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Shaw, defense lead South Carolina over Mississippi State

Connor Shaw, Matthew Wells AP

There was no hangover effect for No. 14 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC) this week. After handing Missouri their first loss of the season last week on the road, the Gamecocks returned home to face Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3 SEC). Although they fell behind early, the Gamecocks never let this one get away from them as they scored 17 straight point before halftime and then outscored the Bulldogs 17-0 in the third quarter in what ended up as a 34-16 victory for South Carolina.

Last week’s hero, Connor Shaw, was not all that accurate but he made the most of the completions he did have. Shaw completed just 10 of 20 attempts but picked up four touchdowns and 147 yards out of those 10 completions. Shaq Roland had two of those touchdowns in the first half. On the ground South Carolina had Mike Davis rush for a game-high 128 yards but Davis did not reach the end zone Saturday afternoon. It was the second game in a row Davis did not have a rushing touchdown after starting the year with at least one touchdown rush in every game of the year.

South Carolina was actually out-gained in this game, with Mississippi State’s offense recording 385 yards to South Carolina’s 307, but five Mississippi State turnovers killed any momentum that could have been had. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott was intercepted three times.

South Carolina remains in a decent position as far as the complicated SEC East race is concerned. South Carolina has now clinched their sixth winning regular season in a row. On the other side, Mississippi State and head coach Dan Mullen may be starting to feel the pressure. At 4-4 overall, Mississippi State needs to win two games against Texas A&M, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss to become bowl eligible. That certainly will be easier said than done, and it is not all that easy to say.

Could this be Mullen’s final year leading Mississippi State? Mullen is now 33-26 at Mississippi State, which is not exactly terrible when you look back through the program’s history. But the bottom line is Mississippi State is in danger of being left behind in the SEC West with Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn and Ole Miss all at the top or showing strides of progress, and who knows what the future holds for Arkansas with Bret Bielema.

Things could get interesting.

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Prosecutor decries police handling of Winston rape probe

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Getty Images

William Meggs, the Florida state’s attorney charged with handling the investigation into the allegations of rape made against Jameis Winston last year, did not hide the fact that, in his opinion, the initial investigation was not handled properly by the Tallahassee Police Department.

In a New York Times “expose” published Wednesday morning, Meggs was on the offensive yet again.  Meggs assailed the TPD probe on multiple fronts, from failing to readily identify a witness — who also happened to be one of Winston’s teammates — to apparent nonchalance when it came to a crucial tip involving a taxi cab to its handling of Winston in the early stages of the investigation.

On the night in question, in December of 2012, Winston and at least two of his teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, were at a Tallahassee bar named Potbelly’s.  It was there that the three met up with the alleged victim, had a few drinks and then took off in a taxi with the woman.  At some point a few hours, a 911 call was made, alleging she was raped.

It was the investigation — or lack thereof — that has Meggs speaking out more than four months after his office decided against filing charges against Winston.  And, in somewhat of an unexpected turn, Meggs made his strongest comments to date on the case:

– On the TPD failing to find Casher, who allegedly videotaped a portion of the encounter, in a timely manner, possibly leading to the loss of key evidence:

In the recent interview, Mr. Meggs said he was surprised that the police had not quickly found Mr. Casher. “How long does it take to identify a freshman football player — about 10, 15, 16 seconds?” he asked, adding, “Anybody that looked at this case would say you get a report at 2 in the morning, by noon you could have had the defendant identified and talked to.”

Casher allegedly deleted the video “a couple of days” after Winston’s encounter with the alleged victim, well before he was ever contacted and interviewed by police.

– One of the three football players used an FSU ID to get a discounted fare for the taxi.  TPD investigators failed to find the driver of the cab, as well as failed to secure videotape from myriad security cameras positioned in and around the Tallahassee bar that could have shed some light on the incident:

“I am convinced that we would have identified the cabdriver that night and had an interview with him,” Mr. Meggs said. “Don’t know what we would have learned, but we would have learned the truth. I am also convinced that had it been done properly, we would have had the video from Potbelly’s.

