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RUNNING DOWN THE 35 BOWL GAMES

Thursday, 19 December 2013 07:29 Published in Sports

This is it, the final go-round for the BCS.

The much-maligned system for determining college football's national champion will be mothballed after this season, replaced by a four-team playoff next season.

As finales go, it's hard to argue too much about the final title-game participants. Florida State was the only major-conference team to finish undefeated and Auburn had the best resume of the one-loss teams.

That's the big one, but of course there are 34 other bowls, starting with four on Saturday, that will feature plenty of other good teams, star players and interesting match-ups.

To get you ready, we've got a rundown of what to look for:

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TOP GAMES

BCS National Championship, Florida State vs. Auburn, Jan. 6, Pasadena, Calif. Duh.

Sugar Bowl, Alabama vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2, New Orleans. Two storied programs that fell short of their national-title aspirations are still pretty good.

Orange Bowl, Ohio State vs. Clemson, Jan. 3, Miami. Teams that are a combined 45-5 since the start of last season and among the highest-scoring in college football.

Rose Bowl, Stanford vs. Michigan State, Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. If you like smash-mouth, defensive-minded football, this is your game.

AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Arizona vs. Boston College, Dec. 31, Shreveport, La. So what's so exciting about two 7-5 teams? Two All-American running backs going at each other: Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and BC's Andre Williams.

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TOP PLAYERS

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Won the Heisman Trophy, playing for a national championship. Not a bad freshman season.

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama. There will be no three-peat as national champion, but he's been as good a college quarterback as we've seen in a while.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama. Collects tackles like baseball cards.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona. Second nationally in yards per game, runs like he's trying to punish defenders for daring to tackle him.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Last year's Heisman winner could be making his last hurrah in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke.

Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State. Arguably the most disruptive interior lineman in the country.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. All-American can turn the simplest of routes into a score.

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SPONSORS

Food is king among bowl sponsors for the third straight season.

The 2013-14 bowl season includes seven bowls with food affiliations, from potatoes to pizza to wild wings.

Second on the list are financial companies with six and auto-related companies are third with five.

This year's bowl lineup also includes a helicopter company, a university, a defense contractor, a department store and a cause (Fight Hunger).

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ODDS

The folks at Glantz-Culver have made Florida State a decided favorite over Auburn in the national championship game at 8 1-2 points.

In the other bowls, the biggest spread is the Fiesta Bowl, where Baylor is a 16 1-2-point favorite over Central Florida. Right behind is the Pinstripe Bowl, with Notre Dame giving away 15 1-2 points to Rutgers. Alabama also is a 15-point favorite over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Tightest odds? San Diego State and Buffalo are a pick `em in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and three other bowls - Cotton, New Orleans and Capital One - all have 1-point spreads.

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DISTANCES

Florida State and Auburn will have to make quite a road trip to play for the final BCS championship despite being about 200 miles apart.

The Seminoles will cover about 2,200 miles to get to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the Tigers have a trip of roughly 2,100 miles to get there.

That's still not the longest road trip to a bowl. That distinction belongs to Boise State, which will travel about 2,800 miles to play Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl. Central Florida also has a long trip ahead of it before the Fiesta Bowl, needing to go over 2,100 miles to get from Orlando to Glendale, Ariz.

Tulane has the shortest trip, staying in New Orleans for its bowl, but its opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette, doesn't exactly have to go far, traveling about 130 miles for the New Orleans Bowl. Rutgers has a short trip over about 45 minutes across the Hudson River - depending on traffic - for the Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame and Maryland should be able to get to the Military Bowl in Annapolis in about a half hour. North Texas has a similar drive to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

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NUMBERS

2-Female officials (Sarah Thomas and Maia Chaka) working the Fight Hunger Bowl, a first for an FBS game.

13-Years since UNLV played in a bowl game. The Rebels will face North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

56-Years since Rice had won an outright conference title before taking the Conference USA championship this season.

624.5-Yards of offense per game by Baylor, most in the nation this season by over 50 yards and second-most all-time to the 624.9 by Houston in 1989.

