National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

AP Sources: O'Brien reaches agreement with Texans

HOUSTON (AP) Two people familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday night that Penn State's Bill O'Brien has reached an agreement to coach the Houston Texans.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because an official announcement hasn't been made.

Less than two years after replacing Joe Paterno as coach of the Nittany Lions, the 44-year-old O'Brien will return to the NFL. He was an offensive assistant under Bill Belichick at New England from 2007-12.

O'Brien was 15-9 at Penn State, hit hard by NCAA sanctions levied for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that cost the late Paterno his job.

Despite a lack of scholarships, a bowl ban, an overall sense of doom, and many player defections from Paterno's final roster, O'Brien led the Nittany Lions to two winning seasons (8-4, 7-5), restoring some tempered enthusiasm in Happy Valley.

But now the Nittany Lions are back to the drawing board after losing O'Brien in a similar circumstance that he turned down last year. After his first season, O'Brien interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns, among others, only to stay in State College.

O'Brien was an assistant at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, before joining Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in New England.

O'Brien will become the third coach in Texans history, following Dom Capers, who led the team from its expansion season in 2002, and Gary Kubiak.

Kubiak took over after Capers was fired following Houston's 2-14 season in 2005. Kubiak went 61-64 and led Houston to its first two playoff appearances and two AFC South titles before being fired in early December in his eighth season.

The Texans were expected to contend for the Super Bowl this season, but instead lost nine games by a touchdown or less as part of a 14-game skid to end the season with the NFL's worst record at 2-14. The job is still seen as a plum position because Houston has a roster filled with talent, including 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and star receiver Andre Johnson.

The Texans need to find a solution at quarterback though after veteran Matt Schaub had a terrible season and was benched after six games. He was replaced by Case Keenum, but the former record-setter at the University of Houston proved he wasn't the answer, either.

Houston has the top overall draft pick and could use it on a one of a trio of talented signal-callers who could be available. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, and Fresno State's Derek Carr, younger brother of Houston's first-ever draft pick, David Carr, are the top-rated quarterbacks expected to be in the draft.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips served as interim coach for the last three games and reportedly interviewed for the job along with former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith. But Houston went with O'Brien instead, going with a first-time NFL head coach for the second time in its short history.

Many Penn State players took to Twitter on Tuesday night to congratulate O'Brien on his new job. Cornerback Stephon Morris tweeted: "Couldn't be happy for coach O'B. Chasing his dream, he deserves it. Pls PSU don't bash him. He's done a lot for us & he deserve our support."

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AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in State College, Pa., contributed to this report.

Manziel, Aggies edge Duke 52-48 in Chick-fil-A

ATLANTA (AP) Johnny Manziel threw four touchdown passes, and Toney Hurd Jr. returned an interception 55 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in Texas A&M's 52-48 victory over Duke on Tuesday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Manziel, playing in what might be his final college game, completed 30 of 38 passes for 382 yards and ran for 73 yards and a touchdown. Hurd's interception return gave the No. 20 Aggies (9-4) their first lead with 3:33 remaining.

Manziel was asked about entering the NFL draft after the game.

"I can't even talk about anything other than this game," Manziel said. "This was unreal."

No. 22 Duke (10-4) led 38-17 at halftime and 41-31 entering the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils couldn't hold off the comeback and are still looking for their first bowl win since beating Arkansas 7-6 in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.

Hurd stepped in front of receiver Johnell Barnes for the interception, the first turnover for either team. Texas A&M linebacker Nate Askew ended Duke's next possession with another interception.

Duke quarterback Anthony Boone passed for 427 yards and three touchdowns with the two interceptions.

Manziel was even better.

Manziel, a third-year sophomore who won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman last season, is widely projected as a first-round pick if he decides to enter the NFL draft.

Texas A&M's defense opened the second half with its first stop of the game. The Blue Devils, successful on two fourth-down calls in the first half, were stopped on fourth down from the Texas A&M 35.

That set the stage for Manziel's magic.

The elusive quarterback had runs of 12 and 14 yards before his highlight play of the game. On second down from the Duke 17, Manziel danced and shuffled in traffic before vaulting a defender and dumping a short pass to Travis Labhart, who scored easily for his third touchdown of the game.

Josh Snead ran and caught passes for touchdowns and blocked a punt to set up a scoring run by Boone as Duke dominated the first half.

Snead capped Duke's opening drive with an 11-yard touchdown catch.

All the pregame focus on Manziel and his possible farewell game failed to address the Aggies' weakness that made the 2013 season a disappointment. Texas A&M ranked last in the Southeastern Conference and 105th in the nation in total defense and 88th in the nation in scoring defense.

Duke's offense, led by Boone, ripped through the vulnerable Texas A&M defense. The Blue Devils gained 365 yards with no punts in the first half while building a 38-17 lead.

Manziel and the Aggies couldn't match Duke's relentless attack. Mistakes hurt the Aggies, including an unsportsmanlike conduct call against receiver Mike Evans which helped to stall their first possession. Evans drew a second personal foul call later in the first quarter and then had to hear about it on the sideline from Manziel.

Duke attacked with go-for-broke play-calling.

The Blue Devils were successful on two four-and-1 plays in a second-quarter drive that ended with Josh Snead's 25-yard touchdown run, his second score of the game. Duke then added even more pressure by recovering an onside kick following the touchdown.

The recovery at midfield set up Ross Martin's 18-yard field goal on the final play of the half for a 38-17 lead.

Touch down: FSU, Auburn hit SoCal for title game

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Before top-ranked Florida State made its way to southern California for the BCS championship game against No. 2 Auburn, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher had some business to take care of on campus.

Fisher signed a new contract Tuesday that runs through the 2018 season. The deal could signal an end to any plans Texas might have had to hire Fisher to replace Mack Brown.

"We're blessed that we got that out of the way so we can focus on winning a national championship," Fisher said Tuesday during a news conference at the ESPNZone in Downtown Disneyland as he sat next to the crystal football coaches' trophy that will go to the winner Monday night at the Rose Bowl.

Getting out of Tallahassee, Fla., on Tuesday proved a bit tricky for the Seminoles. They were delayed about two hours because they had to wait for a pilot to get clearance to fly.

"It's been a long day," All-America defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said. "It's starting to sink in that we are here."

Florida State (13-0) blew through its competition this season, winning each of its games by at least 14 points. The Seminoles will play for the BCS championship for the first time since the 2000 season. They last won a national title in 1999, under Bobby Bowden.

"This is the ultimate goal that we want to get to," said Fisher, who is in his fourth season as Florida State's head coach.

Auburn had no problem getting to California on Tuesday - though this season was a wild ride.