By the time the prosecutor [Meggs] asked for that video, the tape had long since been recycled.

– The TPD’s initial encounter with Winston regarding the allegations came via the telephone, which allowed the player the opportunity to “lawyer up” before he could be questioned:

Mr. Meggs said he was shocked that the police investigator’s first attempt to contact Mr. Winston was by telephone. “He says, ‘I have baseball practice, I’ll get with you later,’” Mr. Meggs said. That call allowed Mr. Winston to hire a lawyer who told him not to talk.

“It’s insane to call a suspect on the phone,” Mr. Meggs said. “First off, you don’t know who you are talking to.” He said he would have gone straight to the baseball field. “If you walked up to Jameis Winston in the middle of baseball practice and said, ‘Come here, son, I need to talk to you,’ he would have said, ‘Yes, sir.’”

In summation, Meggs stated that the TPD “just missed all the basic stuff that you are supposed to do” during the course of an investigation of this type, although he stopped well short of accusing the department in general and the investigating officer specifically of willful misconduct because of Winston’s status as a Seminoles football player. Meggs was also quick to caution, as the Times wrote, that “a better investigation might have yielded the same result,” which was no charges being filed against Winston.

In mid-November, after reports of the probe had surfaced publicly, Meggs vowed that his office would get to the bottom of the allegations, a report of which had only recently been forwarded to him by the TPD — 11 months after the alleged rape and only after an open records request from news organizations seemingly forced the department’s hand.  Three weeks later in a press conference announcing no charges would be filed against Winston, Meggs said his investigation didn’t find enough evidence to prove that the sexual encounter between the player and the alleged victim was not consensual.

A short time later, the attorney for Winston’s accuser called for an investigation into the TPD’s handling of the case.  The feds have also reportedly gotten involved on the university side of the situation, with reports coming to light earlier this month that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has launched its own investigation into FSU’s handling of the case.

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Trojan Man: Cody Kessler named starting QB at USC

Cody Kessler

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian officially named Cody Kessler as the starting quarterback for the Trojans in 2014. The announcement was made via Twitter, although it is hardly a surprise.

The decision was probably not a hard one to make for the new USC head coach. Kessler played in all 14 games for USC last season (USC played a 13th regular season game at Hawaii, thus allowing them to play 14 games without playing in a conference championship game) and he led the Trojans with 2,967 passing yards and 20 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

Kessler was the perceived favorite for the starting job this fall anyway (he appears on the cover of USC’s spring prospectus), but once Max Wittek left the program it seemed like just a matter of time before the decision became official. Kessler was going up against redshirt freshman Max Browne this spring and USC will add one of the top quarterback recruits in the Class of 2015 with Ricky Town, a five-star quarterback according to Rivals.

USC’s spring game will be played this Saturday, April 19.

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Report: Former Duke QB to visit Fresno State

Brandon Connette

Former Duke quarterback Brandon Connette is looking to move closer to his family back home for his final year of eligibility. Fresno State needs a starting quarterback. The two could be a match just waiting to seal the deal according to a report.

Connette will visit Fresno State next week and is expected to make a transfer official as soon as possible, according to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com. Connette will be eligible to play right away this fall if he transfers because he is scheduled to graduate from Duke this spring. After scoring 27 touchdowns for the Blue Devils in a season that ended with an appearance in the ACC Football Championship Game and Chick-fil-A Bowl against Texas A&M, Connette is simply looking to get closer to home after his mother underwent surgery in December to remove a brain tumor.

As far as football is concerned, Connette could benefit from getting a chance to play in Fresno State’s system as well. He may not be the next Derek Carr, who leaves Fresno State having rewritten the record book during his collegiate career, but a chance to open things up in the passing game in Fresno State’s offense could help improve in the passing game.

