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USC QB Caleb Williams voted AP Player of the Year

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/caleb-williams-usc-player-of-the-year-heisman-7f9f54dc91adc26b1fa1fe4f59b45772

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams is The Associated Press college football player of the year, becoming the school’s first winner of the award since 2005 with his stellar debut season for the Trojans.

Williams received 32 of the 46 first-place votes and 117 total points from AP Top 25 poll voters to win the award presented by Regions Bank. The Heisman Trophy favorite finished well ahead of TCU quarterback Max Duggan, who came in second with six first-place votes and 64 points.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was third, with Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker in fourth and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett fifth.

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr., the first repeat SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was the only non-quarterback in this year’s top eight vote-getters, finishing sixth after coming in fourth last season.

Stroud and Hooker got two first-place votes apiece, while one first-place vote each went to Bennett, Anderson and star running backs Bijan Robinson of Texas and Blake Corum of Michigan. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who won the AP award last season, finished 11th this year.

Williams, Stroud, Duggan and Bennett are the finalists for the Heisman, which will be presented in New York on Saturday. The winner of the AP award has differed from the Heisman winner just twice in the past two decades.

Later Thursday, during the ESPN College Football Awards show, Williams also won the Maxwell Award as the most outstanding player in college football, but Duggan beat out Williams for the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback.

Other winners included Anderson, who claimed the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player; Olusegun Oluwatimi of Michigan, who won the Outland Trophy as the top interior lineman; and Robinson, who claimed the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.

The clear favorite for the AP honor was Williams, the elusive passer and runner with an electrifying arm and strong leadership skills. The sophomore followed Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to the West Coast last winter, and the duo immediately returned USC (11-2) to national prominence with a seven-win improvement over last season’s record.

Williams has passed for 4,075 yards with an FBS-leading 37 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season, completing 66.1% of his passes while winning the Pac-12′s Offensive Player of the Year award. He also won the Walter Camp Player of the Year award.

His ability to avoid defensive pressure has bordered on the supernatural at times, and he has racked up 372 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns while setting the USC school records for total touchdowns and total offensive yards (4,447) in a season.

“I think he’s just elegant in the way he plays the game,” USC receiver Kyle Ford said. “That’s the only word to describe it. He’s out there and he’s in the backfield, zigzagging around and doing spin moves, and he doesn’t get touched and has a first down, and he’s out of bounds. Stuff like that is amazing to me, stuff that he pulls off during a game. He’s a gamer, and he’s a winner.”

Perhaps most impressive, Williams has played a critical role in bringing cohesion, teamwork and 11 victories to a program returning from a four-win season with a new coaching staff and more than two dozen veteran player additions through the transfer portal.

Although he usually deflects questions about his own play by praising his teammates, Williams admits leadership “means everything” to him.

“I’ve been trying to lead more,” he added. “Being in a position where you can go and do something bigger, or do something that you’ve always dreamed of as a child, it brings that understanding that the time is right now.”

From his first weeks in Los Angeles, Williams welcomed the responsibility of organizing and motivating this group of new teammates. He swiftly cemented friendships across the roster with his charisma and upbeat personality.

“Talk about a dude you can count on for anything,” USC left guard Andrew Vorhees said. “A guy who genuinely cares, is supportive in every way, really tries to be a guy that brings people together. It’s a brotherhood to him.”

USC went 11-1 in the regular season, and Williams put up one spectacular game after another down the stretch, capped by rivalry victories over UCLA and Notre Dame. Although the Trojans missed out on the College Football Playoff after losing the Pac-12 title game to Utah while Williams hobbled through the evening with a hamstring injury, No. 8 USC will finish its turnaround season in the Cotton Bowl against Tulane.

Williams is the third winner of the AP award in six years for Riley, who also coached Oklahoma quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018) to Heisman trophies in the same years.

USC is enjoying its best season since the tenure of former coach Pete Carroll, and the Trojans now have their first AP Player of the Year since those glory days. Quarterback Matt Leinart won the award in 2004, and tailback Reggie Bush claimed it the next year.

Both went on to claim the Heisman, and Williams is favored to win USC’s record eighth as the school’s first finalist since 2005.

Other awards handed out Thursday night:

— Jalin Hyatt of Tennessee won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.

— Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson of TCU won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back.

— Christopher Dunn of North Carolina State won the Lou Groza Award for the best kicker.

— Adam Korsak of Rutgers won the Ray Guy Award as the top punter.

— North Carolina receiver Tylee Craft won the Disney Spirit Award.

— Florida State offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons won the Wuerffel Trophy for community service.

Before Thursday:

— Iowa’s Jack Campbell won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.