4,866-Passing yards by Fresno State's Derek Carr, which led the nation.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

MLB AVERAGE SALARY UP 5.4 PERCENT TO $3.39 MILLION

Thursday, 19 December 2013 07:27 Published in Sports

NEW YORK (AP) -- While the New York Yankees set another salary record, the Houston Astros had the lowest average in the major leagues in 14 years and the attention of the players' union.

The overall big league average rose 5.4 percent this season to a record $3.39 million, according to the annual report released Wednesday by the Major League Baseball Players Association. The increase was the steepest since 2006.

In the economy at large, civilian compensation is increasing at an annual rate of 1.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average U.S. wage in 2012 was $42,498, according to the Social Security Administration.

The Yankees had the highest average for the 15th consecutive season at $8.17 million, breaking the mark of $7.66 million when they won the World Series in 2009. The Los Angeles Dodgers were second at $7.82 million.

Houston's average of $549,603 was the smallest since the 1999 Kansas City Royals at $534,460. The Miami Marlins were 29th at $830,069, down from $3.77 million in 2012, when they ranked 10th.

Baseball's collective bargaining agreement requires a team to use revenue-sharing money it receives "in an effort to improve its performance on the field." The Marlins had been required to raise player payroll annually from 2010-12 under an agreement between MLB and the union.

However, the issue is being dealt with under a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that gradually eliminates the 15 teams in the largest markets from receiving revenue sharing, and the Astros are 15th. Under that provision, those clubs forfeited 25 percent of the money this year, half in 2014, 75 percent the following year and all in 2016.

"We are watching both clubs closely, but were already aware what their 2013 spending would be and that there wasn't enough there to move beyond acknowledging as much," new union head Tony Clark said in an email to The Associated Press. "With Houston a big factor is their impending `market disqualification.' For Miami, they actually have a long-range plan that suggests they will make the considerations necessary to be compliant.

"That said, both clubs are being monitored, and MLB recognizes that there is a potential for a dispute if the clubs do not move in the right direction."

World Series champion Boston was fourth at $5.46 million, just behind Detroit at $5.53 million. St. Louis, which won the NL pennant, was 10th at $3.75 million.

Tampa Bay had the lowest ranking among the 10 playoff teams and was 24th at $2.13 million.

Among regulars at positions, designated hitters took over from first basemen for the highest average at $10.5 million. First basemen were next at $6.5 million, followed by starting pitchers at $6.3 million, second basemen at $5.8 million, outfielders at $5.6 million, third basemen at $5.2 million, shortstops at $4.5 million, catchers at $4.4 million and relief pitchers at $2.2 million,

Figures are based on Aug. 31 rosters and disabled lists, with 940 players averaging $3,386,212. Major League Baseball, which uses slightly different methods, calculated its average at $3,320,089, an increase of 6.9 percent.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about ourPRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

WHITE HOUSE TASK FORCE URGES LIMIT ON NSA SNOOPING

Thursday, 19 December 2013 07:24 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — A presidential advisory panel has recommended sweeping changes to government surveillance programs, including limiting the bulk collection of Americans' phone records by stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store that data in its own facilities. Court orders would be required before the information could be searched.

In a 300-page report released Wednesday, the five-member panel also proposed greater scrutiny of decisions to spy on friendly foreign leaders, a practice that has outraged U.S. allies around the world.

While the panel's 46 recommendations broadly call for more oversight of the government's vast spying network, few programs would be ended. There's also no guarantee that the most stringent recommendations will be adopted by President Barack Obama, who authorized the panel but is not obligated to implement its findings.

The task force said it sought to balance the nation's security with the public's privacy rights and insisted the country would not be put at risk if more oversight was put in place. In fact, the report concludes that telephone information collected in bulk by the NSA and used in terror investigations "was not essential to preventing attacks."

"We're not saying the struggle against terrorism is over or that we can dismantle the mechanisms that we have put in place to safeguard the country," said Richard Clarke, a task force member and former government counterterrorism official. "What we are saying is those mechanisms can be more transparent."