Connette appeared in 13 games for the Duke Blue Devils in 2013. He completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,212 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was intercepted six times but also was a solid contributor on the ground with 337 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. He could bring some of that to Fresno State as well. Fresno State has just five offensive starters returning in 2014. Connette would not be a complete plug for the Bulldogs, but he would be a solid addition to an offense looking to replace big players at key positions on offense.

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Louisville relaxes depth concerns with addition of safety James Sample

Bobby Petrino

Louisville is gearing up for the first season in program history as a member of the ACC. They will do so with a new face in the defensive backfield looking to lock down on opposing receivers. On Tuesday Louisville confirmed the addition of safety James Sample, previously of Washington.

Sample will come to Louisville and be eligible to play right away because he played at the junior college level in 2013. Sample played for Washington in 2011 and 2012 before leaving the program after two injury-riddled seasons. He was a four-star prospect when he was recruited by Steve Sarkisian at Washington, but things just never quite seemed to work out with the Huskies. At Louisville he hopes to be able to stay on the field and make an impact right away. New Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino is happy to have Sample aboard.

“James is an outstanding football player who will help us fill a void on our football team,” Petrino said in a statement released by the university. “He has outstanding size at the safety position and will add immediate depth to this position on our football team.”

Louisville had a need to get deeper at safety, and Sample should help with that need. The Cardinals lose Hakeem Smith to graduation and Calvin Pryor declared early for the 2014 NFL Draft. Smith holds the school record for career starts and Pryor started 32 games, so starting experience in the middle of the defensive backfield is raw for Louisville. The Cardinals have some other options to work with as well. Gerod Holliman is a potential starter with veteran experience behind him. Redshirt freshman Chucky Williams is also expected to be competing for a starting job this fall. The Cardinals lost Terrence Ross to a knee injury last fall, but he could work his way back into the mix as well if healthy.

Sample will have two years of eligibility remaining at Louisville.

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NCAA to student-athletes: Eat up! It’s OK, we promise

All you can eat grunge blue stamp

All division one student-athletes will be allowed to have seconds, thirds and fourths if they so desire the next time they attend a banquet. The NCAA’s Legislative Council voted for a new rule allowing athletes to receive unlimited meals and snacks as long as they are associated with athletic activities. The rule is for all student-athletes in Division one whether they are scholarship players or walk-ons.

The NCAA will tell you this is to ensure all student-athletes meet nutritional needs, but really this is just a common sense decision to avoid further criticism in the aftermath of pastagate. The previous rule regarding food limits restricted athletes to three meals per day or  food stipend as part of the scholarship.

“Today we took action to provide meals to student-athletes incidental to participation,” Council chair Mary Mulvenna said in a statement released by the NCAA. “I think the end result is right where it needs to be.”

In addition, the Legislation Council also voted for some other rules of note. Per the NCAA, members also voted to:

  • Require strength and conditioning coaches to be certified from a nationally accredited certification body;
  • Require a school staff member certified in CPR, first aid and arterial external defibrillation to be present at all physical, countable athletic activities;
  • Reduce the penalty for a first positive test for street drugs during championships; and
  • Require football players to rest for at least three hours between practices during the preseason. Film review and team meetings will be allowed during this period.

The Division 1 Board of Directors must still approve the rules. The next meeting for the board is scheduled for April 24, and this should be a simple vote.

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Michigan State suspends second-leading receiver for violation of team rules

Macgarrett Kings Jr.

Michigan State has suspended wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. for a violation of team rules according to head coach Mark Dantonio. King will miss the rest of the spring practice season for the defending Big Ten champions, but he is expected to return to the Spartans in the fall.

