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The Sports Report: Alabama-Georgia could foreshadow things to come at USC

Kelee Ringo of Georgia carries the ball into the end zone for a touchdown after getting an interception.
Kelee Ringo of Georgia carries the ball into the end zone for a touchdown after getting an interception.
(Carmen Mandato / Getty Images)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

J. Brady McCollough on college football: Early in a defensive slugfest that ultimately left him wounded, Bryce Young shined. He dodged danger from Georgia’s bruising bullies and locomotive linebackers all night, spinning passes so accurate it seemed he hardly needed his top two NFL-bound wide receivers to move Alabama down the field. The best quarterbacks don’t become too dependent on their targets; they elevate them, whomever they may be.

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On the opposite sideline stood another Santa Ana Mater Dei product reminding USC fans who tuned into Monday night’s national championship game of the acute pain that has come with finding a difference-maker at quarterback since Sam Darnold’s departure. JT Daniels, the five-star prospect that actually made it to campus, left the hometown Trojans for this, holding a clipboard for most of two seasons in Athens behind an inspiring and unflappable former walk-on in Stetson Bennett IV?

In the rapidly changing world of college football today, where the transfer portal beckons at the first pang of insecurity and players are unshackled by name, image and likeness limitations, it has become increasingly hard to bank on having security at the most important position on the field. USC is certainly not alone.

But Monday of all nights, with the Young Who Got Away dazzling under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium and Daniels’ star dimming in the shadow of Bennett’s second-half masterpiece, those who bleed cardinal and gold didn’t have to feel down anymore while watching Georgia’s gritty 33-18 victory over Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.

In fact, the tortured Trojan legions turned on this 2022 title bout ready to party, refreshing their Twitter feeds and parsing any nugget of information, asking: Is he coming?

Caleb Williams did not announce that he was transferring from Oklahoma to USC Monday, but the signs that he eventually will became hard to deny. Sunday, Williams, the top quarterback in the 2021 class who chose to play for the Sooners because of Lincoln Riley, was in L.A., sampling our city’s unparalleled sports smorgasbord. He took in the Rams-49ers game from a field-level suite at SoFi Stadium before zooming over to the Lakers-Grizzlies game downtown.

On Monday, USC’s likely starter at quarterback, enticing sophomore Jaxson Dart, entered his name into the transfer portal. Of course there is very little chance he would have done that if Williams hadn’t made his intentions known. It wouldn’t be long before recruiting analyst’s “crystal balls” began forecasting Williams’ reunion with Riley in L.A.

For the first time since Jan. 2017, after the Trojans had outlasted Penn State in that Rose Bowl classic and had Darnold coming back, USC folks could think realistically — not just dream fantastically — about someday receiving an invite to the College Football Playoff.

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Bryce Young is ready for his big moment: How his father guided him there

Odds To Win 2022-23 College Football Playoff

Alabama 5-2

Georgia 9-2

Ohio State 7-1

Clemson 12-1

Oklahoma 15-1

Michigan 15-1

USC 20-1

Notre Dame 25-1

Texas A&M 25-1

Utah 40-1

Wisconsin 40-1

Oklahoma State 40-1

Texas 40-1

Oregon 40-1

Cincinnati 40-1

Florida 40-1

Baylor 50-1

--Caesars Sportsbook

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RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: Rams safety Jordan Fuller will be sidelined the rest of the season because of an ankle injury suffered during the Rams’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers, coach Sean McVay said Monday.

Fuller, a captain and the defensive signal-caller, was injured early in the fourth quarter of the 27-24 overtime defeat Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

“That’s a big loss for us,” said McVay, whose team plays the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wild-card game next Monday.

Fuller was not the only Rams player injured in the loss, which dropped the Rams from the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs to No. 4.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford played through a toe injury, McVay said. But he will play against the Cardinals.

Cornerback Darious Williams suffered a shoulder injury that is being evaluated, McVay said, and safety Taylor Rapp is in the concussion protocol.

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First look: Cardinals at Rams in NFC wild-card playoff game

NFL Black Monday: Dolphins fire Brian Flores; Bears, Vikings part ways with coach, GM

Ultimate SoCal NFL playoffs sports bar guide: Find out where to watch your team

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: When he announced he was coming back for the 2021 season, UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson trumpeted his decision with a three-word tweet, declaring, simply, “One more year.”

He’s decided to make it two.

Capitalizing on the extra year of eligibility granted to all college players in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson-Robinson will return for a fifth season with the Bruins, putting him in position to potentially set school records while enhancing his NFL stock.

“See you in 2022!” Thompson-Robinson tweeted Monday atop a collage of photos of himself in Bruins garb.