The Tigers (12-1) were the biggest surprise of the 2013 season. A season after Auburn finished 3-9, did not win a Southeastern Conference game and fired coach Gene Chizik, the Tigers and first-year coach Gus Malzahn won their last nine games - including stunning victories over Georgia and Alabama - to reach the BCS title game for the second time in four seasons.

Now that they're here, the plan is to keep things as routine as possible.

"We're going to try to go about our Tuesday practice, our Wednesday practice, our Thursday practice," Malzahn said, "and do exactly what got us here."

Senior defensive end Dee Ford, who was part of the 2010 national title team at Auburn, said he took a moment today, when the team was heading into Disneyland to appreciate how far the Tigers have come.

"Definitely wanted to enjoy the moment," he said. "It's a blessing. I definitely want to soak in the moment and get focused when it's time to be."

Even with Fisher's deal done, the opening at Texas still looms over the national title game.

Texas reportedly has interest in hiring Fisher, and even Malzahn's name has come up as a possible candidate for the Longhorns.

"I think that there's a sense of relief that's it's done but anytime you're one of the top coaches in the country and there's a top program that's open, you're going to be on the list because that institution, Texas, can go and get basically anybody they want," Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox said. "But I know Jimbo, he's a Seminole. He wants to be with Florida State and we want him to be with Florida State."

Auburn announced Malzahn agreed to a new deal with Auburn the week before the SEC title game.

Fisher and Wilcox said the terms of the deal, which were not released, were agreed upon about three weeks ago.

"But when lawyers get involved, you know how things can take a little while? It wasn't anything bad it was just a matter of dotting the I's and crossing the t's. And then we practiced all the way up until Monday. I was leaving at 6:30 in the morning, getting home 11:30 I wasn't thinking about anything. We got the contract today. The first time I had a chance to sign it."

Fisher's previous deal ran through 2015 and paid $2.75 million annually. The new deal reportedly pays him about $4.1 million per season.

Fisher wouldn't be the first college coach to sign a new deal and then bolt for another job shortly after, but the timing does make it seem that he's off the market.

"It's good that we're able to get it done before the championship game," Wilcox said.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

Mother of Belcher sues Chiefs for wrongful death

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The mother of former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the team Tuesday after exhuming his body so that his brain could be examined for evidence of a degenerative condition linked to repeated concussions.

The lawsuit, filed by Cheryl Shepherd in Jackson County (Mo.) circuit court, alleges Belcher was subjected to "repetitive head trauma," and that the Chiefs failed to provide adequate medical care before Belcher killed his girlfriend and then committed suicide last December.

Shepherd is seeking a jury trial and judgment "in excess of $15,000 for actual damages, punitive damages, and/or aggravating circumstances, for the cost of this action, and for such relief as the court deems fair and reasonable."

Belcher's body was exhumed at a cemetery in Bay Shore, N.Y., at his family's request earlier this month so that his brain could be studied for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological condition. CTE has been linked to multiple concussions and includes symptoms such as memory problems, behavioral changes and eventually dementia.

CTE has made headlines in recent years with the deaths of some former professional athletes, including former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and former Bears safety Dave Duerson.

Shepherd's lawsuit claims the Chiefs failed to warn her son of the short-term and long-term risks of concussions; failed to identify and remove Belcher from practice or games after sustaining head trauma; failed to educate Belcher about concussions; failed to monitor or treat Belcher for neurological dysfunction; and failed to provide appropriate counseling.

According to the lawsuit, Belcher was knocked unconscious during a game against Jacksonville in 2009 but did not receive adequate treatment before returning to team activities.

On Dec. 1, 2012, Belcher shot to death his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, while Shepherd was caring for his infant daughter in a nearby room. Belcher then sped from the residence to the Chiefs training facility, where he shot himself in the head in the parking lot.

A spokesman for the Chiefs told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that the team was aware of the lawsuit. He could not comment further because of the pending litigation.

The Chiefs are already the subject of a workers compensation lawsuit filed on behalf of several former players who claim the Chiefs hid the risks of permanent brain injuries from repeated concussions from 1987-93, when there was no NFL collective bargaining agreement in place.

In August, the NFL reached a tentative $765 million deal to settle lawsuits filed by more than 4,500 former players who developed dementia or other concussion-related health problems they say were caused by football. The settlement, subject to approval by a federal judge, would apply to all past NFL players and spouses of those who are deceased.

However, several former Chiefs players found a 2005 amendment to the worker's compensation statute in Missouri allowing employees to sue employers in civil court if the employees declined workers' compensation. The window allowing such suits to be fired was due to expire in December.

The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of five former Chiefs players, but several others have added their names to the case, bringing to 22 the number of players involved.

The lawsuit claims the Chiefs ignored decades of scientific research indicating repeated head trauma causes permanent brain damage. It also claimed the Chiefs increased their risks by giving them "ammonia inhalants, caffeine cocktails and/or (anti-inflammatory drug) Toradol to abbreviate the need for concussed employees to miss working time due to a brain injury."

Players were even more prone to head injuries, the lawsuit said, because of the concrete-like AstroTurf surface that was in place until 1994 at Arrowhead Stadium.

"Certainly, Hall of Famers who contributed greatly to building the franchise add to the urgency for the team to find a just resolution, rather than try to ignore it or act like they had nothing to do with it," said Ken McClain, a lawyer whose firm is representing the plaintiffs.

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Associated Press writer Bill Draper contributed to this report.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher signs new deal

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher signed a contract extension Tuesday that could keep him with the Seminoles through 2018 - away from Texas.

The school announced the deal a few hours before Fisher and his top-ranked Seminoles left Tallahassee, Fla., for southern California, where they'll play No. 2 Auburn for the national title on Monday night.

"We're blessed that we got that out of the way so we can focus on winning a national championship," Fisher said during a news conference at Downtown Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

Texas reportedly has interest in Fisher replacing coach Mack Brown.

"I think that there's a sense of relief that's it's done but anytime you're one of the top coaches in the country and there's a top program that's open, you're going to be on the list because that institution, Texas, can go and get basically anybody they want," Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox said. "But I know Jimbo, he's a Seminole. He wants to be with Florida State and we want him to be with Florida State."

Fisher and Wilcox said the terms of the deal, which were not released, were agreed upon about three weeks ago.

"But when lawyers get involved, you know how things can take a little while? It wasn't anything bad it was just a matter of dotting the I's and crossing the t's. And then we practiced all the way up until Monday. I was leaving at 6:30 in the morning, getting home 11:30 I wasn't thinking about anything. We got the contract today. The first time I had a chance to sign it."