According to MLive.com, Kings has not practiced all spring for the Spartan. This is just now coming out because Michigan State has a media policy that prohibit media covering the team from reporting what is witnessed in open sessions during practices. Because he has been inactive this spring, Dantonio says DeAnthony Arnett and R.J. Shelton have taken advantage of the extra snaps and each could be making a push to move up the depth chart at King’s expense. The two receivers combined for four catches and 13 yards in 2013.

Kings is the second-leading wide receiver returning to the Spartans in 2014. Last season he accounted for 42 catches for 509 yards and three touchdowns. He also has played a role on special teams for Michigan State, returning 20 punts for 206 yards in 2013.

Michigan State’s spring practices will conclude with a spring game on April 26.

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Clemson names Cole Stoudt starting QB; big shoes to fill left by Boyd

Cole Stoudt, Chad Morris

Clemson’s heir to Tajh Boyd will be Cole Stoudt, head coach Dabo Swinney confirmed Tuesday. Stoudt will be the starting quarterback for the Tigers this fall after backing up Boyd each of the past three seasons and performing well in the recent spring game. FOX Sports was first to report the starting quarterback news.

“It should be pretty obvious that he won the job,” Swinney said. “He’s a great leader who is highly respected by his teammates. He never once complained. He was always ready when we needed him. He’s earned it and he will be named the starter.”

Stoudt appeared to be the easy favorite for the starting job at the end of the spring, and that decision became easier to make following the dismissal of troubled quarterback Chad Kelly on Monday. Kelly’s temper tantrum during the spring game was the last we saw of the nephew of Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly, but even if he stayed on the roster it appeared Stoudt was going to be the likely starting quarterback anyway.

Stoudt will bring a pro-style approach to the offense, which should easily follow in the mold Boyd set during his time as starter. The Class of 2011 quarterback recruit has spent plenty of time as the understudy to one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC over the last few years, so as long as he was taking notes then the Tigers offense should have a confident passer leading the way. Will he put up the same numbers Boyd did? Probably not given this will be his first year starting and Clemson also has some big shoes to fill at other positions (Sammy Watkins at receiver, most notably). Either way, this is now Stoudt’s team.

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Division 2 player charged with misdemeanor assault on opponent

Prior to the 2013 CIAA Championship Game in Division 2, Winston-Salem quarterback Rudy Johnson was assaulted by members of the Virginia State football team in the bathroom of a banquet hall hosting the conference’s end-of-the-season celebration. One of those players, Lamont Britt, pleaded guilty to a charge of simple assault and apologized to Johnson in a Winston-Salem court. Britt was sentenced to 45 days in jail and will be given probation as long as he continues to complete his college education.

As reported by the Winston-Salem Journal, Britt was accused of hitting Johnson in the face and head. Britt was the only player involved in the assault identified by Johnson. Britt was suspended from the team and will be put on probation once he returns.

This incident is not going away anytime soon either. According to the report, Winston-Salem State was not satisfied with a report conducted by Virginia State investigating the assault and will continue to push for the CIAA and NCAA to impose sanctions on Virginia State. The conference championship game was cancelled as a result of the assault at the banquet, and Winston-Salem State wants Virginia State to repay the school for lost revenue.

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Smell like a Texas Longhorn with new cologne or perfume

Charlie Strong

If you have ever wanted to smell like a true Texas Longhorn, your wait is over. A brand new fragrance for men and women is now available so Texas fans of both sexes can enjoy.

The cologne and perfume each sell for $39.50 for a 1.7 ounce bottle. In an attempt to be witty, the theme for the fragrances is “Passionate, Triumphant & Strong.” Texas hired Charlie Strong from Louisville to be the new head coach of the football program in the latest round of the coaching carousel, so this may be playing off of the new face of the football program. Whether or not Strong will douse himself in this cologne in the future is probably best left a mystery.

The cologne and perfume are produced by Masik and are the newest additions to the college line-up. Other schools with their own fragrances by Masik include Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M.

Helmet sticker to The Oklahoman.

