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US News Headlines

    The Latest on Afghanistan, where gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in the capital, Kabul (all times local):12:45 p.m.An Afghan official says a roadside bomb has killed at least 12 civilians in the western Herat province.Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the provincial police chief, says a 13th person was wounded in the explosion early Sunday, which struck a vehicle in the Gulran district.No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Walizada blamed Taliban insurgents, who often plant roadside bombs to target Afghan security forces.___12:15 p.m.An Afghan official says insurgents have killed 18 members of a pro-government militia in northern Afghanistan, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.Gen. Abdul Razeq Qaderi, the deputy police chief of Balkh province, says the insurgents burst into a home where several members of the Local Uprising Forces were gathered late Saturday. He says the attackers led them outside and shot them dead. One of those killed was a tribal elder who served as the local police commander.The Local Uprising Forces operate under the Interior Ministry.Gen. Mahruf Folad, the police chief of the western Farah province, meanwhile said a roadside bomb killed a deputy police chief and wounded four other police early Sunday.The Taliban claimed both attacks.___9 a.m.An Afghan official says at least five civilians have been killed after gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and have been fighting security forces for 11 hours into Sunday morning.Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish says six other civilians are reported to be wounded and more than 100 people, including 16 foreigners, have been rescued from the hotel.The bodies of four attackers have been recovered as security forces continued to clear the landmark hotel.Danish says security forces are going room-by-room to make sure all attackers have been accounted for.No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which started around 9 p.m. Saturday.
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is defending President Donald Trump's move to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a decision that has touched off uneasiness among Arab nations on his first tour of the region.Pence was to meet Sunday with Jordan's King Abdullah II for discussions that are expected to include last month's shift on Jerusalem and plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the fiercely contested holy city.The vice president said after meeting Saturday with Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that he emphasized the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.Pence said he assured el-Sissi the U.S. was committed to 'preserving the status quo with regard to holy sites in Jerusalem,' and that borders and other issues would be negotiated between the parties.'The United States of America is deeply committed to restarting the peace process in the Middle East,' Pence said before departing for Jordan. He said he would be 'delivering that message in Jordan, delivering that message in Israel, as well.'El-Sissi said in a statement after the meeting that he affirmed Egypt's 'unyielding position' in support of the Palestinians' right to establish an independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital. He said the conflict could only be resolved through negotiations leading to a two-state solution.Israel views Jerusalem as its unified capital, while the Palestinians demand east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of their future state. A longstanding international consensus holds that the city's final status should be decided through negotiations, which was also U.S. policy going back decades.Arab and Muslim nations support the Palestinians' claim to east Jerusalem, and the Trump administration's shift ignited protests across the region.Ahead of Pence's arrival, several dozen Jordanians gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman, protesting against U.S. policies in the Middle East.'America is the head of the snake,' they chanted. Some held up a banner reading: 'The envoy of the Zionist American right-wing is not welcome.'The Trump administration's dramatic policy shift on Jerusalem has posed a dilemma for Jordan's monarch, a staunch U.S. ally.Palestinians make up a large segment of Jordan's population, and the ruling Hashemite monarchy derives some of its political legitimacy from its historic role as custodian of Jerusalem's main Muslim shrine, the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is Islam's third holiest site.Any perceived threats to Muslim claims to the city, such as Trump's shift on Jerusalem, undermine its vital role there.At the same time, Jordan relies on U.S. military and economic aid — $1.5 billion in 2015 and $1.6 billion last year — at a time of a worsening economic downturn and rising unemployment.Pence was also expected to meet with U.S. troops in the region on Sunday and then depart for Israel, where he's scheduled to hold meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deliver an address to the Knesset and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.Netanyahu has said he'll soon decide on Israel's new ambassador to Jordan after the two countries agreed to move past a diplomatic row. Israel media reported Netanyahu as saying Israel had expressed remorse over a shooting at its Amman embassy last summer that killed two Jordanians.Israel's ambassador returned to Israel along with the guard involved in the shooting. The guard claimed self-defense and received a hero's welcome at home, angering Jordanians.The incident has strained relations between the countries, which signed a peace agreement in 1994 and cooperate on security and other issues.__Associated Press writer Karin Laub contributed to this report.
  • The Latest on Afghanistan, where gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in the capital, Kabul (all times local):12:15 p.m.An Afghan official says insurgents have killed 18 members of a pro-government militia in northern Afghanistan, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.Gen. Abdul Razeq Qaderi, the deputy police chief of Balkh province, says the insurgents burst into a home where several members of the Local Uprising Forces were gathered late Saturday. He says the attackers led them outside and shot them dead. One of those killed was a tribal elder who served as the local police commander.The Local Uprising Forces operate under the Interior Ministry.Gen. Mahruf Folad, the police chief of the western Farah province, meanwhile said a roadside bomb killed a deputy police chief and wounded four other police early Sunday.The Taliban claimed both attacks.___9 a.m.An Afghan official says at least five civilians have been killed after gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and have been fighting security forces for 11 hours into Sunday morning.Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish says six other civilians are reported to be wounded and more than 100 people, including 16 foreigners, have been rescued from the hotel.The bodies of four attackers have been recovered as security forces continued to clear the landmark hotel.Danish says security forces are going room-by-room to make sure all attackers have been accounted for.No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which started around 9 p.m. Saturday.
  • Former Kinks bassist Jim Rodford has died after a fall. He was 76.The Zombies, the group Rodford had played with since 1999, confirmed the death of the British musician on their Facebook page Saturday.Zombies co-founder Rod Argent says his cousin and longtime bandmate was a 'magnificent bass player.'Rodford joined The Kinks in 1978, touring with the group and playing on its later albums. Ray Davies, The Kinks' co-founder, tweeted that Rodford was 'an integral part of the Kinks later years.'Argent also highlighted Rodford's commitment to music in St Albans, north of London, where he lived his entire life.Argent says 'Jim's life was dedicated to music. He was unfailingly committed to local music - an ever present member of the local scene in St. Albans.
  • A Turkish official says suspected Syrian Kurdish fighters have fired rockets from across the border, slightly wounding one person.Gov. Mehmet Tekinarslan says four rockets struck the town of Kilis early Sunday, hitting two houses and an office. He says Turkish artillery returned fire. The attack came as dozens of Turkish jets pounded the Kurdish-run enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.Afrin is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey views as part of the Kurdish insurgency in its southeast. The militia forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main U.S. ally against the Islamic State group in Syria.The state-run Anadolu Agency says Turkey-backed Syrian forces have penetrated the enclave and are advancing.Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says a Turkish ground offensive could begin Sunday.