Fisher's previous deal ran through 2015 and paid $2.75 million annually. The new deal reportedly pays him about $4.1 million per season.

Fisher wouldn't be the first college coach to sign a new deal and then bolt for another job shortly after, but the timing of this does make it seem that he could be off the market.

"It's good that we're able to get it done before the championship game," Wilcox said.

The Seminoles have returned to national prominence in four seasons under Fisher after Florida State posted 7-6 records in three of the last four seasons with coach Bobby Bowden. Florida State went undefeated during the regular season for the first time since 1999 and has won back-to-back Atlantic Coast Conference championships. The program hadn't won consecutive conference titles since 2002-03.

Fisher was anointed coach-in-waiting when hired as offensive coordinator in 2007. He previously won a national championship as the LSU offensive coordinator in 2003 with Nick Sabin.

"He hasn't failed to do anything I didn't think he could do," Bowden told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "Everywhere he's been, he's done an excellent job.

"You never know what kind of head coach a guy's going to be when he comes from an assistant. ... He's passed the test in any arena he's been in."

Bowden has known of Fisher since he was a quarterback at Samford playing for his son Terry Bowden. Fisher joined the Samford coaching staff in 1988 and Tommy Bowden sung his praises back then.

Bowden warned the university during the season that it better lock up Fisher long term before other programs tried to steal him away.

"That's what happens," Bowden said. "Having the success he has had, every job that comes open his name was going to be in it. Whether he wants to be in it or not.

"I was hoping he would stay where he is. I really think, to win, there's a better opportunity at Florida State than Texas. That's because of the strength of schedule and everything they have to play out there and the competition in that state. I was glad he chose to stay here because that money can really attract you."

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AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo in Anaheim contributed to this report.

Upon review, Manning's passing record stands

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Peyton Manning's spectacular season was every bit the record-breaking sensation it appeared. The NFL said Tuesday that Manning's single-season mark of 5,477 yards passing will stand.

Elias Sports Bureau, the league's official statistician, reviewed a 7-yard pass from Manning to wide receiver Eric Decker and determined it will remain a forward pass and not a lateral, which would have made it a 7-yard run.

That would have subtracted 7 yards from Manning's total, leaving him with 5,470 yards, six shy of Drew Brees' 2011 record.

"The stats crew at the game scored this play as a forward pass. During the course of a season, there are many similar plays which could be reviewed by the Elias," NFL spokesman Michael Signora said. "In this case, the determination of Elias is that the fairest resolution is for the ruling of the on-site stats crew to stand."

The play in question occurred with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter of Denver's 34-14 win at Oakland on Sunday.

Remember that camera angles can be deceiving, depending on where the camera is located. But there were two angles that would back up whichever argument one wants to make.

Manning's pass clearly looks like a lateral in one camera angle. Another angle, from above, however, appears to show Decker gathering in the ball at the Denver 48-yard line with Manning about a foot deeper than that.

Manning finished with 266 yards passing before sitting out the second half, and his final throw was a 6-yard TD toss to Demaryius Thomas which gave him 5,477 yards for the season and also 55 TD passes, five more than Tom Brady's record set in 2007, considered a much more significant achievement that the single-season yardage mark.

With Denver safely ahead 31-0 at halftime and the home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs secured, Manning watched backup Brock Osweiler play the entire second half in his place.

Elias routinely reviews plays and often tweaks totals in the days following games, then notifies teams of corrections to totals such as yardage or sack numbers.

Manning broke the TD record two weeks ago at Houston and was all smiles afterward, crediting his coaches and teammates and saying it was a significant mark that meant a lot to him because it came in the midst of a successful season. The Broncos (13-3) are the AFC's top seed in the playoffs for the second straight season. They have a bye this weekend and will host a divisional round game Jan. 12.

He was much more nonchalant about the yardage record.

Had the play in question originally been ruled a lateral, Manning would have finished the first half six yards shy of Brees' record of 5,476 yards, and that might have prompted the Broncos to send him out to start the third quarter even with the big lead and the playoffs looming.

Then again, maybe not.

Coach John Fox demurred when asked Monday if he would have considered sending Manning out for another series after halftime if he hadn't already broken Brees' mark.

"That's hard to say. ... What was very positive was I thought we played, if not our best, one of our better halves of football that put us in a position where we could do different things," Fox said. "No. 1, all those things are great, those individual accomplishments, team accomplishments, but not at the risk of putting a player at risk. So I don't know if I've answered your question, I'm just kind of telling you what would go through our minds in that situation."

After breaking Brady's TD record, Manning said he expected Brady to break the mark again soon, adding that all sorts of marks will fall like dominoes if NFL owners get their way and expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games.

Had Elias' ruling gone the other way, his yardage record wouldn't have even lasted 48 hours. Now, it'll stand for at least a year and maybe much longer.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Cavs' Kyrie Irving to have MRI on left knee

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Cavaliers All-Star guard Kyrie Irving will undergo an MRI after injuring his left knee Tuesday in a loss to the Pacers.

Irving was helped off the floor in the third quarter after falling awkwardly on a missed layup. A team physician cleared Irving to play and he returned in the fourth, but couldn't stop the Cavaliers from dropping their sixth straight game, 91-76 to the Pacers.

"When I went back it still didn't feel right," said Irving, who finished with 10 points, five assists and five rebounds in 35 minutes. "I thought the worst happened. I felt something pop in my knee. I was falling down around all over the place. It was a painful experience. I was praying to God everything was OK. I just have to hope for the best. We'll see what's going on."

Irving said he will have an MRI on Wednesday.

"It's probably something slight, if anything at all," Irving said. "I'm going to hope for the best, honestly. Right now, it's a little bit of a painful experience but it's something I'll get through."

Irving has been injury prone during his two-plus seasons in the NBA.

The former No. 1 overall pick has missed 38 games with a variety of injuries, including a broken nose, broken jaw, broken finger, sprained knee, sprained shoulder and concussion. He played in only 11 games as a freshman at Duke because of a foot injury.

One of Irving's goal this season was to play in all 82 regular season games. He's been durable this season despite sustaining a broken nose last month against Minnesota and playing with a protective mask. He also played last week after missing two days of practice with the flu.

The Cavaliers have reportedly been in talks with the Los Angeles Lakers about a trade involving center Andrew Bynum, who was recently banned from all team activities for detrimental conduct. The severity of Irving's injury could alter affect any plans the Cavs may have to alter their roster.

Bynum signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Cavs in July, but only $6 million is guaranteed if the Cavs release or trade him by Jan. 7.