Thompson-Robinson’s spectacular play late last season sparked a surge in which UCLA averaged 49.3 points over its final three games — all victories — including a record 62-33 beatdown of rival USC in which Thompson-Robinson threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more.

Maligned by fans for erratic play earlier in his career, Thompson-Robinson was widely embraced after the strong finish to his senior season, which included vaulting a Trojans defender on his way to the end zone for the score that set the record for points by UCLA in the rivalry game.

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Sean Rhyan becomes second UCLA offensive tackle to say he’s leaving for the NFL

UCLA’s Derek Sage is going home to Nevada to become offensive coordinator

USC FOOTBALL

Ryan Kartje on the Trojans: Jaxson Dart, the young quarterback previously believed to be USC’s heir apparent under center, has entered the NCAA transfer portal, a person familiar with the decision but not authorized to discuss it publicly told The Times, likely clearing the way for the most coveted transfer quarterback in college football to join the Trojans.

The decision comes after a campaign in which Dart burst onto the scene as a freshman, establishing enough of a foothold as USC’s quarterback of the future to convince Kedon Slovis, the Trojans’ three-year starter, to transfer to Pittsburgh. But Dart’s place in that future would be obscured just a few weeks later by the arrival of new coach Lincoln Riley, whose departure from Oklahoma led Caleb Williams, the No. 2 quarterback prospect in the 2021 class, to announce he, too, planned to transfer.

Williams was in Los Angeles on Sunday, attending the Rams game and a Lakers game courtesy of USC. The next day, Dart was in the transfer portal.

A possible return to USC is still on the table for Dart, a person familiar with the decision told The Times. Dart, the person said, loves USC and had no issue with competing for the starting job. But the likely presence of Williams, whose transfer choice is presumably contingent on securing a starting role, makes a return for Dart improbable.

KINGS

Phillip Danault, Blake Lizotte and Adrian Kempe scored in the Kings’ 3-1 win over the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Trevor Moore had two assists and Cal Petersen made 22 saves for the Kings, who have won four of five.

ika Zibanejad had a goal and Alexandar Georgiev made 36 saves for the Rangers, who have lost two of three to start their longest road trip of the season.

Kris Knoblauch served as temporary coach for New York after Gerard Gallant tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. Knoblauch, who coaches the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, took a red-eye flight from Hartford, Conn., and arrived in Los Angeles at 2:30 a.m. Monday.

The Kings came out buzzing in the second period, scoring twice in the opening 3:41. Danault got his seventh goal on a backhand chip following up Moore’s shot 55 seconds in, and Lizotte put in the rebound of Viktor Arvidsson’s sharp-angle shot for a 2-0 lead.

CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: It isn’t often that the Clippers see their coach the way they did Sunday morning, before the team was to hold a shoot-around in preparation for a game against the Atlanta Hawks.

“When he has a message like that,” forward Amir Coffey said, “everybody listens.”

Tyronn Lue is known to mix his work with fun, keeping the mood light during good times and bad, the hallmarks of enduring the rhythms of the long NBA schedule for more than two decades. But after three consecutive losses by 15 points — games in which the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies were more physical than the Clippers — and with the season reaching its midpoint Sunday, the coach felt it was time to be “laying the truth out there.”

It started with him. Lue took blame in front of the group for not managing better the lineup and rotations used the previous day, which were complicated by the limited number of minutes center Ivica Zubac and forward Nicolas Batum were able to play. He told players he didn’t want them feeling sorry for themselves, because even with Isaiah Hartenstein, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Luke Kennard and Justise Winslow sidelined because of injuries or COVID-19 protocols, “everybody else in the league is down in the same way.”

BASEBALL

The New York Yankees are promoting Rachel Balkovec to manager of the Low A Tampa Tarpons, making her the first woman to skipper a team affiliated with Major League Baseball, according to two people familiar with the move.

The 34-year-old Balkovec joined the Yankees organization as a hitting coach in 2019, making her the first woman with that job full time in affiliated baseball. She got her first position in pro ball with the St. Louis Cardinals as a minor league strength and conditioning coach in 2012.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: In mid-December, the Chargers were 8-5 and playing at home for first place in the AFC West.

Not even four weeks later, they were meeting with the media on the first day of an offseason that arrived so suddenly it was jarring.

Asked if he were surprised the Chargers missed the playoffs, Justin Jones answered, “100%”

“We were playing at a high level,” the defensive tackle continued. “We have guys who deserve to be in the tournament. We have guys who deserve to play their best ball in front of the world and show them, ‘Hey, the Chargers are for real.’

“We showcased that [Sunday]. Obviously, it didn’t turn out in our favor. But we’ve got some real ballplayers on this team, like some true ballplayers. I stand on that.”