  • Demonstrations in support of female empowerment are scheduled in cities across the country Sunday, a day after hundreds of thousands of people across the globe marched, chanted and protested.Marches are scheduled in several cities, including Miami, Melbourne and Munich.On Saturday, many not only supported women's rights, but also denounced President Donald Trump's views on immigration, abortion, LGBT rights and women's rights on the anniversary of his inauguration.The 2017 rally in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of similar marches, created solidarity for those opposing Trump's views, words and actions. Millions of people around the world marched during last year's rallies. Participants on Saturday talked about the news avalanche of politics and gender issues in the past year. They said they were galvanized by the #MeToo movement, which has been credited as countering widespread sexual abuse and misconduct.Critics of the weekend's marches said the demonstrations were really a protest against Trump.Meanwhile, Trump on Saturday tweeted that it was a 'perfect day' for women to march to celebrate the 'economic success and wealth creation' that's happened during his first year in office.'Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months,' the Republican wrote. 'Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!'Demonstrators on Saturday denounced Trump's views with colorful signs and even saltier language.Oklahoma City protesters chanted 'We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!' One woman donned a T-shirt with the likeness of social justice icon Woody Guthrie, who wrote 'This Land Is Your Land.'Members of the group Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of Seattle burned sage and chanted in front of Seattle's rainy march.In Richmond, Virginia, the crowd burst into cheers when a woman ran down the middle of the street carrying a pink flag with the word 'Resist.'The march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday took on the feel of a political rally when U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats, urged women to run for office and vote to oppose Trump and the Republicans' agenda.'We march, we run, we vote, we win,' Pelosi said, to applause.People gathered from Montpelier to Milwaukee, from Shreveport to Seneca Falls.'I think right now with the #MeToo movement, it's even more important to stand for our rights,' said Karen Tordivo, who marched in Cleveland with her husband and 6-year-old daughter.In Palm Beach, Florida, home to Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, several hundred people gathered carrying anti-Trump signs before marching. A group of women wearing red cloaks and white hats like the characters in the book and TV show 'The Handmaid's Tale' marched in formation, their heads bowed.Cathy Muldoon, a high school librarian from Dallas, Pennsylvania, took her two teenage daughters to the New York rally and said marching gives people hope. She said this year's action is set against the backdrop of the Trump presidency, which 'turned out to be as scary as we thought it would be.'I've not seen any checks and balances,' she said. 'Everything is moving toward the right, and we have a president who seems to have no decency.'In Los Angeles, Eva Longoria, Natalie Portman, Viola Davis, Alfre Woodard, Scarlett Johansson, Constance Wu, Adam Scott and Rob Reiner were among the celebrities who addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators at a women's march.Longoria, who starred in TV's 'Desperate Housewives,' told marchers their presence matters, 'especially when those in power seem to have turned their backs on reason and justice.'Portman, an Academy Award winner, talked about feeling sexualized by the entertainment industry from the time her first film, 'Leon: The Professional,' was released when she was 13 and suggested it's time for 'a revolution of desire.' In the 1994 film, Portman played a young girl taken in by a hit man after her family is killed.Woodard urged everyone to register and vote, saying, 'the 2018 midterms start now,' echoing many speakers at marches across the country, who urged women to vote.___Cohen reported from Los Angeles, and Dobnik reported from New York.
  • Women and inclusivity continued to dominate the awards season conversation Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards, where Guillermo del Toro's fantastical romance 'The Shape of Water' won the top award and honorees like Jordan Peele and Ava DuVernay gave rousing speeches to the room of entertainment industry leaders.The untelevised dinner and ceremony, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., is closely watched for its capacity to predict the eventual Oscar best picture winner, but this year the 'awards race' seemed to be the secondary show to the more urgent questions facing the industry, including the crisis of representation and sexual misconduct.The Producers Guild on Friday ratified guidelines for combating sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, and everyone from DuVernay to Universal Chair Donna Langley and television mogul Ryan Murphy made mention of the changing times and the work that still needs to be done.'If we want more brilliant films like 'Get Out' ...we need to have many different perspectives including equal numbers of women, people of color, people of all faiths and sexual orientation involved in every stage of filmmaking,' Langley said in accepting the Milestone Award — noting that she was only the third woman to do so.It was not the only time 'Get Out' got a special mention, despite not winning the top award. Peele also won the Stanley Kramer Award.Del Toro was not present to accept the PGA's Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures, due to the health of his father.His film was up against 10 others this year, including 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,' which won big at the Golden Globes earlier this month, 'Lady Bird,' ''Get Out,' ''Dunkirk,' ''The Post,' ''Call Me By Your Name,' ''The Big Sick,' ''I, Tonya' ''Wonder Woman' and 'Molly's Game' — many of which were represented by actors and directors in attendance like Timothee Chalamet, Christopher Nolan, Margot Robbie, Patty Jenkins and Greta Gerwig.Other presenters included the likes of Tom Hanks, Reese Witherspoon, Mary J. Blige, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kerry Washington and Morgan Freeman in the ceremony that saw Disney and Pixar's 'Coco' pick up best animated feature and Brett Morgen's Jane Goodall film 'Jane' win best documentary.In television, 'The Handmaids Tale' picked up best drama series, 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' won best comedy series, 'Last Week Tonight With John Oliver' won best TV variety series, 'Black Mirror' for long-form TV, 'Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath' for nonfiction television, 'Sesame Street' for children's program and 'Carpool Karaoke' for best short-form program.The pre-announced honorees stole most of the show, however.Norman Lear presented the Stanley Kramer Award to Peele invoking the award's namesake in speaking of 'Get Out,' which Lear proudly said he's seen three times.Peele said he was proud to call Lear a friend.'I want to say, you can use my body for your brain anytime,' Peele laughed, before taking a more serious turn in his speech.Peele likened the idea of 'the sunken place' in the film to what is happening in the world right now, referencing Haiti, the water crisis in Flint, and President Donald Trump's criticisms of athletes for protesting on the field.'What really scares me...is the silencing of voices,' Peele said ''Get Out' is my protest against that.'Peele ended on a hopeful note, however.'Finally unique voices are breaking through,' he said. 'Diverse and honest storytelling opens eyes and hearts. We can break out of the sunken place together.'Selma' and 'A Wrinkle in Time' director Ava DuVernay gave a similarly poignant speech in accepting the Visionary Award,'It's an odd moment, you have a women's march and you have a country with a government shut down,' DuVernay said. 'We're in the midst of times that will be long remembered.'DuVernay said what is important is, 'The way we work. The people we actually choose to see. That we choose to amplify in the moments where no one is looking.'Don't think of diversity as a good thing to do,' she added. 