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Florida on the rise under Billy Napier as No. 7 Utah continues Pac-12’s confounding downturn

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Florida on the rise under Billy Napier as No. 7 Utah continues Pac-12’s confounding downturn

Somewhere amid the din of The Swamp, there had to be room for some pity. It wasn’t just a gut-wrenching, last-second 29-26 loss for No. 7 Utah to unranked Florida on Saturday night, it was something close to gosh-darn football torture.

It would be charitable to say college football has had its way with the Pac-12 lately. When it wasn’t losing teams, in Week 1, it was just losing. It happened twice in different, painful ways on the first real Saturday of the season. Over the years, it’s happened to the Pac-12 in myriad ways.

The Gators look to have found a new quarterback (Anthony Richardson) and coach (Billy Napier) for a new age in their upset over the Utes, but the Pac-12 spent Saturday finding new ways to become irrelevant early.

We already know the guts were surgically removed from the Conference of Champions this summer when USC and UCLA decided to relocate to the Big Ten in two years. Then, its two best remaining teams lost to SEC opponents within hours of each other, possibly removing the Pac-12 from the College Football Playoff race before Labor Day.

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No. 3 Georgia mugged No. 11 Oregon in former defensive coordinator Dan Lanning’s debut with the Ducks on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. The Bulldogs scored on their first seven possessions in a 49-3 win. Then, Utah then lost with 17 seconds left when fifth-year Florida linebacker Amari Burney intercepted Cameron Rising in the end zone with the game on the line.

Utah is an emerging national power that needed something like a win at The Swamp to give it that street cred. Last season ended with a similar close loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Close isn’t good enough, especially in Year 18 under Kyle Whittingham.

Give this much to the Pac-12: This downturn has been not only lengthy but creative. Saturday’s results moved the Pac-12 to 1-8 against SEC teams in season openers over the last 11 years. Pac-12 teams were ranked in seven of those eight losses.

The league is going on seven years without a team in the College Football Playoff. We already know the conference will never be the same without its Los Angeles flagship programs, if it remains a conference at all in the future.

Back to that din and That Swamp. It revealed a tale of two trajectories. Utah and its league were trending downward. Richardson, wearing the No. 15 of one Tim Tebow, offered some magic. He posted a career-high three rushing touchdowns, escaped pressure for a thrilling 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter and led the game-winning drive. Richardson, a hometown product of Gainesville, Florida, making his first career start in The Swamp, has the wheels (104 yards rushing) and arm (168 yards passing) to honor that No. 15.

Napier has made normal cool when the Gators desperately needed normal. Dan Mullen’s crazy train has given way to an even-keel approach that was reflected in Florida’s comeback. The Gators trailed four times to a team that was a legitimate playoff contender. Then Napier (and Richardson) made all the right moves (and throws).

Remember when Napier was supposedly not recruiting well enough in the middle of summer? He was ripped for writing an open letter to fans that had actually been composed a month earlier but landed flatly when the Gators got beat on a couple of commitments.

Note to recruitniks: Everything is going to be fine. In fact, that might as well be the team slogan right now. Napier “rebounded” on the recruiting trail to push Florida up to a top 10 class before the start of the season. The Gators continued their rebound in The Swamp, the only place it counts right now, with Napier becoming the first Florida coach to beat a ranked opponent in his first game with the program. Wait ’til you see what that does for recruiting.

With its highest-ranking ever to begin a season, doing so as the reigning Pac-12 champions, favored Utah was on Florida’s 6-yard line with the game — and maybe its season — on the line. Rising dropped back, and Burney dropped back in coverage.

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It wasn’t clear if Rising had anyone open, but it was clear on this night that — at least for Florida — everything was going to be fine. The Gators will likely go to Kentucky next week ranked after placing 38th in total votes in the Preseason AP Top 25.

Meanwhile, the Utes will board a long flight home not sure what happened, what’s next or when the torture will end.

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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history

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Panthers outlast Hurricanes in 4th OT in 6th-longest game in NHL history

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers seemed determined to keep playing. And playing. And playing.

The teams opened their Eastern Conference final playoff series with Florida’s 3-2 victory in four overtimes early Friday, with the game ranking as the sixth-longest game in NHL history.

Matthew Tkachuk’s goal came at the 19:47 mark of the fourth OT to end this one, which marked the 15th four-overtime game in NHL history and the longest game in franchise history for each team.

The longest game in NHL history came on March 24, 1936, when the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime on Mud Bruneteau’s goal at 116 minutes, 30 seconds of extra play.

Florida’s previous record for longest game was 104:31 in Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup final against Colorado. Carolina’s previous record was 114:47 for Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final.

The only good news for the teams is they had an extended break before this series began. Carolina closed out New Jersey exactly a week earlier, while Florida eliminated Toronto a day later.

But this game ended roughly six hours after Thursday night’s puck drop, and the teams have a Game 2 in less than 48 hours.

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club

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Barcelona says probe found no evidence of corruption by club

MADRID (AP) — The investigation ordered by Barcelona into its controversial payments for refereeing reports found no evidence of corruption by the club, president Joan Laporta said Monday.