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Religious freedom group says Clemson football is too religious

Dabo Swinney

Some say college football is like a religion in the south. One activist group thinks Clemson is going a little too far with that idea.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has not fostered a culture adhering to the separation of church and state, the Freedom From Religion Foundation says. The group recently filed a formal complaint to Clemson suggesting Swinney leads the football program against the constitutional stipulations of the separation of church and state, The Greenville News reports.

“No one is required to participate in any religious activities related to the football program,” Clemson chief public affairs officer Cathy Sams told The Greenville News when asked about the complaint. “It’s purely voluntary. Religion and faith is a big part of Coach Swinney’s personal beliefs, but it is in no way required. There is no mandatory participation.”

The purpose of the foundation’s complaint is not necessarily to prevent Swinney from believing what he does, but instead to ensure Swinney is not preaching to his players, so to speak. Among the recommendations made by the organization to Clemson included removing the university’s chaplaincy position, a position the group says was used by Swinney to arrange Bible studies and share religious materials.

“What we have observed in the records is that the football coaching staff is doing a number of things to promote Christianity to their student-athletes,” foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliott said. “While student-athletes can pray, conduct Bible studies and engage in religious activities, the coaching staff, as public employees, should not be doing that with their student athletes.”

Whether Swinney is truly guilty of anything here may be up for interpretation. I am not a religious person, but even I would prefer the head coach of my team dabbling in promoting a faithful culture as opposed to one looking the other way when it comes to mischief and violations. If promoting a spirit of Christianity is crossing the line, it may not be the worst line to cross.

Helmet sticker to SB Nation.

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Report: Orlando to host brand new bowl game in 2015

Connecticut v Central Florida Getty Images

Orlando will be the host city for one more postseason college bowl game, because two just is not enough for the happiest place on earth. According to a report by The Orlando Sentinel, the Orlando Sports Foundation successfully pitched the concept for a new bowl game, the Cure Bowl, starting in the 2015 season. The game reportedly will be played in Bright House Networks Stadium, the home stadium for UCF and the mission for the bowl game is to raise funds for cancer-related charities.

A news conference is expected to take place Wednesday to unveil the bowl game, but The Orlando Sentinel reports the Sun Belt Conference and American Athletic Conference appear to have interest in aligning with the bowl game. Neith conference commissioner, Karl Benson of the Sun Belt or Mike Aresco of the AAC, has strayed far from the conversation. Aresco is expected to announce a new bowl partner for the American on Wednesday, so the timing fits the equation.

“It hasn’t been a secret that the Sun Belt has indicated a desire to be involved with a fourth guaranteed game,” Benson told The Orlando Sentinel. “I don’t think it’s been a secret that there’s been an organization in Orlando that has attempted to launch a game.”

The game will not be managed by the same group that runs and operates the Capital One Bowl and Russel Athletic Bowl, both of which are played in the Citrus Bowl, although it will be interesting to see how these three games overlap in the postseason schedule in future years. Florida Citrus Sports, the group that manages the two existing bowl games, has been hoping to improve Orlando’s standing as a postseason bowl destination in the age of the College Football Playoff. Improvements to the Citrus Bowl would be help, but any success this new postseason game brings to the table could eventually be a benefit for the city of Orlando’s chances of one day hosting a playoff game.

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Report: Mike Leach and Graham Harrell reunited and it feels so good

Gator Bowl - Texas Tech v Virginia Getty Images

Mike Leach and Graham Harrell were meant to be together in the college football universe. Thankfully, on the night of a lunar eclipse, the stars appear to be aligned to bringing these two back together. According to a report by Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman Review in Spokane, Washington, Leach will add his former Texas Tech quarterback to the coaching staff at Washington State.

Because Washington State already has the NCAA maximum of nine assistant coaches, Harrell’s role with the team will likely fall an administrative title for now. Thorpe suggests an offensive quality control position is a possibility. The staff position has not been confirmed by Washington State, although it may just be a matter of clearing all the paperwork behind the scenes. An announcement could come later this week.