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AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

Holmstrom gives Red Wings' alumni sweep

DETROIT (AP) Tomas Holmstrom scored the only goal of the shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings' alumni a 6-5 victory and a sweep of two games in the NHL's Alumni Showdown outside at Comerica Park before an announced crowd 33,425 on Tuesday.

Bryan McCabe tied it at 5 for Toronto with 2 seconds left to cap the Maple Leafs' comeback from a 5-1 deficit.

Detroit won the first game 5-4.

The second game, played in two 25-minute halves, featured Hall of Famer and long-time Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, who is the general manger of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the GM of Canada's Olympic Team; Brendan Shanahan, an NHL vice president; and Nicklas Lidstrom for Detroit, and Hall of Famers Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour, Lanny McDonald, Mike Gartner and Joe Nieuwendyk for Toronto.

Lidstrom had a goal and an assist and Shanahan also scored.

"You come down to it, everyone wants to win," Lidstrom said. "Even if it's an alumni game."

Yzerman didn't get on the score sheet but he received the loudest ovation from the fans in the city in which he played his entire 22-season career and won the Stanley Cup three times.

"It's a nice little distraction," said Yzerman, who was the Detroit captain for 19 seasons. "I've had a lot of things on my mind the past few days. Canada has got a lot of good players, especially at forward.

"You can only take 14 and there's 20 that we could take."

Other Hall of Famers who suited up for Detroit were Chris Chelios, who scored a goal, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey, Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Mark Howe and Dino Ciccarelli.

Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman coached the Red Wings, and Pat Quinn directed the Maple Leafs. Hall of Famers Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff between Yzerman and Sittler before the second game and Vladimir Konstantinov was helped onto the ice to be with the rest of his "Russian 5" former Red Wing teammates, Larionov, Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov - who had a goal - and Slava Kozlov. Konstantinov was badly injured in a limousine accident a few days after Detroit won the Stanley Cup in 1997.

Doug Brown also scored for Detroit.

Gary Roberts, Shayne Corson, Tie Domi, Steve Thomas also scored for Toronto.

"That was good," Toronto's Wendel Clark said. "You probably couldn't have asked for a better day. You had everything going on, a little excitement in the game. It was good fun had by all."

The first game, played in two 20-minute halves, featured 74-year-old University of Michigan coach Red Berenson and two-time Stanley Cup winner Martin Lapointe for the Red Wings, and three-time Stanley Cup champion Mike Krushelnyski for the Maple Leafs Alumni.

Berenson didn't skate and play like a 74-year-old.

"I hope when I'm 74, I can still play in these games," Toronto's Brad Marsh said. "I'm 55 now. You can do the math."

Berenson talked about his secret.

"I think I'm lucky. I've been able to stay in the game and be around young kids and be on the ice with them," he said. "But I'm just lucky."

The youngest participant, 41 years younger than Berenson, was 33-year-old Jiri Fischer, who had a goal and an assist. He was forced to retire at the age of 25, after having a heart attack on the bench during a Red Wings game on Nov. 20, 2006. Fischer is Detroit's director of player development.

Kevin Miller had a goal and two assists and Aaron Ward also had a goal and an assist for Detroit. Petr Klima and Pat Verbeek also scored.

Stu Gavin, Todd Warriner, Brad May and Bill Derlago scored for Toronto. Dan Daoust had two assists.

Mississippi State rips Rice 44-7 in Liberty Bowl

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Dak Prescott threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores and Mississippi State trounced Rice 44-7 on Tuesday in the most one-sided Liberty Bowl victory in the game's 55-year history.

Mississippi State (7-6) wrapped up its fourth straight winning season and prevented Rice (10-4) from winning bowl games in back-to-back years for the first time. By accounting for five touchdowns, Prescott set a Liberty Bowl record.

After falling behind 7-0, the Bulldogs scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions.

Mississippi State's Jameon Lewis caught nine passes for 220 yards to break the Liberty Bowl receiving record held by Houston's Vincent Marshall, who had 201 yards in a 44-36 loss to South Carolina in 2006. Lewis also set the school single-game record.

Prescott was 17 of 28 for 283 yards and also ran for 78 yards on 14 carries.

Prescott's performance delighted a partisan crowd of 57,846 and capped a triumphant late-season performance amid personal tragedy for the sophomore quarterback, whose mother, Peggy, died of cancer in November.

Prescott came off the bench in the fourth quarter to lead Mississippi State to a 17-10 overtime victory over Ole Miss that made the Bulldogs bowl eligible. He then delivered arguably the finest performance of his career Tuesday on a day when he knew the offense would be resting on his shoulders.

Although Prescott and senior Tyler Russell had shared quarterback duties throughout the regular season, Prescott had the job to himself in the Liberty Bowl while Russell recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Prescott responded better than anyone could have reasonably imagined.

Rice took an early lead on Charles Ross' 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter after the Owls recovered a fumble at the Mississippi State 47. The Bulldogs dominated from that point on.

Mississippi State responded to Rice's early score by producing touchdowns on each of its next four possessions to grab a 27-7 halftime lead. Prescott threw touchdown passes to LaDarius Perkins, Malcolm Johnson and Artimus Samuel in the first half. Prescott added two touchdown runs in the third quarter.

Rice's offense simply couldn't keep up that pace.

The Owls had won the Conference USA title - their first outright league championship of any kind since 1957 - by relying on a rushing attack that was ranked 16th among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Rice had shown it could run the ball against SEC competition by rushing for 306 yards on 51 carries in a season-opening 52-31 loss to Texas A&M.

Mississippi State stopped that Rice rushing attack in its tracks.

The Owls gained only 61 yards rushing - 179 below their season average - on 32 carries. Ross, who entered the day having rushed for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, was held to 28 yards on 10 carries.

The Liberty Bowl is about a three-hour drive from Mississippi State's campus, and the proximity created a home-game atmosphere for the Bulldogs. At least 90 percent of the fans appeared to be wearing Mississippi State maroon. The last time Mississippi State played in the Liberty Bowl, a record crowd of 63,816 watched the Bulldogs beat UCF 10-3 in 2007.

McIlroy, Wozniacki announce engagement

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) Rory McIlroy is claiming his first win of the new year - his engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.

One of the top power couples in sports announced their engagement Tuesday night on Twitter, which was Wednesday morning in Australia. A spokesman for McIlroy confirmed he popped the question in Sydney, where Wozniacki is starting to prepare for the Australian Open in Melbourne.

"Happy New Year everyone! I have a feeling it's going to be a great year!! My first victory of 2014," McIlroy tweeted. He added a hash tag, "She said yes!!" Wozniacki sent out a similar tweet a few minutes earlier that said, "Happy New Year everyone! Rory and I started 2014 with a bang! ... I said YES!!!!"