'Think of it as a must. An absolute must.'Like many awards shows in the midst of Me Too and Time's Up, even the men accepting awards devoted large portions of their time on stage to talk about extraordinary women in their lives.'Wonder Woman' producer Charles Roven used his David O. Selznick Achievement Award acceptance speech to call out powerful women he's worked with, from his late wife Dawn Steel, to Langley, Sue Kroll, Amy Pascal and Jenkins, who he said 'has reignited this industry.'Glee' creator Ryan Murphy, who got the Norman Lear Achievement Award, said, 'Women were always my champions and mentors for 20 years now and I believe that's because they deeply related to my struggle — what it's like to be an outsider.' He has taken steps to ensure that women occupy at least half of the directing spots in his productions.In the larger context of awards season 'The Shape of Water's' win Saturday surprised some who expected 'Three Billboards' to continue its ascendancy after the Globes. 'The Shape of Water' is also up for two Screen Actors Guild Awards, which will be announced Sunday.The Producers Guild's choice for top film has eight times in the last 10 years matched the eventual Academy Award best picture winner. Last year, its nominees predicted all 9 best picture nominees, although the PGA went to 'La La Land' which lost out to 'Moonlight' at the Academy Awards.Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday in advance of the ceremony on March 4.___For full coverage of awards season, visit: https://apnews.com/tag/AwardsSeason
  • A pair of well-kept dogs were taken from the Perris, California, house where 13 children were found shackled and severely malnourished last week. >> Watch the news report here David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 49, are facing a minimum of 94 years for charges including child neglect and torture after police said their children, ranging from ages 2 to 29, were discovered in their home severely malnourished. >> Neighbors of parents accused of holding 13 kids captive describe family as odd, reclusive In a statement on Wednesday, city spokesman Joe Vargo said authorities recovered two Maltese terrier dogs in far better condition than the Turpins’ children. The 1-year-old female puppies were reportedly healthy and were taught skills, People reported. “The animals, one white and one black, appear healthy and friendly and are leash-trained, according to Christina Avila, a senior animal control officer,” a press release from the city of Perris said. >> Read more trending news  The dogs — one was named Fluffy — were featured in photos from the city appearing well-groomed and in sweaters. An adoption raffle for the pups is being held through Jan. 26 to find them new homes. Investigators said the children were only allowed showers a few times per year and were fed only once per day. In a press conference with reporters Thursday, District Attorney Mike Hestrin alleged that the last time any of the children had seen a doctor was four years ago and they had never been to a dentist. Police said the parents allegedly kept themselves well-fed and regularly ate pies in front of their children to taunt them, ABC News reported. >> Police: 13 siblings held captive in California residence The 17-year-old who reportedly escaped the home through a bedroom window to alert authorities was initially believed to be just 10 years old due to the severity of her malnourishment, while the oldest victim, a 29-year-old woman, weighed only 82 pounds when the children were found. According to Hestrin, the children “lack a basic knowledge of life,” although they were allegedly homeschooled, KTLA reported. According to the Daily Mail, the parents face a combined total of 75 charges, and each was being held on $12 million bond.
  • The head of a hugely popular North Korean girl band crossed the heavily fortified border into South Korea on Sunday to check preparations for rare performances by an art troupe she also leads during next month's Winter Olympics.Appearing live on South Korean television, Hyon Song Wol didn't speak when she walked past a crowd of reporters, onlookers and a barrage of camera flashes before boarding an express train at Seoul's railway station for the eastern city of Gangneung, where her art troupe is to perform during the Pyeongchang Olympics.She is the leader of Pyongyang's all-female Moranbong Band, which was hand-picked by leader Kim Jong Un. She's been the subject of intense South Korean media attention since she attended last week's talks at the border that struck an agreement on the 140-memer Samjiyon art troupe's two performances — one in Seoul and the other in Gangneung, where some of the games will take place. After the talks, North Korea said Hyon would also lead the Samjiyon art troupe, whose performances would be the first by a North Korean group in South Korea since 2002.With no official media access given to Hyon, TV stations broadcast live footage of her bus moving on Seoul's roads before arriving at the railway station, where hundreds of police officers were mobilized to maintain order. Photos showed a smiling Hyon shaking heads with a South Korean official upon arrival at the border. Later Sunday, wearing a dark winter coat and fur scarf and with half her hair tied to the back, she looked more serious with an expressionless face.Hyon's arrival came hours after the International Olympic Committee allowed 22 North Korean athletes to take part in the Olympics in exceptional entries given to the North. Among the 22 are 12 women who will join South Korea's female hockey team in the Koreas' first-ever unified Olympic team. The other sports events the North Koreans will compete in are figure skating, short track speed skating, Alpine skiing and cross-country skiing.The 22 North Korean athletes will march together with South Korean players under a single 'unification flag' depicting their peninsula during the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang. 'Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,' IOC chief Thomas Bach said in Lausanne, Switzerland.The current mood of reconciliation between the Koreas flared after Kim abruptly expressed his willingness to improve ties and send a delegation to the Olympics during his annual New Year's address. Outside critics dismissed Kim's overture as a tactic to use improved ties with Seoul to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions over North Korea's advancing nuclear and missile programs.Hyon, who is also an alternate member of the ruling party's Central Committee, is travelling with six other North Koreans. Her delegation had been expected in South Korea on Saturday, but North Korea canceled that plan on Friday night before it proposed a two-day trip starting Sunday. It wasn't clear why the visit was rescheduled.Hyon's advance team is to inspect a venue for her art troupe's performance in Gangnenug later Sunday. The team is expected to stay overnight at Gangneung before returning to Seoul to check another venue in the capital on Monday, according to Yonhap news agency.The Samjiyon art troupe, which comprises orchestra members, singers and dancers, is part of North Korea's Olympic delegation that also includes athletes, officials, journalists and a taekwondo demonstration team.North Korea on Sunday offered to send another advance team across the border on Thursday to look at accommodation facilities, a press center and the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry. South Korea is to send its own advance team to North Korea on Tuesday to review logistics for a joint cultural event at the North's Diamond Mountain and their non-Olympic skiers' joint practices at the North's Masik ski resort, the ministry said.Hyon was a popular singer before she was appointed to lead the Moranbong Band, which serves as the 'soft' public face of the Kim government. Its members in short skirts and high heels or stylish military uniforms sing and dance odes to Kim. There is speculation that some of the Moranbong members may also appear in the Samjiyon art troupe, which observers say was likely hastily formed ahead of Olympics-related talks with South Korea.Under a deal with South Korea, the Samjiyon group is to play folk songs and classic masterpieces that are well-known to both Koreas and fit in with the theme of unification. An attempt by the group to perform any propaganda piece would trigger protests from conservatives in South Korea. The Moranbong Band canceled its planned 2015 performance in Beijing at the last minutes after Beijing wanted to replace a missile launch scene from the background of the stage, according to South Korea media.
  • Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou had a violent history of first-round finishes.By the time their heavyweight bout reached the fifth round, Miocic and Ngannou huffed, puffed and trudged around the cage without a knockout in sight. Miocic set the UFC heavyweight record with his third straight successful title defense, turning the anticipated slugfest against Ngannou into a methodical and masterful ground-and-pound bout to win the main event of UFC 220 at TD Garden.Miocic won 50-44 on all three scorecards early Sunday and was never seriously tested by the raw and unrefined Ngannou.Miocic (18-2) and Ngannou (11-2) had UFC fans buzzing with perhaps the most-hyped heavyweight title bout since Brock Lesnar was the class of the division. Both fighters built their reputations on the strength of nasty knockouts, and Ngannou was coming off a GIF-worthy KO just seven weeks ago.Both fighters were winded by the third round and Ngannou looked sleepy as he whiffed on a few blows in the fifth.In the first round, the fight seemed like it could reach epic slugfest proportions. Miocic and Ngannou tagged each other several times, leaving each fighter staggered and seemingly on the brink of trouble.'He's a tough dude. Caught me in the first round but I took control,' Miocic said.The fight never really picked up from there. Miocic spent the rest of the fight just banging away as Ngannou mostly covered up, hoping for one last desperate knockout punch.Ngannou, a Cameroon native who this week criticized President Donald Trump for his profane description of African countries, never found that reserve power.'I think I underestimated (him) a little bit,' said Ngannou, whose rise from homeless to heavyweight contender captivated a sport eager for a new star.Miocic beat Fabrício Werdum to win the heavyweight title in May 2016, and followed with wins against Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos and now Ngannou to slug his way into the record book.Miocic could lay claim as UFC's greatest heavyweight.'I mean I'm not the scariest, but I'm the baddest,' he said.___CORMIER DEFENDSDaniel Cormier locked a choke hold on Volkan Oezdemir with such force that the crowd exploded when the horn sounded to end the first round, thinking the fight was over.Not yet.Oezdemir was saved from submission briefly. But the inevitable defeat was just moments away.With a Boston crowd roaring and chanting his initials, Cormier showed why he's the best active light heavyweight fighter in UFC and dominated Oezdemir via TKO to retain the 205-pound belt.Cormier raised his hands in triumph as UFC President Dana White wrapped the title belt around his waist. Cormier dropped to his knees on the canvas and said this fight was the validation he needed to prove he was worthy of being called champion.The 38-year-old Cormier was awarded the light heavyweight title after Jon Jones was stripped of the championship when he failed his latest doping test. Cormier has failed to beat Jones in two bouts and could not shake the stigma of those outcomes.Against Oezdemir, Cormier proved worthy of the title.Cormier pinned Oezdemir against the canvas early in the second and finished him off with a series of shots to the face.'I've lost twice to Jon Jones,' Cormier said. 'I said coming in here that I felt like I was fighting for a vacant title again. I got the job done, so I'm the UFC champion again. I can't ignore what happened in July. I'm a competitor. Even though I came in here as a champ, I needed a win to feel like one.'UFC stripped Jones of the title after the California State Athletic Commission changed the result of Jones' stoppage of Cormier at UFC 214 in July to a no-contest. Jones tested positive for the banned steroid Turinabol.Cormier lamented leading up to the fight that he would never again fight Jones.'I've done everything right and I've just been dragged down by this guy constantly,' Cormier said.White suggested Cormier return to the heavyweight division and fight Stipe. But Cormier said he had little interest in the bout and friend and training partner Cain Velasquez should be next in line for a title fight.Oezdemir got almost no reaction from the Boston crowd as he walked out draped in the Swiss flag. Cormier, known for getting split reactions, had fans standing on their feet, snapping pics and cheering. He took a lap around the canvas with his right arm raised in triumph, backed by 'Let's go DC!' chants.'I proved I'm worthy of being called champion, but Volkan's on that level,' Cormier said. 'Every guy who makes it to this point is on the level. Volkan Oezdemir, I leave a piece of myself with every opponent. I'm glad you can take a piece back with you to Switzerland.'___UNDERCARD FUNThe TD Garden was packed and lit from the opening preliminary bout and the card was sprinkled with Massachusetts fighters to pander to the local crowd.UFC grabbed hold of the Boston sports scene for a few hours Saturday night on the eve of the New England Patriots' appearance in the AFC title game with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The bars that surrounded the arena had UFC banners waving on a windy night. White, who lived in Boston for 10 years, is a die-hard city sports fan and attended a Celtics game this week and was set to attend the Patriots game Sunday. But for White, the main event of the week clearly took place inside the octagon, where the undisputed light heavyweight and heavyweight championships were defended on the same card for the first time since 2003.UFC 220 featured two quick contenders for KO off the year — remember, Ngannou's spectacular KO of Overeem happened in early December.Abdul Razak Alhassan caught Sabah Homasi flush with a right uppercut in the first for one of the more spectacular knockouts in recent UFC history to win a welterweight bout. Razak Alhassan knocked Homasi cold with a vicious right that brought a gasp from the crowd and left Homasi motionless on his back for a couple of minutes. He eventually needed assistance to sit on a stool in his corner. Trainers placed bags of ice on his back and neck.Razak Alhassan already beat Homasi in a controversial stoppage at UFC 218. The outcome of the immediate rematch left no doubt.Calvin Kattar, a New England fighter who gave a shoutout to the Patriots, broke open a close fight against Shane Burgos and won via TKO in the third. Kattar staggered Burgos with a series of blows and nailed an uppercut that put Burgos on his back. Burgos absorbed more blows and briefly escaped until referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the fight.

