been charged in a warrant with pointing a gun at a woman and threatening her, according to court documents.

Mixon faces a misdemeanor charge of aggravated menacing, according to the documents, which were filed Thursday in Hamilton County Municipal Court and obtained by The Associated Press. No attorney is listed for him in court records.

According to the warrant, Mixon pointed the gun at the woman and told her, “You should be popped in the face. I should shoot you, the police (can’t) get me.”

The incident occurred on Jan. 21, the day before the Bengals beat the Buffalo Bills in a divisional-round playoff game.

The 26-year-old Mixon rushed for 814 yards and seven touchdowns this season, his sixth. He also had 60 receptions for 441 yards, both career highs, and two touchdowns.

A second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 2017, Mixon has spent his entire career with Cincinnati and rushed for career highs of 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021.

In 2014, when he was 18, Mixon punched a female Oklahoma student in the face, an attack captured on surveillance video. He was suspended from the football team for a year and entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is sufficient evidence for a conviction. He received a deferred sentence and was ordered to perform community service and undergo counseling.

The incident hurt his standing in the draft, with several teams saying they passed on him because of concerns about his character.


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