They included a collage of three photos - her engagement ring, a photo of them together and fireworks over the Sydney Harbor.

That should put to rest two reports out of Ireland at different times this year that they were splitting up. One of those reports was in August, even though McIlroy and Wozniacki had dinner in New York the following night ahead of the U.S. Open in tennis.

They first began to see each other in the summer of 2011, shortly after McIlroy won his first major with a record-setting performance in the U.S. Open at Congressional. They confirmed they were dating a few months later, and they were never shy about sharing their relationship on social media.

He changed his avatar on Twitter of the couple when Wozniacki was No. 1 and McIlroy was No. 2. That changed within six months, when McIlroy first ascended to No. 1 in the world and Wozniacki began a steady decline down the WTA ranking. She now is No. 10, while McIlroy goes into the 2014 season at No. 6.

McIlroy is coming off a rough season in which he failed to meet enormous expectations while changing golf equipment. He also left his management company in a nasty split that is to be settled next year in an Irish court. The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland did not win a tournament until the Australian Open in December.

It was his first year of serious criticism, and McIlroy said it only got to him when it involved his personal life.

"I don't care what people say about my golf," he said. "It's when people start digging into my personal life, that's where it starts to annoy you - whether it's Caroline, whether it's management, all that stuff shouldn't be a consequence to how I play my golf."

When he was asked jokingly whether they broke up five or six times this year, McIlroy gave a hearty laugh and said, "Something like that."

Wozniacki joined him at the World Challenge in California, and then they headed to south Florida and his new home for the first part of the holidays. He later when to Northern Ireland before heading Down Under.

Tweets of congratulations about their engagement began pouring in from Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari.

McIlroy makes his 2014 debut on Jan. 16-19 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Hundley, UCLA rout Virginia Tech 42-12 in Sun Bowl

EL PASO, Texas (AP) Brett Hundley threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores to help No. 17 UCLA rout Virginia Tech 42-12 on Tuesday in the Sun Bowl.

The Bruins (10-3) outscored the Hokies (8-5) 28-5 in the second half.

Virginia Tech cut it to 14-10 on Michael Branthover's 22-yard field goal with 3:53 left in the third quarter. UCLA answered with a 12-play, 85-yard drive, capped by Paul Perkins's 5-yard run early in the fourth.

Hokies backup quarterback Mark Leal then threw a pass under heavy pressure that linebacker Myles Jack intercepted and returned 29 yards for a touchdown that made it 28-10.

Virginia Tech, which lost starting quarterback Logan Thomas to an injury in the second quarter, got its final points when UCLA punter Sean Covington stepped on the end line for a safety with 9:38 left.

UCLA pushed it to 35-12 on Hundley's 8-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Duarte with 7:31 to play. The Bruins stayed aggressive late, and Hundley fired a 59-yard scoring strike down the right sideline to Shaquelle Evans for another score with 5:49 remaining.

Maple Leafs-Red Wings Preview

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) As the novelty of playing hockey outdoors seems to be wearing off, the NHL is hoping bigger is better at the Winter Classic.

The league has been playing at least one game outdoors annually since 2008 other than last season because of the lockout. The popularity of the concept is being tested by putting six games in the elements this season.

With a lot more fans and two Original Six teams, including one from Canada for the first time, the NHL is confident the 2014 Winter Classic will be different.

"Those are two distinguishing factors," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "It'll be special."

The league said 105,500 tickets have been sold for the game Wednesday between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium. That almost doubles the average of 53,045 spectators who watched the first five Winter Classics.

If every person who paid for a ticket braves temperatures in the teens on a snowy afternoon, a record will be broken.

In the same football stadium, known as the Big House, Michigan and Michigan State set a hockey attendance record of 104,173 in 2010.

"If you haven't been to a football Saturday here, then you should put it on your bucket list," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Tuesday after a brief practice. "It's the best sporting event. I've been to the Olympic Games, the World Series, the Stanley Cup. This is probably the best sporting event I've ever been to, bar none.

"Can it transfer into hockey? I assume it can.

Some players will borrow a practice from football, putting eye black on their cheeks to help cope with glare.

"I remember back to Wrigley Field (in the 2009 Winter Classic), I thought it looked kind of silly when guys were doing it," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said with black smudges under both eyes. "But it does actually help."

And like some football games, shoveling might be necessary to clear the playing surface.

Skaters with shovels cleared the ice before both teams practiced on Tuesday and they might be busier during the game. A winter weather advisory is calling for 4 to 6 inches to fall from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning in Ann Arbor.

"A little bit of snow just adds to the romance of the game," NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said.

A lot of snow, though, and 10 mph wind could become a problem for the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, who enter the game tied in the Eastern Conference standings with 45 points halfway through their seasons.

"Cold you can deal with," Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. "But if the snow is coming down hard and it's windy, it can be pretty tough."

If gusts are a significant factor, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said the NHL will have the teams switch ends midway through the third period so that both play into the wind for an equal amount of time in the game.

Snow hasn't been much of a problem in previous Winter Classics because they've been played with an average temperature of 39 degrees on or around New Year's Day.

A blizzard, gale-force wind and below-freezing temperatures would not be enough to wipe the smile off the face of Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf one day after he signed a $49 million, seven-year contract.

"I got chills coming into the building," Phaneuf said. "You grow up playing on outdoor rinks as a kid. And to be able to come here and obviously with this news being announced, to have my family here it's going to be a special game to be a part of. .... When there are 110,000 people, it's going to be an experience I'll never forget."

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/larrylage

Small improvement for Schumacher after 2nd surgery

GRENOBLE, France (AP) Michael Schumacher underwent a second surgery after a brain scan showed small, "surprising" signs of improvement, but grim doctors said Tuesday they could offer no insight into the prognosis for the Formula One champion.

Schumacher, who turns 45 on Friday, suffered critical head injuries when he fell and struck a rock Sunday while skiing on a family vacation in the French Alps. His manager confirmed that the accident cracked his helmet, which doctors credited for giving him a chance at survival.

Schumacher's condition stabilized somewhat after the second surgery, but he remains in a medically induced coma - and doctors gave no prediction on how long that would last.

"We cannot tell you any more about the future," said Gerard Saillant, a surgeon and friend of the family who is in Grenoble. Saillant said it would be "stupid" to make any predictions about Schumacher's recovery.

Schumacher and his 14-year-old son were skiing in the French Alpine resort of Meribel, where the family has a chalet, when he fell and hit the right side of his head on a rock. He was taken first to a local hospital, then to Grenoble University Hospital, which is recognized as having one of France's best neurology teams.