Harrell played for Leach at Texas Tech from 2004 through 2008. During his time at Texas Tech in Leach’s offensive system, Harrell racked up a number of awards and honors including the 2008 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, 2007 Sammy Baugh Trophy and multiple All-America honors. Harrell was also voted the 2008 AT&T All-American Player of the Year in a fan vote. Harrell ended his collegiate career with 15,793 passing yards and 134 touchdowns to 34 interceptions.

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As expectations rise, Tennessee coaches get contract extensions

Butch Jones AP

The Tennessee Volunteers have been in the process of breathing new life into the once dominant SEC East program since Butch Jones came from Cincinnati. Entering year two of the process, a little extra job security for the caching staff has already been provided in the form of one-year extensions. Each coach on Jones’ staff received a one-year extension on their respective contracts Monday and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen received a raise of $25,000 according to the Associated Press.

The contracts for Thigpen, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, defensive coordinator John Jancek, receivers coach Zach Azzanni, tight ends/special teams coach Mark Elder, running backs coach Robert Gillespie, strength coach Dave Lawson, offensive line coach Don Mahoney, secondary coach Willie Martinez and defensive line coach Steve Stripling were extended through Feb. 28, 2016. The extra year of job security allows Jones and his staff to sell recruits on the stability within the program, one that has suffered in a state of instability since dominating the SEC East at the height of the tenure of former head coach Phillip Fulmer.

Tennessee had the 12th highest paid coaching staff in 2013 according to a database of coaching salaries organized by USA Today, but that was only the eighth highest-paid staff in the SEC and third highest in the SEC East (Georgia, Florida).

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Arkansas State sells spring game coaching job for $11,700

Blake Anderson

Georgia spiced things up by giving fans a chance to design a play for the spring game. Arkansas State stepped things up a notch and gave a fan a chance to coach a game. this rare opportunity came at a price, but all for a good cause. The Red Wolves Foundation raised $11,700 in an ebay auction, giving Nick Bhardwaj a chance to pad his coaching resume.

Bhardwaj is the founder and CEO of Beyond Games, a developer of mobile games based out of San Francisco. According to the terms of the ebay auction, he will get the chance to coach Arkansas State for the entire spring game, provide the pregame and halftime speech to the team and a whole lot more. Bhardwaj will get to call the shots on big plays.

He will also get a traditional postgame Powerade bath from the team.

Even head coach Blake Anderson, who is in no way in danger of losing his head coaching gig of course, is excited to step back and let someone else take control in the spring game.

This is a fantastic way for Arkansas State to get a chance to jump out and make some headlines with the spring game,r regardless of how it works out. Best of all, this could become something that continues to be a tradition at Arkansas State for years to come.

And if the mobile game plans do not pan out, Bhardwaj may have a chance to get into the coaching game.

Arkansas State’s spring game is scheduled for Friday night, April 18.

Helmet sticker to Dr. Saturday.

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Lawyer used by NCAA accused of ethics violations by Florida Bar

NCAA President Mark Emmert News Conference Getty Images

Maria Elena Perez assisted the NCAA in its investigation of alleged violations at Miami. The investigation was put on pause once the NCAA admitted to improper investigation tactics being used to acquire information and testimony. Those acts led to staff changes at the NCAA and have now perhaps pur Perez’s legal future in jeopardy. On Monday the Florida Bar charged Perez of a number of ethics violations related to the investigation at Miami.

According to a report by the Associated Press, Perez could face probation, a public reprimand, suspension or disbarment upon review by te Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Bar has been investigating Perez to determine if she received any financial incentives from the NCAA during the investigation process.

Also on Monday, the NCAA officially removed the interim tag from the job title of Jon Duncan as enforcement director. Duncan had been named the NCAA’s interim enforcement director following the NCAA’s admission of improper investigation tactics being used in the Miami case.

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