Local News

  • The following is  press release from the Georgia House of Representatives:  ATLANTA – State Representatives Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) and Jonathan Wallace (D-Watkinsville) today issued the following joint statement regarding a recent policy change made by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office:   “As elected representatives of the Athens-Clarke County (ACC) community, we are concerned about a recent policy change made by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office with respect to turning over undocumented immigrants to U.S. Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) detention. This new policy is especially concerning given the questions that surround the legality of some ICE operations by the Trump Administration and the fact that there is no compelling reason for a change in local policy at this time.   “This is also a surprising reversal of the community policing approach followed by both the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office in recent years. The recent change in policy stands in stark contrast to the community policing approach that is strongly supported by ACC residents.     “Community policing is successful in making communities safer because it treats people as partners rather than adversaries, it increases cooperation with law enforcement and it addresses the underlying issues that affect crime.     “We are not only concerned that routine traffic stops are leading to the detention and deportation of people in our community, but that Athens-area children are terrorized by immigration raids that occur while they wait for the school bus, as some reports now indicate. These events sow the seeds of distrust between people and the police, making us less safe as a community.   “We ask the sheriff to respect the wishes of our mutual constituents and return to a community policing focus that puts local public safety first. If local agencies continue to comply with ICE, we could jeopardize the constitutional rights of individuals, divide our communities and increase costs to tax payers.   “We see no compelling or urgent reason for the Athens-Clarke County Police Department or the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office to proactively participate in carrying out the duties and responsibilities of a federal agency.”   Rep. Wallace added: “When people feel interaction with law enforcement could result in themselves or a loved one being arrested and possibly deported, it shuts down communication and cooperation between the community and its officers and reduces safety for everyone. We urge the sheriff to listen to his constituents and return to a focus on local law enforcement, leaving immigration control to federal agencies.” Rep. Gonzalez added: “After communicating with the various stakeholders, including Sheriff Edwards, Police Chief Freeman, various Athens residents and the Office of Legislative Counsel at the Georgia State Capitol, and after careful review of the law identified by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office as the cause for the sudden change, it is my assessment that the sheriff’s policy change is purely voluntary and not required by law. Therefore, I ask the Sheriff to reconsider his stance. Continuing this policy change carries risk for Athens-Clarke County because not only could the county be sued for violating the constitutional rights of residents by detaining them without a warrant, but holding people for longer than necessary it is a costly burden on our jail.”   Representative Deborah Gonzalez represents the citizens of District 117, which includes portions of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson, and Oconee counties. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2017 and currently serves on the Code Revision, Intragovernmental Coordination and Judiciary Non-Civil committees. Representative Jonathan Wallace represents the citizens of District 119, which includes portions of Clarke and Oconee counties. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2017 and currently serves on the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight, Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications and Special Rules committees.
  • The Oglethorpe County Sheriff’s Office says one person has been arrested after the discovery of what appears to be a methamphetamine manufacturing lab. From the Oglethorpe County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page…     There is a rumor going around that there was a meth lab explosion in Oglethorpe. In fact deputies and fire fighters responded to a fire call on Dunlap Ext. They found and extinguished a small fire. A possible small meth lab was found during the process. No one is hurt. Three firefighters are being decontaminated for possible exposure as a precaution. Investigators that are experts in meth labs have been called in to process the scene and properly decontaminate if it is found in fact to be a meth lab. There is no danger to the general public. One person is in custody at this time. The scene was evaluated and it was determined this was NOT a working meth lab. 
  • A new graduate program from the University of Georgia Terry College of Business will prepare students for high-demand jobs in today’s data-centric economy. The Master of Science in Business Analytics combines courses on big data and strategic decision-making with project management and leadership development. The result is a complementary focus that teaches hard and soft skills that are very attractive to data-driven businesses, said Terry College Dean Benjamin C. Ayers. “Our goal has always been to prepare the next generation of business leaders by providing a market-ready curriculum and equipping our students with a skill set that is highly competitive in the job market,” Ayers said. “The M.S. in Business Analytics is a perfect example of our commitment to deliver the best quality education for our students and positively contribute to the economic growth of our state and nation.” The 10-month program helps students develop expertise in the collection, storage, analysis and interpretation of data, in addition to becoming fluent in the predominant programming languages of the field, such as SQL, R and Python. “We have access to more data than ever before, so it is essential for business leaders to be able to understand and operate within this new paradigm,” said Santanu Chatterjee, who will direct the MSBA along with Terry’s Full-Time MBA Program. “Today’s economy demands that employees have skills that intersect business and technology while also being able to communicate effectively. Our goal is to help students develop those skills today so they are ready not only to contribute but to lead within an organization.” Graduates of the MSBA Program will be ready for jobs in business analytics, statistical modeling and data science, helping to fill the growing demand for workers who can interpret big data in a business context. The MSBA degree will become part of the university’s Double Dawgs Program, which allows students to earn both an undergraduate and a graduate degree in five years or less.
  • Schools around the region—most of them—are open and operating on normal schedules this morning. The snow and ice that made for treacherous travel Wednesday and Thursday has, for the most part, melted away. There are still a handful of school closures around the region: Walton County schools are closed, while Hall, Habersham, and Gwinnett counties are opening their schools on a delayed basis later this morning.  A ribbon cutting that had been scheduled for earlier this week is rescheduled for today: officials will mark the ceremonial opening of the 5,000 square-foot Child Development Center at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center. The ceremony is set for noon at the hospital on Prince Avenue in Athens.  They’re trying to get back to normal at the airport in Atlanta: snow and ice led to the cancellation of another 200 flights Thursday at Hartsfield-Jackson.  Authorities want to know why a 60-year-old GDOT worker from Thomaston pulled into the path of a CSX train Thursday morning in Moreland. Cary Ellerbee was treating icy and snowy roads using his salt truck when authorities say he collided with the train. Coweta County Fire Chief Pat Wilson says he pulled onto the tracks right after another vehicle crossed and was dragged several hundred yards after being hit. He had to be extricated from the mangled wreckage and later died. Nobody on the train was injured. 
  • Tony Eubanks has a campaign kickoff event tonight: the Athens activist says he is running for the District 3 seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commissioner, a post now held by one-term incumbent Melissa Link. Eubank’s campaign launch is set for 7 o’clock this evening at Cine on West Hancock Avenue in downtown Athens. 