Dr. Emmanuel Gay, the hospital's chief neurosurgeon, said a brain scan performed late Monday showed bruising "a little bit everywhere" in Schumacher's brain - but also an unexpected easing of pressure.

"The brain scan was, I must say, surprising," he said.

But Gay and other doctors cautioned that Schumacher's condition was still grave after the successful two-hour surgery to eliminate the largest and most accessible bruise, on the left side of his brain.

"We cannot say he is out of danger," said Dr. Jean-Francois Payen, head of the hospital's intensive care unit. Payen said any neurological evaluation was "out of the question" for now.

Payen told BFM-TV on Monday that medical literature puts the recovery rate at 40 to 45 percent of patients. "I don't work with statistics. I work with patients," he was quoted as saying.

Schumacher was being kept artificially sedated and his body temperature was lowered to between 34 and 35 degrees Celsius (93.2 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit), to reduce swelling in the brain, reduce its energy consumption and allow it to rest.

Schumacher earned universal acclaim for his uncommon and sometimes ruthless driving talent, which led to a record 91 race wins. He retired from Formula One last year after garnering an unmatched seven world titles.

Schumi, as his fans affectionately call him, was famously aggressive on the track and no less intense off-hours. In retirement, he remained an avid skier, skydiver and horseback rider.

Sabine Kehm, Schumacher's manager, offered more details on the accident, confirming that his helmet cracked on impact.

"It looks like probably that initiating a corner, he was hitting a stone which he had not seen and was catapulted down on a rock," Kehm said in English. "That is extremely and very unfortunate ... really very, very bad luck. Michael was not at high speed."

Visitors to the hospital Tuesday included two close friends of Schumacher's from his time at Ferrari, where he won five of his record seven F1 titles from 2000-04.

Jean Todt, then manager of the storied Italian team and now president of motor racing's governing body, and Italian test driver Luca Badoer both declined to speak with media.

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Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant contributed from Paris.

Seattle may get Harvin back for postseason

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Already with home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks might be getting another addition just in time for a postseason run: Percy Harvin.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Monday that Harvin will practice when the Seahawks return later this week to prepare for their NFC divisional playoff game on Jan. 11. Carroll said there is no guarantee Harvin will be able to play.

But Harvin has reached a point in his recovery from hip surgery - and a setback following his one game this season - where he can return to practice in time for the postseason.

"It will be a great thing for him first off. This guy is a true competitor and would do anything to play. He's been fighting for a months and months to position himself so he could get back here and to his credit he has not given up on it. He's at a place where he has a chance," Carroll said. "We'll see what happens. That's kind of it. If he can help his team, great."

The news came a day after Seattle wrapped up the NFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 27-9 win over St. Louis. It was Seattle's eighth divisional title in franchise history and first since 2010 when they won the then pitiful NFC West with a 7-9 record.

This time they survived the toughest division in the NFL and lofty expectation by matching the franchise record for most victories in a season.

"We handled it the whole time. We dealt with it throughout the season and put it in the right place and the guys understood what it meant and what it didn't mean and performed under that kind of scrutiny," Carroll said. "Here we are to get the division taken care of and to have the best record and all of that under those expectations we dealt with it. That's a really good thing. That's how you make expectations like that normal."

It's a stunning turn after Carroll hinted last week that a roster move could be possible with Harvin to clear a roster spot. Instead, the Seahawks are potentially getting a dynamic playmaker back in time for a playoff run.

"Percy's going to practice with us when we get back with the intention on playing in this next game," Carroll said. "We'll see what happens. That's the intention and we'll see how it goes. It's come to the point where we can go to that and we'll keep our fingers crossed for him. He wants to contribute and be part of this team, and he's going to do everything he can to do that. We'll see what happens."

After Carroll announced the news, Harvin tweeted to Seahawks fans that he'll see them in two weeks and "It's go time once again."

Seattle would like to see this start with Harvin last more than just one week. He had hip surgery in early August to repair his labrum. It was late October before he finally returned to practice and made his Seahawks debut in Week 11 against Minnesota. Harvin had one reception and a 58-yard kickoff return in the victory.

But he's been absent since that game, unable to overcome what Carroll has called "soreness" in the hip area. Harvin has not practiced since, but Carroll has said there is no additional structural damage.

Even Monday morning on his radio show, Carroll seemed uncertain about the prognosis, saying Harvin likely needed an entire offseason to fully get healthy. Just a few hours later the tone changed significantly and Seattle suddenly had the potential of springing a new toy on whoever they face in the playoffs.

"He's been rehabbing the whole time to get to this point," Carroll said. "He ran really well today."

There is no guarantee that Harvin will play even with the plan for him to practice. The only week he's practiced extensively the entire season was leading into the game against Minnesota when Harvin faced his former team. He was in for 19 offensive snaps and two on special teams against Minnesota, but was unable to get back on the field following Seattle's bye in Week 12.

"He had major surgery in his hip. There are lots of people who walk around for years trying to get back from that and he's trying to do it in months," Carroll said. "And he's not trying to just get back to being a normal human being walking down the street."

Notes: Carroll said players who were banged up on Sunday - Brandon Mebane, Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane and Jermaine Kearse - should be able to practice on Thursday. The one concern is TE Luke Willson who suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Rams. ... LB K.J. Wright has an outside chance of practicing next week, Carroll said. Wright suffered a broken foot in Week 14 at San Francisco.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Tim Tebow joins SEC Network, still pursuing NFL

ATLANTA (AP) Tim Tebow has his next football job - talking about the sport on TV.

The Heisman Trophy winner has been hired as a college football analyst for the new SEC Network in a return to his Florida glory days, but he still hopes to play quarterback in the NFL.

Tebow will appear on "SEC Nation," a pregame show that will travel to a different campus each week after the channel launches in August. The multiyear deal "will not preclude him from continuing to pursue playing opportunities in the NFL," ESPN, which runs the network, said in a statement Monday.

Tebow did not play in the league in 2013 after he was cut by the Patriots in August. In the span of just over one season, he went from a national sensation who led the Denver Broncos to the playoffs, to a backup, to out of the NFL.

"While I continue to pursue my dream of playing quarterback in the NFL, this is an amazing opportunity to be part of the unparalleled passion of college football and the SEC," Tebow said in a statement released by ESPN.

ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly called Tebow an "SEC icon with a national fan base and broad appeal."

Tebow will make his ESPN debut during pregame coverage of the BCS championship Jan. 6.

After winning the 2007 Heisman and two national championships for the Gators in the SEC, Tebow became one of the biggest stories in the NFL in his second season. He went 7-1 in his first eight starts in 2011 then threw an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to give the Broncos a 29-23 playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But he was still dogged by doubts about his passing ability, and Denver traded him that offseason to the New York Jets after acquiring Peyton Manning.