— Brock Bowers of Georgia won the Mackey Award as the best tight end.

— Oluwatimi won the Rimington Trophy as the best center.

— Bennett won the Burlsworth Trophy as the top player whose career started as a walk-on.

— Anderson won the Lombardi Award and claimed the Nagurski defensive player of the year award for the second straight year.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Source: https://apnews.com/article/caleb-williams-usc-player-of-the-year-heisman-7f9f54dc91adc26b1fa1fe4f59b45772

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49ers head into offseason with more questions at quarterback

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers head into another offseason with major questions at quarterback after a season filled with injuries to the most important position ended without any of them physically able to throw the the ball downfield.

Trey Lance, who began the season as starter, is getting close to being fully cleared following two operations on his broken right ankle.

Brock Purdy, who went from third-string rookie to the starter that helped lead the Niners into the NFC title game before getting hurt himself, is figuring out how to treat his injured throwing elbow.

Jimmy Garoppolo, the starter in between those two before breaking his foot, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in six weeks.

And rumors are sure to swirl about whether the best answer for coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will be adding a veteran like Tom Brady to help a franchise that has gone to the NFC title game or further in three of the last four seasons get over the hump and win its first Super Bowl in nearly three decades.

The first big question at the position will be about Purdy’s health after he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on the first drive of a 31-7 loss in the NFC title game to Philadelphia on Sunday.

Purdy was forced back into the game in the second half when Josh Johnson left with a concussion but was unable to throw the ball more than a few yards because of the injury.

“The minute I started throwing literally like I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t throw,” he said. “So obviously the adrenaline and stuff I think helps in terms of allowing me to go back in the game and hand the ball off — even that was pretty painful. But just overall it sucked that I wasn’t able to throw.”

An MRI revealed the tear and Purdy said he will undergo more tests and speak to more doctors to figure out whether recovery, repair or full reconstruction is the best option.

The injury is much more common in baseball pitchers, who often undergo reconstructive “Tommy John surgery” that sidelines them up to a year. But Purdy is hoping to avoid that; a simpler repair would keep him out for six months but allow him to return to practice around the start of training camp in July.

“The way a quarterback throws compared to a pitcher, two different things. It’s similar but more violent as a baseball player,” Purdy said. “So they’re saying the recovery process could be a little bit faster as a quarterback. I’ve looked at guys who have gone through this kind of thing. I’m just trying to find what’s right. Everyone’s situation is different and I’m trying to find out which one is right for myself.”

Purdy showed a lot in his first season in the NFL, going from the last pick of the draft to starter in the conference title game. He won all seven of his starts before the loss on Sunday and threw for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions in the regular season.

That performance could make him the favorite to begin next season as starter if he’s healthy.

“For me to claim or say anything in terms of what’s going to happen moving forward, that’s out of my control,” he said. “I’m going to do what I can to get back healthy and be ready to compete come fall.”

Lance was supposed to be in that role after San Francisco traded three first-round picks to draft him third overall in 2021. But he started only two games as a rookie when Garoppolo got hurt and then went down with a season-ending injury early in Week 2 this season.

Lance needed a second operation in late December but said he expects to be fully cleared in a few weeks and to be 100% for the start of the offseason program.

But after he started only five games combined in the last three years in college and the NFL, there are questions about whether Lance can be the long-term answer for San Francisco.

“I’m excited to go out and show what I can do,” he said. “Same situation that it’s been for me the last two years and really my whole life. Nothing has really changed and I still have the same mindset. … I just worry about what these guys think in this locker room, what the coaches think, what people in this organization think. Anything outside of that is totally out of my control. So I don’t let that have any effect on me.”

NOTES: All-Pro DE Nick Bosa said he wants to sign a long-term contract to stay in San Francisco but will be patient and leave that up to his agent.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Banchero headlines field for All-Star Rising Stars event

Paolo Banchero’s rookie season will include a trip to NBA All-Star weekend.

The Orlando Magic forward and No. 1 pick in last year’s draft was announced Tuesday as a participant in this year’s Rising Stars Game, to be held in Salt Lake City on Feb. 17, two nights before the All-Star Game.

Banchero — who leads all rookies with a 20.7 points-per-game average — may still be selected as an All-Star reserve. Those players will be revealed Thursday.

“Anytime you can get a chance to be a part of All-Star weekend, you can’t say no,” Banchero said. “Especially me, being a rookie, first year, never experienced it before, it’s always been the dream to just be a part of that whether it was Rising Stars or as a reserve. I’m definitely excited to get there and just see what it’s like.”