Bulldog News

  • The game: Mississippi State at Georgia, Sept. 23, 2017. The moment: Touchdown pass on first offensive play of game for Bulldogs. Key player or players: Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Nick Chubb and Terry Godwin What it meant: Established a tone and mindset for the Bulldogs in a top 25 SEC matchup against an opponent that came in riding high. ATHENS – It was one of those plays the players start getting excited about the moment it’s installed in the game plan. And this one went in early in the week before Georgia played Mississippi State. To appreciate what happened on that play in that game, we have to take into account the dynamics of that matchup. The Bulldogs were just two weeks removed from their dramatic 20-19 win over Notre Dame in South Bend. But there still wasn’t much context to that victory. Nobody could be sure how good the Fighting Irish were, or Georgia, for that matter. UGA (3-0) entered the contest against Mississippi State ranked 11th. Likewise, Mississippi State was coming in walking tall. The Maroon Bulldogs (3-0) had just orchestrated an impressive 38-0 road win over LSU in Baton Rouge and shot into the top 25 rankings at No. 17. Led by Georgia-born quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State entered as a trendy pick to pull off an upset. FLEA FLICKER! Fromm ➡️ Godwin. Just like that… 7️⃣-0️⃣ @FootballUGA. pic.twitter.com/YMH0bGHmTu — SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 23, 2017 Georgia dispensed with that idea quickly. Georgia anticipated that Mississippi State’s defense, under the direction of former UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, would be coming hard to stuff the run, so the Bulldogs decided to run a flea-flicker on their first play from scrimmage. Mississippi State received the game’s opening kickoff, so Georgia’s offense would have to wait. But not long. After forcing State into a three-and-out and punt, Georgia took over at its 41-yard line at the 12:47 mark. On first-and-10, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm handed off to tailback Nick Chubb at right guard, same as he does most every game. But instead of running the ball into the hole behind Solomon Kinley, Chubb stopped, about-faced and tossed the ball back to Fromm about nine yards behind the line of scrimmage. Facing zero pass pressure, Fromm calmly delivered a high-arcing pass to wide receiver Terry Godwin, streaking toward the East end zone just inside the right hash mark. Facing man coverage, Godwin had gotten behind Mississippi State senior cornerback Tolando Cleveland by a couple of yards, hauled in the football basket style with two hands and cut hard to left to ensure that he would remain untouched, which he did. Ten seconds after the snap of the ball and 2:23 into the game, Georgia led 6-0. Sanford Stadium exploded in celebration. The home-standing Bulldogs did not look back on the way to a 31-3 blowout victory. It was the second of what would be six consecutive lopsided victories by an average of 24 points. Turns out that the play, while called by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, actually had been suggested by head coach Kirby Smart. “I had gone to Jim and told him I’d like to open with that, and he said they had been talking about the same thing,” Smart said after the game. “We felt like their players would be peeking in the backfield, and Terry got behind them.” Said Mississippi State linebacker Braxton Hoyett, “It’s just something we should have expected honestly. We knew coming into the game they were going to try something. I felt like we were prepared for it, but it happened. I can’t even make an excuse for it. They came out with a trick play and they were gone.” Fromm went 9-for-12 for 201 yards passing and two touchdowns in the game. Chubb had 81 yards rushing and scored twice, and Godwin had one other catch and finished with 80 yards receiving. The Bulldogs improved to 4-0 before heading to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. The post Top 10 moments of 2017: The flea-flicker against Mississippi State appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – “It takes a village to raise a child.” That’s thought to be an ancient African proverb. The fact is, nobody has been able to fully validate the origins of that well-used phrase. What is certain, however, is the maxim fully applies to the story of Montezuma’s Roquan Smith. Before it’s all over, Smith may be considered the greatest linebacker to ever don the red and black of the Georgia Bulldogs. We’ll have to give that legacy more time to percolate. Without question, however, he leaves Georgia as one of the program’s most successful and decorated defensive players in modern history. The winner of the 2017 Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker, Smith piled up 124 tackles last season and led a defense that paved the way for the Bulldogs’ run to the College Football Playoff championship game. On Jan. 8, Georgia (13-2) lost to Alabama in the finals 26-23 in overtime and finished with a No. 2 national ranking. One week later, Smith declared for the 2018 NFL Draft. While he waited until the last day for underclassmen to declare – he’s a junior – it was pretty much a foregone that Smith would turn pro. All logic and reasoning dictated that he should. “The decision to leave is not easy, but I know it is the right one,” Smith said. Yes, it was. Smith is considered an almost certain first-round pick. Some projections – including ESPN’s Mel Kiper — place him among the top 10 selections. For some perspective, the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft, Patrick Mahomes, signed a contract worth $16.5 million and received a $10 million signing bonus. That said, everybody around Smith insists he struggled with the decision. “It was hard on him because he really loved being at UGA,” said Larry Harold, Smith’s coach when he was Macon County High School. As it is Smith is now preparing to become a pro. He signed on with CAA Football and is currently training for the NFL combine at EXOS Sports Performance in Phoenix, Ariz., according to his agent, Brian Ayrault of Atlanta. “He’s doing great,” Ayrault said Wednesday from Phoenix. “He’s here working out as we speak.” Ayrault said Smith was unavailable to talk but will be soon. We don’t need to hear from Smith to know that where he is at the moment is a long, long way from Montezuma, both literally and figuratively. Montezuma is located in south-central Georgia in the middle of Macon County and in the middle of nowhere, really. It’s mainly an agriculturally based community, with peaches being the No. 1 crop but also soy beans, cotton, peanuts and garden vegetables. There’s also a large pulpwood industry there. It’s also home to the armory of Bravo Company of the Georgia Army National Guard. Otherwise, not much else. The median income of the area is listed as $23,022, according to the local government’s website. Smith spent his last year of living in Montezuma working part time on a crew digging wells for farm irrigation systems. From his sophomore to senior years at Macon County High School, in addition to playing football at a very high level, he was considered a model citizen. Not so much before that. Smith grew up with loving parents, Roderick Smith and Shaquana Thomas. But like a lot of people in that area, they had their hands full making a living. When Roquan was growing up, his father lived about an hour away in Macon where he worked construction. His mother lived in Oglethorpe, the next town over from Montezuma and just a short distance away but commuted a half-hour away each day to her full-time job at Fort Valley State University. With both parents gone to work each day, that left a lot of unsupervised time for Roquan and his siblings. Those include an older brother by a year, Rod Smith; and a younger sister and brother, Tyanna and Omar Richards. Smith allegedly wasn’t always making the best use of his idle time. That’s when Gloria Story stepped in to help out. “When I got there (to Macon County High School) at the end of his freshman year, I didn’t know too much about his home life,” said Harold, who is now the head coach and athletic director at Central High School in Macon. “But I know Gloria stepped in when there were some issues about helping with him. She took him in and provided a stable home life. They have a great home, her and her husband, Richard Story. They gave him everything he needed and not necessarily what he wanted. I feel like that was a life-changing moment in his life.” To this day, Smith refers to Story as his aunt, although she’s actually not. There were plenty of others around lending a hand, as well. His grandfather, Nathaniel Lamb, his grandmother Betty Smith, and his aunt, Shaquanda Baker, all contributed to Smith’s