Laporta reiterated that the club’s payments over several years to the company owned by the vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee were only for technical reports and not to influence referees. He said he believed there were no ethics breach and that Barcelona was the victim of a campaign to hurt its reputation.

“This is one of the most ferocious attacks in our history,” Laporta said. “I ask FC Barcelona supporters to be as united as ever in defense of our crest, our essence, and our ownership model. No campaign to discredit us will prevent us from continuing to be an organization of reference in the world of sports that is beloved and admired by millions of Catalans and by many more millions of people around the world.”

It was the first time Laporta spoke at a news conference to give explanations after it became public that the club paid 7.3 million euros ($8 million) from 2001-18 to the company of then committee vice president José María Enríquez Negreira. Prosecutors have accused Barcelona of alleged corruption in sports, fraudulent management, and falsification of mercantile documentation.

Barcelona opened the probe to look into the actions of all the different presidential administrations that made payments over the years, including Laporta’s first at the club. The investigation was conducted by an external company.

The club said the probe found that “no conducts of a criminal nature associated to sporting corruption have been identified, nor are there any grounds to investigate any form of criminal activity associated to bribery.” It added there was “official documentation on the invoices and payments” for the services of “scouting and advice regarding referees, which are common practices in the professional sports sector.”

“Consulting on technical-refereeing issues does not constitute any type of illegal act,” Laporta said. “Consulting, as is done by the big clubs, that was carried out transparently, with the corresponding invoices, at least in my first mandate as president.”

The probe found 629 technical refereeing reports and 43 CDs that the club received over 18 years for what Laporta called “market price.” More reports were likely lost over time, he said.

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“I reiterate with all my resolve, I am convinced that FC Barcelona has not committed any crime of sports-related corruption. I hope that sooner rather than later, it is fully exonerated,” he said. “Accusations must be proven. We live by the rule of law, which guarantees among its basic principles the presumption of innocence.”

He said that if there were any irregularities committed by Negreira, Barcelona would be a victim of them. He also said Negreira was not in a position to directly influence referees, and that it was Negreira’s son who actually produced the refereeing reports.

“I dare anyone to show an instance in which Barcelona was favored in a match because of these payments,” Laporta said. “We will allow the justice system to do its work and I’m sure that Barcelona will be cleared. I am fully convinced that FC Barcelona has never performed any act with the intention of altering the competition to gain an advantage.”

The Spanish league, Real Madrid and other clubs have been among those taking part in the legal proceedings against Barcelona. Laporta criticized league president Javier Tebas for making accusations against Barcelona, and also took a shot at rival Madrid.

“Everyone knows that Real Madrid is a club that is historically favored by refereeing mistakes,” he said.

Laporta said Barcelona has always been a club that takes pride in its values, and it would never want to win anything with outside help.

“Throughout its 123-year history, FC Barcelona has always been a model of fair play, both on and off the field,” he said. “If we have won for so many decades, it has undoubtedly been a result of effort, talent and knowledge.”

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak

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Silicon Valley councilman indicted in 49ers report leak

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Silicon Valley city councilman has been charged with perjury after he allegedly lied about leaking a grand jury report to the San Francisco 49ers last year that detailed a purportedly unethical relationship between the team and the city council, prosecutors said Friday.

Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker is accused of providing the secret report titled “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Santa Clara City Council” to the team’s former top spokesperson and a local media outlet in 2022, days ahead of its official release.

Becker then allegedly lied to the grand jury about the leak, prosecutors said, prompting the criminal charges.

The 49ers play in Levi’s Stadium in the city of Santa Clara, about 35 miles (56.33 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Santa Clara County is broadly considered home to Silicon Valley.

The city of Santa Clara owns the stadium and leases it to the team; fighting between the two groups has led to ethics complaints, legal disputes and years of bad blood.

Al Guido, the team’s president, and Larry MacNeil, the former CFO who worked extensively on the team’s stadium project, were named in the indictment as witnesses who spoke to the criminal grand jury for Becker’s indictment.

“The 49ers have cooperated fully with the District Attorney’s Office in their investigation, and will continue to do so,” team spokesperson Brian Brokaw said in a statement Friday. “However, because this is an ongoing legal matter, the organization is not able to make any further comment at this time.”

Prosecutors say the team has bankrolled Becker’s political career by spending $3.2 million through independent expenditure committees for his 2020 city council race, which he won, as well as his unsuccessful 2022 mayoral bid.

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The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” report alleged that Becker and four other councilmembers regularly voted “in a manner that is favorable to the 49ers” and would routinely meet with the team’s lobbyists but not disclose what was discussed.

Becker faces a felony charge of perjury under oath, as well as a misdemeanor charge of willful failure to perform duty. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

Becker did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

“Councilmember Becker violated the public’s trust,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “That an elected official would commit perjury and lie under oath before the grand jury strikes at the very heart of our justice system and requires accountability.”

Representatives for the Santa Clara City Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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