Banchero is on pace to be the first rookie to average 20 points per game since Luka Doncic in 2018-19. He also is fourth among rookies in rebounds per game entering Tuesday and third among them in steals per game.

Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said the All-Star experience — whether just for Rising Stars or not — will have an impact on Banchero.

“Just being around other young players that have found themselves in that position, it does so much because it’s your peers,” Mosley said. “You’re around a group of young men who are the elite of the league in that class. I think it says something to the work that you’ve put in, the work that he’s put in. It’s going to do wonders for how he continues to believe in himself, what we’re doing as a team and his continued growth.”

Also picked for the game from this year’s rookie class: Detroit’s Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey, Atlanta’s A.J. Griffin, Utah’s Walker Kessler, Indiana’s Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard, Sacramento’s Keegan Murray, Houston’s Jabari Smith Jr., San Antonio’s Jeremy Sochan and Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams.

The second-year players selected were New Orleans’ Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III, Toronto’s Scottie Barnes, Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey, Houston’s Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun, New York’s Quentin Grimes, Denver’s Bones Hyland, Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and Orlando’s Franz Wagner.

There also will be a team of G League players in the Rising Stars event, composed of Sidy Cissoko, Mojave King, Scoot Henderson, Kenneth Lofton Jr., Mac McClung, Leonard Miller and Scotty Pippen Jr.

The 21 NBA players will be drafted into three seven-player teams. Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will serve as coaches for those teams, while Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

All four teams will play a semifinal game with a target score of 40, and the two winners will then play the championship game with a target score of 25.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Griner’s return, free agency raises charter flight concerns

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after being traded in a dramatic prisoner swap in December with Russia has collided with free agency, creating potential travel complications for the league out of safety concerns for her.

If Griner, who is a free agent but has said she’ll return to Phoenix, needs special travel accommodations — such as chartered flights — the league will have to come up with a plan for the 6-foot-9 star. Griner’s safety when traveling will be a top priority for the team and the league.

“We are very cognizant of BG’s unique situation,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press. “We’ve been planning and we’ve been thinking it through with security experts. BG’s side, our side. We’ll find the right time to comment on it when she signs with a team.”

That could come Wednesday, when free agents can officially sign.

While the Griner situation is unique, other marquee players raised the issue of charter flights, which teams have deemed too costly.

The current collective bargaining agreement requires that all teams fly commercial and doesn’t allow teams to charter flights. Any change in that would have to be approved by both the union and the league.

“No one wants to make this work more than me,” Engelbert said. “That’s why we’re working so hard to transform the economic business model. We’ve had positive changes over the last couple years, but we’re not going to jeopardize the financial viability of the league. We are on the cusp of something big here.”

HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST THE WNBA TO CHARTER FLIGHTS?

Engelbert says it would cost the league about $25 million each season for each of its 12 teams to charter flights to every game. That number has increased about $5 million from previous estimates by the commissioner due the new 40-game WNBA schedule this season, fuel costs and other factors.

The estimated cost per franchise to charter flights would be approximately $2 million. Air travel expenses currently for each team is about $150,000, according to two people familiar with the costs. The people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly address the issue.

“We did it last year for the Finals and we have experience on how much it costs for routes we need to fly,” Engelbert said. “We are monitoring and updating our analysis. We are going to try and get an economic model to fund this as soon as we can.”

WHAT HAPPENS IF A TEAM CHARTERS FLIGHTS?

If teams violate the current CBA they could be fined.

The New York Liberty were fined a WNBA record $500,000 in 2021 for chartering flights to away games during the second half of that season.

HAS THE WNBA CONSIDERED SUBSIDIZING FLIGHTS?

Coveted free agent Breanna Stewart, who has narrowed her choices to a few teams including New York, started a social media campaign to try to help get chartered flights for the league. She tweeted, “I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA. I would contribute my NIL, posts + production hrs to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health + safety, which ultimately results in a better product. Who’s with me?”

Many current and former WNBA and NBA players offered their support. Though any change to travel restrictions would have to be voted on by the union and the league.

“We would need a commitment to it in perpetuity,” Engelbert said. “That’s 250-300 million dollars. Look at the gate and media deal and sponsorship dollars. We’re not close to being able to afford $250 million over the next decade.”

DO WOMEN’S COLLEGE TEAMS CHARTER FLIGHTS?

WNBA players are used to flying charter flights. That’s how they traveled in college.

Title IX legislation requires universities to have equal opportunities for their men’s and women’s athletic programs. The NCAA flies both the men’s and women’s teams on charter flights for the tournament if they are more than 400 miles from the site of their game.

That legislation doesn’t apply to the pros so NBA teams chartering between cities has no effect on what WNBA teams do.

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