The review group was set up as part of the White House response to leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the scope of the government surveillance programs. Snowden is now a fugitive from U.S. authorities and was granted temporary asylum by Russia. The White House is conducting its own intelligence review, and Obama is expected to announce his decisions in January.

The White House had planned to release the panel's report next month, but officials said they decided to make it public now to avoid inaccurate reporting about its content. It coincided with increased political pressure on Obama following a blistering ruling Monday from a federal judge who declared the NSA's vast phone data collection likely was unconstitutional.

The judge, Richard Leon, called the NSA's operation "Orwellian" in scale and said there was little evidence that its gargantuan inventory of phone records from American users had prevented a terrorist attack. However, he stopped his ruling from taking effect, pending a likely government appeal.

The panel's most sweeping proposal would terminate the NSA's ability to store the telephone data and instead require it to be held by the phone companies or a third party. Access to the data would then be permitted only through an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

"With regard to the bulk metadata of phone calls, we think there should be judicial review before that information is accessed, and we don't think the government should retain it," Clarke said.

If both recommendations were enacted, it's likely they would slow down the intelligence collection process. The panel's recommendations do allow for exceptions "in emergencies," leaving open the possibility of intelligence agencies scanning the information quickly and asking for permission later if they suspect imminent attack.

The task force did not say how long the phone companies would be required to hold the private data. The phone companies' retention policies vary markedly, according to information recently provided to the Senate Commerce Committee, ranging from one year at Verizon and US Cellular to five years at AT&T and seven to 10 years at T-Mobile.

Representatives of AT&T and Verizon declined to comment on the report and its recommendations. T-Mobile said it would look closely at the proposals. Spokesmen for US Cellular didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Another major shift recommended by the task force would tighten federal law enforcement's use of so-called national security letters, which give the government sweeping authority to demand financial and phone records without prior court approval in national security cases. The task force recommended that authorities should be required to obtain a prior "judicial finding" showing "reasonable grounds" that the information sought was relevant to terrorism or other intelligence activities.

The panel also tackled the diplomatic furor over NSA spying on the leaders of allied nations, including Germany. The group recommended that such spying be approved by the highest levels of government and that the decisions be based in part on whether the United States shares "fundamental values and interests" with the leaders of those nations.

The U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at protecting the right to privacy against unlawful surveillance. Germany and Brazil introduced the resolution, which is legally nonbinding, following a series of reports of U.S. eavesdropping abroad, including on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The report was issued a day after a group of top executives from leading technology companies met with Obama at the White House to discuss NSA surveillance and other issues. Several of the companies, including Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, Twitter and Microsoft, have joined to urge Obama to curb the surveillance programs.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the companies praised the "thoughtful and transparent" approach taken by the White House panel in the report. "We look forward to a continued dialogue with the White House as we advocate for meaningful reform of government surveillance practices," they said.

In a nod to critics' complaints that government lawyers had no opposition in secret hearings about NSA programs before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the presidential advisory panel urged the creation of a "public interest advocate" to represent civil liberties and privacy interests before the court. The task force did not detail how the advocate would work, but Obama administration officials already have signaled their interest in the idea.

Snowden's disclosures have angered an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Following the release of the report, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said: "The message to the NSA is now coming from every branch of government and from every corner of our nation: You have gone too far."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who has proposed legislation to shift control of telephone records from the NSA to the phone companies, said the new report was "impressive" and likely will carry a lot of weight for policymakers and Congress. The recommendation regarding custody of phone records by the companies "should put to rest that there's a technological problem" with allowing the companies to hold them, he said in an interview.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, which has challenged the NSA's surveillance programs in federal court, said Monday's court ruling against the government and now the task force's proposals would "put wind in the sails" of efforts in Congress to scale back the secret operations.

While the White House said Obama was reviewing the full report, he already had decided to pass over one of the panel's recommendations. Last week, officials said the president would continue to allow the NSA director to also oversee the military's cyberwarfare command, ensuring that a military official run the spy agency. The panel recommended that oversight for the units be split, allowing a civilian to head the NSA.

___

Associated Press writers Stephen Braun, Jim Kuhnhenn and Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.

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