Coach Brandon Staley faced a day of rampant public second-guessing regarding a fourth-down decision that failed in the third quarter Sunday. He also was criticized for the timeout late in overtime.

Among his players, however, Staley received nothing but public support.

“Whatever he decides is best for us, we’re going with it because we know he has our best interests at heart,” Jones said. “That’s the biggest thing for us. So we’re on board.”

NFL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Wild-card round

Saturday
Las Vegas at Cincinnati, 1:30 p.m., NBC, Cincinnati favored by 6 points
New England at Buffalo, 5:15 p.m., CBS, Buffalo by 3 1/2

Sunday
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay, 10 a.m., Fox, Tampa Bay by 8 1/2
San Francisco at Dallas, 1:30 p.m., CBS, Dallas by 3
Pittsburgh at Kansas City, 5:15 p.m., NBC, Kansas City by 12 1/2

Monday
Arizona at Rams, 5:15 p.m., ABC, ESPN, Rams by 4

Note: Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb. 13 on NBC.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1970 — The AFL wins its second straight Super Bowl as the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 behind Len Dawson’s superb quarterbacking and Jan Stenerud’s three field goals.

1973 — The American League adopts the designated hitter rule.

1981 — Jim Plunkett completes 14 of 18 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Oakland Raiders to 34-27 victory over the San Diego Chargers for the AFC title. The Raiders are the first AFC wild-card team to advance to the Super Bowl.

1984 — The Denver Nuggets beats the San Antonio Spurs 163-155 in the highest-scoring regulation NBA game.

1987 — Denver’s John Elway leads the Broncos to a 23-20 overtime victory over the Cleveland Browns to win the AFC Championship. Elway caps a 15-play, 98-yard march with a 5-yard TD pass to Mark Jackson to tie the game with 37 seconds remaining. Rich Karlis kicks a 33-yard field goal in overtime to give Denver the win.

1992 — Kristi Yamaguchi, runner-up the previous three years, wins her first title in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Christopher Bowman, the 1989 U.S. champion, wins the men’s title.

1998 — Lleyton Hewitt, an Australian high school student ranked 550th, wins the Australian Men’s Hardcourt Championship to become the lowest-ranked player to win an ATP Tour event.

2004 — Detroit allows 100 points for the first time this season, but the Pistons were still able to outlast Dallas 115-102. Detroit has its NBA-record streak of not allowing 100 points snapped at 38 games, including 36 this season.

2009 — Philadelphia, led by Donovan McNabb, eliminates the New York Giants 23-11 to reach the NFC title game for the fifth time in eight seasons. This is the first game in NFL history to finish 23-11.

2011 — Toronto beats San Jose 4-2 to give Maple Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson his 600th career win. Wilson becomes the seventh coach to reach the 600-win milestone.

2014 — LeGarrette Blount rushes for 166 yards and four touchdown as the New England beats Indianapolis 43-22 to advance to their third consecutive AFC championship game. Blount joins Ricky Watters, who had five touchdowns for San Francisco on Jan. 15, 1994, as the only players with four or more in a playoff game.

2014 — Gracie Gold wins her first U.S. figure skating title and 15-year-old Polina Edmunds finishes second. Charlie White and Meryl Davis win a record sixth straight U.S. ice dance title — one more than American ice dance pioneers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

2014 — Alex Rodriguez is dealt the most severe punishment in the history of baseball’s drug agreement when arbitrator Fredric Horowitz rules the New York Yankees third baseman is suspended for the entire 2014 season as a result of a drug investigation by Major League Baseball. The decision cuts the suspension issued Aug. 5, 2013 by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig from 211 games.

2015 — Roger Federer beats the up-and-coming Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-4 to register his 1,000th career match and win the Brisbane International. Federer is the third player to win 1,000 times on the men’s professional tour, joining Jimmy Connors (1,253) and Ivan Lendl (1,071).

2015 — Green Bay rallies from an eight-point deficit behind Aaron Rodgers, who throws two second-half touchdowns to beat Dallas 26-21 in an NFC divisional-round playoff. The Packers are helped by a video challenge with 4:06 remaining. Dez Bryant’s leaping catch at the Packers 1 on fourth-and-2 is reversed by referee Gene Steratore after Green Bay challenges. Instead of first-and-goal for Dallas, the ball goes to the Packers.

2016 — No. 2 Alabama wins its fourth national title in the last seven seasons, outlasting the dynamic play of Deshaun Watson and No. 1 Clemson in a 45-40 victory in the College Football Playoff championship game.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

The best of Georgia’s defense in win over Alabama. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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