He languished on the bench while coach Rex Ryan ignored fans' calls for Tebow to replace a struggling Mark Sanchez. Tebow threw just eight passes, ran only 32 times and was cut last April 29.

For six weeks no team wanted him until the Patriots signed him to a low-risk, two-year contract with no guaranteed money.

Houston's horrid season gives Texans No. 1 pick

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans thought they would be preparing for a deep run in the playoffs.

Instead as the new year approaches, they're looking for a new coach and have the No. 1 pick in the draft after a stunning collapse cost coach Gary Kubiak his job and left them with the NFL's worst record.

Their 2-14 mark ties the 2005 team for the poorest mark in team history. But this one seems much worse because of the expectations entering this season.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took over as interim coach when Kubiak was fired. Houston ended the season on a 14-game skid. Phillips, who dealt with the death of his father, Bum, during the season, was ready to put this rough year behind him.

He walked into his last news conference Monday with a plaintive plea of: "Let's wrap up the season - please."

Kubiak, who was in his eighth season in Houston, had a mini-stroke at halftime of the Texans game against Indianapolis on Nov. 3, but returned to work just 10 days later. Phillips also filled in for Kubiak in the one game he missed because of his illness.

Phillips is one of three candidates, along with Penn State's Bill O'Brien and former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, who have reportedly interviewed to be Houston's next coach. Phillips, last a head coach in Dallas, said he would like to be a head coach again.

"In certain circumstances, like here," he said. "Tampa Bay wanted to talk to me two years ago and I declined that. It would have to be the right situation. There aren't many right situations."

Houston safety Danieal Manning, who played for Smith in Chicago, said he's talked to him about his interest in returning to coaching, but not specifically about this job.

"I'd love to play for Lovie again," Manning said.

The Texans were coming off back-to-back AFC South titles and were favorites to contend for a Super Bowl in 2013. Things looked good early, with Houston starting 2-0 before the trouble began.

But even in the wins cracks began show in the play of quarterback Matt Schaub, a Pro Bowler a year ago. He threw three interceptions in the first two games combined, but Houston was able to overcome his miscues for victories.

He struggled in the next two games, both losses, before things got really ugly in the n against San Francisco. He tossed three interceptions, including one on the third play of the game which was returned for a score in the 34-3 loss. Schaub started one more game before he was injured and replaced by Case Keenum. Schaub was healthy a week later, but the Texans chose to stick with Keenum, an undrafted free agent.

It was quickly apparent the record-setting University of Houston quarterback wasn't the answer as the losses piled up. Schaub got spot work in two games after his benching before starting the final two games after Keenum was injured.

It seemed fitting in this dreadful season that he threw an interception on Houston's last offensive play Sunday to seal the loss.

The quarterback woes have many predicting Houston will use the top pick on a QB. Top quarterbacks likely to be available are Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, and Fresno State's Derek Carr, younger brother of Houston's first-ever draft pick, David Carr.

But Schaub's rough season was far from Houston's only problem this year. It dealt with several season-ending injuries to key players.

The first came when tight end Owen Daniels broke a bone in his leg on Oct. 7, and Manning went down a week later with a knee injury. Star linebacker Brian Cushing was lost the next week when he sustained a second straight season-ending injury to his left knee.

Running back Arian Foster played eight games before being placed on injured reserve and undergoing back surgery. He finished with 542 yards rushing to end a streak of three straight seasons with at least 1,200 yards on the ground. Backup Ben Tate broke four ribs just before Foster's season ended, but continued to play until another injury to his ribs sidelined him with two games left.

Along with the injuries on defense, the unit was also hurt by the ineffective play of veteran safety Ed Reed. The Texans signed him to a three-year, $15 million contract in the offseason thinking he could be the piece to help Houston reach the next level. But he missed the first two games after hip surgery and made just 16 tackles with no interceptions before he was released Nov. 12.

About the only bright spots for the Texans in this dismal year were defensive end J.J. Watt and receiver Andre Johnson. Both players made the Pro Bowl after Watt had 10 1/2 sacks and Johnson finished with 1,407 yards receiving for his seventh career 1,000-yard season.

"The team didn't do well, but they did well and did some amazing things," Phillips said.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Ole Miss beats Georgia Tech 25-17 at Music City

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Bo Wallace ran for two touchdowns and threw for another score and Mississippi beat Georgia Tech 25-17 Monday in the Music City Bowl for the Rebels' second straight bowl victory under coach Hugh Freeze.

The junior quarterback and Tennessee native made up for his three turnovers in the Egg Bowl overtime loss by throwing for 256 yards and running for 86 more, giving him the school record for total yards in a season and most completions in a season, topping Eli Manning for both.

Ole Miss (8-5) now has won six straight bowls and 10 of the last 11 in making up for the lone loss in that stretch in the 2000 Music City Bowl.

Georgia Tech (7-6) has lost eight of nine bowls. The Yellow Jackets scored 10 points in the fourth quarter as they tried to rally before a safety with 4:22 left ended their last chance.

Yellow Jackets lineman Adam Gotsis blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt by Andrew Ritter giving Georgia Tech the ball at their own 20 with 4:36 left trailing 23-17.

But Georgia Tech lost 5 yards on the first play, then Vad Lee flipped the ball to Corey Dennis on a reverse with the receiver apparently looking to throw when he fumbled under pressure. Right tackle Ray Beno covered up the ball in the end zone for the safety.

Ole Miss then chewed up the clock before finally punting back to Georgia Tech with 37 seconds left. Senquez Golson intercepted Lee on the next play to seal the victory for the Rebels in the bowl, sponsored by Franklin American Mortgage Company.

With a month to prepare, Ole Miss shut down the nation's fourth-best rushing offense. Georgia Tech came in averaging 311.7 yards per game, and the Rebels smothered the Yellow Jackets, holding them to just 151 yards on the ground. Ole Miss held the ball for nearly 33 minutes and had a 477-298 edge in total offense.

Ole Miss had a 23-7 lead when the Yellow Jackets scored 10 straight points.

Harrison Butker capped a 64-yard drive with a 38-yard field goal in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, then D.J. White intercepted a Wallace pass intended for Donte Moncrief. On the next play, Lee found Darren Waller for a 72-yard catch-and-run for a TD with 13:25 left.

Ole Miss led 13-7 after an interesting first half where both teams opened the game driving for touchdowns with some special teams miscues.

Wallace capped the opening possession for Ole Miss with a 17-yard run for a touchdown, and he connected with Moncrief on a 28-yard TD catch where the receiver went down the right sideline and then held the ball out at the pylon for the score in the second quarter.