upbringing. There were other benefactors as well, such as Harold, Macon County principal Rickey Edmond and family friend Roy Yoder. But make no mistake about it. It’s Roquan’s mother who has his heart. “Oh, now he loves his Mama,” Harold said. “It’s for her he does everything he does.” In addition to his tremendous athleticism, Smith’s work ethic helped distinguished him at Georgia. His work in the training room – and at the training table – took him from 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, his size when he reported to UGA, to 6-2, 225, the size at which he’ll leave. Remarkably, Smith was able to do that without losing his tailback-worthy speed. He routinely has been timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash but says he has been timed at — and plans to again be timed — in the 4.4s. His goal for the combine is to clock a sub-4.5. Regardless of what time he runs, Smith’s speed was on display week after week this past season for the Bulldogs and their opponents as Smith yanked down ballcarriers and receivers from sideline to sideline. Coach Kirby Smart called him the perfect inside linebacker for defending today’s run-pass-option-based spread offenses. “A tackling machine,” Smart called him. “Sideline-to-sideline, relentless, athletic, tough, competitive, leads, talks when needs to, quiet when he needs to be. He has impeccable character. I’m just proud of how hard he works and that he buys into what we believe.” Such offenses are also becoming more prevalent in the NFL. That’s why Smith continues to command such a high draft grade, even though he’s not the traditional size of pro linebackers. So whenever and wherever Smith eventually gets drafted, it’s clear he is going to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional athlete. It’s something that Harold says Smith communicated to him the first time they met at Macon County High School as coach and player. “I can’t wait to see him playing pro ball on TV,” Harold said. “He always talked that, about going to school, getting his degree and going on to the next level. Everything he talked about when he was in high school he has achieved. It’s just great to see. He’s come a long, long way. Not just as a football player. He’s matured so much, became more of a leader, more vocal. It’s just great seeing a kid like that go from a boy to a man.” Smith is scheduled to graduate with a degree in communications in December. Or at least he was before he decided to take this alternate route. But he should be fine. With a few million in the bank and at least few years in the NFL guaranteed, Smith will be able to come back to UGA to finish his education. And those closest to him fully expect Smith will. They’ve all had a hand in getting him to where he is. Seeing him get from here to there has left no doubters in Montezuma. “There have been some great athletes come through Macon County, and not a lot of them make it out,” Harold said. “He came from a loving community and a loving family that did everything they had to do to make sure he was able to achieve his dreams. He’d tell you the same thing.” We’ll be hearing from Smith soon enough. The post Montezuma lifted up Roquan Smith, and now UGA’s star linebacker will return favor appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are literally best friends and I’m sure they honestly don’t care, but it’s going to be very interesting to see which of the Georgia running backs is picked first in the NFL draft. They’re also very competitive with each other, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be a friendly wager involved. I’ll say this, though: I expect both of them to be selected by the end of the second day of the April 26-28 draft at least. And, regardless, I predict NFL success for both of these guys. The general consensus coming out of this season seemed to be that Michel will be the first of the Dogs’ duo to go off the board. The narrative is that Michel is the more versatile of the two backs. That’s an assertion that Chubb didn’t necessarily disagree with. He told me as much at one of the College Football Playoff media days. He said that Michel was probably a little better catching the ball out of the backfield. Certainly statistics back that up. At the end of their careers, Chubb had 30 catches for 362 yards and 4 touchdowns while Michel basically doubled him up had 64 receptions for 621 yards and 6 scores. But it’s not like Michel was a part-time flanker or anything like that. He had nine catches for 96 yards and one touchdown all season, with the lone TD catch not coming until the playoffs. And Chubb was actually utilized more in that fashion as a freshman while he was sharing time with Todd Gurley. Kind of forgotten from that season was that Chubb had 18 catches for 213 yards and scored twice via the pass that year. So, it could be argued that disparity was as much a function of role as it was anything else. Which is another thing I always liked about these two guys. I always thought they were at their best when they were interviewed side-by-side. That’s when their personality differences were the most stark. In case you weren’t paying attention, Chubb was the quiet and reserved one while Michel was (slightly) more talkative and certainly more flashy from the standpoint of his alter-ego as rapper flyguy2stackz. But they were also a mutual admiration society. Michel never begrudged Chubb always being the starter in the rotation. He joked that meant that Chubb had the harder role, coming out Saturday after Saturday against defenses that were jacked to stuff the run and would be selling out like a flea market on run blitzes. “He’s the one that has to take all that contact,” Michel said earlier this past season. “He was softening them up for me.” That trend was reflected in their rushing stats each of the last two seasons. Michel averaged more yards per carry than Chubb both years, 5.5 to 5.0 as juniors and 7.9 to 6.4 as seniors. And that might ultimately tip the ledger in Michel’s favor when it comes to their draft prospects this spring. Without question, Michel arrives at this juncture with less wear-and-tear on his body. Chubb had 740 carries in his career with the Bulldogs while Michel had 591. And it was Chubb that had to have his left knee rebuilt after that awful incident in Knoxville in 2015. Michel has had his own share of twists, pulls and bruises. And he actually played in one more game (47) than did his roommate in college. This much is certain: Together they were nearly an unstoppable force for the Bulldogs. They’ll go down as one of the most prolific running back duos of all time. Separately, they finished as the second and third rushers of all time at Georgia, with 4,744 and 3,638 yards, respectively. Between them, they scored 90 touchdowns, with 51 of those in Chubb’s column. Only Herschel Walker, with 52, had more. Wrap your head around that for a minute. And that’s what NFL executives are going to have to ponder between now draft day. Which one of these guys goes first and how high will they be taken? That’s anybody’s guess at this point. The theory is that the running back position has been devalued by the proliferation of passing in the NFL game over the years. But backs keep getting drafted in the early rounds, including the first. LSU’s Leonard Fournette went on the fourth pick last year and made good on it with 1,040 yards rushing and nine touchdowns this season. Christian McCaffrey was also a first-round selection and eight backs were selected in the first three rounds. Included in that bunch was Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing this year with 1,327 yards and was named rookie of the year. And we all know what Georgia’s Todd Gurley has done for the Los Angeles Rams. Chubb and Michel’s former running mate had 1,305 yards rushing, 2,093 total yards and 19 touchdowns this past season. He said at the Rose Bowl he expects believes Chubb and Michel will both make great pros. As for their draft projections, they’re all over the board. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the consensus pick to be the first running back selected, followed by LSU’s Derrius Guice. Chubb and Michel generally are projected a little behind those guys, almost always close together and with no consensus as to which might be selected first. Of the different rankings I perused, Michel’s highest rating among draft-eligible backs was fourth by draftwire.com (which had Chubb fifth). WalterFootball.com had Michel fifth and Chubb sixth, while CBSSports.com have Michel sixth and Chubb seventh. But then, ESPNInsider had Chubb seventh and Michel ninth and DraftTek.com had Chubb sixth and Michel eighth. Then there was ESPN’s well-known draft expert Todd McShay, who had Chubb fourth and did not include Michel in his Top 10. Wrote McShay: “Chubb rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 straight games before tearing several knee ligaments (not including his ACL) in 2015. He didn’t have the same explosiveness in 2016 coming off the injury, but he has quick feet for his size (listed at 5-foot-10, 228 pounds). Right now, he projects as a Day 2 pick, but he could move up the boards if he can regain some of that agility.” If you know Chubb like I do, I’m sure he’s busy “regaining that agility” as we speak. But same for Michel. These two Dogs spent the last four years trying to out-do each other in the weight room and on the practice field and in games. Maybe one team will take a page out of Georgia’s book and draft both of these guys. Wouldn’t that be something? The post Nick Chubb or Sony Michel: Who goes first in NFL draft not a sure thing appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – So Roquan Smith and Trent Thomson have packed their bags and joined Georgia’s giant pack of seniors in heading on down the road. This is what makes college football so great. This is also what makes it so hard. Georgia’s toughest task will be in finding another inside linebacker that can have near the impact that Roquan Smith did this past season. (Perry McIntyre Jr./UGA) College football, by and large, is cyclical. That works to varying degrees for different programs, but because of the constant ingress and egress of players due to graduation and attrition, achieving sustained, championship-level success is next to impossible for any program not currently named Alabama. To me, that’s what makes it fun and somewhat unpredictable from year to year. Alabama, at this place in time, is the exception. I know it’s still awfully soon in these parts to be offering the Crimson Tide any kudos but — those egregiously bad calls aside — Bama did, in fact, make it back to the penultimate game for a third year in a row. The past decade under coach Nick Saban has been, in a word, astonishing. The Tide has won five national championships in that span and more games than any team in America. Maybe the next 10 years will be similarly grand for Georgia. But that’s where coach Kirby Smart will have to distinguish himself as different from coaches that have preceded him. As we all know, Georgia is a very proud and successful football program by its own right. It is, after all, third all-time in number of bowl appearances with 53. Only Bama (66) and Texas (54) have more. But historically speaking, the Bulldogs have been the very the definition of cyclical when it comes to high-level success. Again, only Alabama (26) has won more SEC football championships than Georgia (13) over the years (the Bulldogs are tied with Tennessee). But as one might suspect, those have been few and far between in what we’d call the modern era, which would begin with Vince Dooley’s tenure back in 1964. Georgia won six SEC championships in 25 seasons under Dooley, or roughly one in every four seasons. Neither Ray Goff nor Jim Donnan were able to hoist the conference crown. Mark Richt won two in 15 seasons, while playing for it five times. Now Smart is a sporty 1-for-2. But that’s all about league titles. That’s no longer the ultimate measurement. Now it’s all about getting into the playoff. As Alabama can attest, you can do that without being a conference champion. Judging Georgia’s success more from the perspective of having good years – that is, winning a lot of games and playing in a good bowl – the Bulldogs’ cycle looks more like this: Dooley 12 of 25 seasons, or about half; Goff one in seven; Donnan one in five; Richt eight in 15 (I’m not counting the 10-win seasons that resulted in Taxslayer and Belk Bowl bids). Taken as a whole, that’s about 42 percent of the time Georgia has been in for a really fun and exciting season. We don’t need to discuss how it often it has played for the ultimate prize (OK, four times in 37 years, but I’m not discussing it). Back to the here and now, part of what makes it so difficult to regularly get your program “in the hunt,” as it were, is that cyclical tendency of the college game. If your team is good enough to compete for a championship, conference or national, then two factors are probably going to apply: One, it featured a lot of extremely talented players; two, it was veteran-laden and experienced. In both cases, they’re usually followed by an exodus. That was definitely the case for Georgia in 2017. As was well-chronicled all year, the Bulldogs featured a total of 31 seniors. Seventeen of those seniors were on scholarship. Fifteen of those would fall in the category of major contributors. At least four or five of them could be first or second-day NFL draftees. Then you add in the losses of the juniors Smith and Thompson to the NFL draft – a relatively light number given the level of success Georgia enjoyed — and you begin to get a sense of the talent deficit the Bulldogs are going to have to replenish if they are to have similar success in 2018. As for Smith, I don’t have to tell anybody who watched Georgia this season what kind of an absence he’s going to leave. He was a once-a-generation player, to be sure, as some of these Top 10 and 15 draft projections suggest. And Thompson, even though his junior season was less productive than the previous one, is a unique physical talent that will be difficult to replace. All told, that’s six starters off your offense, nine off the defense and two specialists. If not for junior Jonathan Ledbetter’s decision to return, it could’ve been a 7-for-7 loss of Georgia’s front seven. This is not to sprinkle doom-and-gloom over the prospects of next season for the Bulldogs. That’s just a little reality check on the challenge that’s in front of Smart and his staff. But as evidenced from this past season, I definitely believe they’re up for it. You can start with recruiting, where Smart is in the midst of building his third straight Top-10 class, each one better than the last. The current group is ranked No. 1, with only a handful targets remaining on the board after that smashing experiment that was the first year of an early-signing period. Georgia already has netted 20 actual signees, with at least five more on the way. None of which has slowed down the charge of Smart and his staff. Since the championship game ended, they hardly have even come up for air. They’re laser-focused on the remaining targets, all the elitist of the elite, while concentrating hard on prospects for 2019 and even ’20. It’s a luxury the Bulldogs can afford with the current state of affairs being what it is. But replacing seasoned veterans with unproven talent is always a risky proposition. Certainly it helps when they have a lot of stars by their name, but that’s no guarantee. Hopefully Georgia will get a nice blend of contribution from brilliant newcomers, developing lettermen and established stars. That certainly came to past this last season, though finding leadership to rival the group that just left will be the ultimate challenge. Of all this, Smart is well aware. He comes from a place that has been able to put all that back together on the regular. And he’s bringing all that knowledge to a place that’s been doing pretty doggone good as it is. Nobody has won more than Alabama over these last 10 years, games (125) or national championships (5). But Georgia hasn’t been all that far behind. The Bulldogs stand ninth in victories over that span with 96. The key is keeping those lows high and the highs at the very top of the mountain. Smart has given the Bulldogs a peek of that view. Everyone seems to be in agreement that they like it. Now, to find the next Roquan. … The post Greatest coaching challenge for Georgia’s Kirby Smart awaits him in 2018 appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Every year we see a handful of prospects drastically improve their NFL draft stock with huge bowl game performances. This season, no player’s stock was helped more by a huge postseason than Georgia’s Sony Michel, according to a report by NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah.  Jeremiah polled a handful of NFL executives, asking which player helped himself the most in bowl season, with three of the five executives naming Michel as the biggest winner. One called Michel a “three-down back,” while another took things a step further by saying that Michel “separated himself from [Nick] Chubb.”  In his two College Football Playoff games, Michel totaled 320 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns. His performance against Oklahoma was particularly monstrous, as he ran for 181 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 11 attempts, while also adding 4 catches for 41 yards and another touchdown.  At the moment, Michel is likely to go in Round 2 or 3, though he could continue to improve his stock with a big NFL combine or Georgia pro day.