But Gotsis also blocked the extra point, keeping Ole Miss' lead at 13-7. Ritter also missed a 29-yard field goal later in the quarter that was so low it bounced off the crossbar.

Georgia Tech looked impressive with a 14-play, 74-yard drive, and senior Robert Godhigh scored on an 8-yard run that tied the game.

The Yellow Jackets also hurt themselves with a fake punt attempt in the second when punter Sean Poole tripped short of the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-11 at midfield.

Seahawks finish atop AP Pro32 rankings

NEW YORK (AP) The Seattle Seahawks finished the 2013 season atop The Associated Press power rankings, just ahead of the Denver Broncos.

In balloting by 12 media members who regularly cover the NFL, the top three teams in the AP Pro32 were the Seahawks, Broncos and San Francisco 49ers. They also were at the top of the poll heading into the season, with the 49ers first, followed by the Seahawks and Broncos.

NFC West champion Seattle grabbed eight first-place votes on Monday and 380 points. AFC West winner Denver got the other four first-place choices and 372 points. Both had 13-3 records this season and are the top seeds in each conference.

"The Seahawks are still the favorite in the NFC," said Herm Edwards of ESPN. "They are tough to beat in Seattle. `The 12th Man' is still alive."

Tony Dungy of NBC echoed his fellow ex-coach's thoughts:

"Defense, run game and home crowd are awesome."

But Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com favored the Broncos, who finished first for the 2012 season.

"With 55 touchdown passes from quarterback Peyton Manning, Broncos became first team to crack 600-point barrier," he said.

Rounding out the top five were Carolina and New England, both with 12-4 records. The Panthers began the year ranked 23rd, while the Patriots were fifth, just where they finished.

"No matter what happens in January, Bill Belichick will look back at this season with immense pride," said Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.

Among the teams making huge improvements in the AP Pro32, along with Carolina, were Kansas City from 21st to ninth; Philadelphia, 26th to 10th; Arizona, from 24th to 12th; and San Diego, from 27th to 13th.

Of the 12 teams who made the playoffs, only the Chargers (9-7) didn't rank in the top dozen, replaced by Arizona (10-6).

"That the Cardinals were in the playoff hunt until the final weekend was a testament to Bruce Arians' terrific coaching and GM Steve Keim's roster makeover," said Bob Glauber of Newsday.

Houston, which began the schedule ranked fifth, finished 32nd and last with 13 points. The Texans (2-14) have the first pick in May's draft.

"The Texans are the first time in NFL history to win their first two and lose their final 14," said Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Other teams dropping way down in the AP Pro32 from September until Monday were Atlanta, from fourth to 26th; defending champion Baltimore, from eighth to 16th; and Washington, from 10th to 31st.

"The retooled offensive line failed Matt Ryan this season," John Czarnecki of Fox Sports said of Atlanta.

"Hard to believe this was a playoff team last year," Dungy said of the Redskins.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Texas AD: Brown's successor needed by mid-January

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) New Texas athletic director says Steve Patterson says he expects a successor to Mack Brown will be found in the next two weeks.

Patterson said before kickoff at the Alamo Bowl on Monday night that he believes Texas needs a new coach by Jan. 15. That's the end of the so-called "dead period" in the NCAA that prohibits coaches from in-person contact with recruits during bowl season.

Patterson said coaches "are certainly expressing their interest" in the job but wouldn't discuss any potential candidates.

The Alamo Bowl is Brown's final game at Texas after 16 years. He's resigning after a rocky final season in which Texas lost at least four games for the fourth consecutive year.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen expects to return

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Dennis Allen met with the Oakland Raiders players as a team and individually and talked about his vision for turning the franchise around after a second straight four-win season.

Even with no official word yet from owner Mark Davis, Allen is sure acting like a coach who will be back in Oakland for a third season.

"I've been given the indication that I'll be back but I think it will be important for me and Mark to be able to sit down and communicate and talk about the things that we need to talk about," Allen said Monday. "But I have every intention of being back."

Allen said he has already met with general manager Reggie McKenzie about plans for the future and will meet soon with Davis to talk about how he plans to turn around the team.

"I'm sure there's a lot of things that he wants to talk to me about, there's things that I want to be able to talk to him about, and those will be things that we'll communicate on and we'll move forward from there," Allen said.

Allen said he doesn't expect many changes on his coaching staff even though most of them have contracts that expire next month.

Despite losing their final six games and eight of the last nine following a promising start to the season, Allen retained the support in the locker room from players hoping for continuity after years of constant change in Oakland.

"The result on the field was not anywhere near what we wanted, but we need to keep continuity and keep building," left tackle Jared Veldheer said. "You can't rip down and start over because then we just fall into the same problem. It's hard for people to see, but it's going to happen. There will be success here."

It was hard to see that success down the stretch of the season especially. The Raiders struggled mightily on defense and allowed the second most points in franchise history and had the fifth worst passer rating against in NFL history.

The offense also struggled late in the season as both Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor failed to deliver consistent play. Pryor won three of his first six starts before regressing down the stretch. McGloin won his debut start before losing his final five games.

The Raiders have the fifth pick in May's draft and could use it on a quarterback or bring in a veteran through trade or free agency.

"That's a position that we've got to make sure that we address," Allen said. "I'm not sure that we have the quarterback of the future in the building right now."

Allen and McKenzie took over a team that had gone 8-8 in two straight seasons but was hampered by bloated contracts for veterans who did not produce enough to stay in Oakland and a lack of premium draft picks to use to find replacements.

The two spent the first two seasons tearing down the organization, leading to more than $50 million of this year's salary cap being counted as "dead money" to players who were no longer part of the organization.

But the Raiders are projected to have close to $70 million in salary cap room this offseason. That could be used to keep some of the 17 potential unrestricted free agents like Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston, safety Charles Woodson or running back Rashad Jennings, or add impact players from other teams.

Allen said he would like all of those key free agents back next season if possible.

Allen said the Raiders need to add two of three playmakers on each side of the ball this offseason in order to be a playoff contender in a division that had three playoff teams. The most important spot is quarterback.

Allen said he doesn't expect a hard time getting free agents to want to come to a team that has failed to make the playoffs or post a winning record for 11 straight years.

"Because they have an opportunity to be a part of building something special," he said. "That's the belief that we have and hopefully that's something that we can convince these free agents that are out there. We believe that we can build something special here."

NOTES: The Raiders signed practice squad CB Johnny Adams, OL Jack Cornell, WR Jared Green, LB Eric Harper, TE Brian Leonhardt and DE Chris McCoy to reserve-future contracts.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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