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National Sports Briefs: UCF favored over East Carolina

Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. ó Conference USA football enters the 2008 season a league in search of a new set of marquee players ó and perhaps a marquee team to push it onto the Bowl Championship Series radar.
Gone are consensus All-America running back Kevin Smith of defending league champion Central Florida, NFL first-round draft pick running back Chris Johnson of East Carolina and 5,000-yard passer Paul Smith of league runner-up Tulsa.
UCF is favored in the coaches’ poll to win the league’s East Division title again over East Carolina and Southern Mississippi. Tulsa is a unanimous choice of the leagues 12 coaches to repeat in the West, ahead of Houston.
Skip Holtz, in his fourth season as head coach at East Carolina, said the Pirates will have to reconfigure without Johnson, who had 1,950 total yards and 20 scores a year ago.
“We have players on offense who can step up. We have a strong, experienced defense,” Holtz said. “And I know were light years away from when we started here with a team that had won three games in the previous two seasons.”
CYCLING
PRATO NEVOSO, Italy ó Frank Schleck of Luxembourg seized the overall lead in the Tour de France on Sunday, drawing on his strength in the mountains and getting an assist from his brother as the three-week race headed into the Italian Alps.
“For me to take the yellow jersey, it’s a childhood dream,” Schleck said.
Cycling’s premier event got a new leader on a day when Simon Gerrans of Australia captured the 15th stage. This was his first stage victory in four Tour appearances, and he called it a “beautiful thing.”
Schleck outpaced Cadel Evans up the final climb to wrest the yellow jersey from the Australian. Schleck leads Bernhard Kohl of Austria by seven second while Evans is third, eight seconds back.
OLYMPICS
LOS ANGELES ó Laura Wilkinson and her diving partner Jessica Livingston lost their appeal Saturday to compete in 10-meter synchronized platform diving at the Beijing Olympics.
An arbitrator ruled to keep 15-year-olds Haley Ishimatsu and Mary Beth Dunnichay as the synchro platform team for next month’s games.
Wilkinson and Livingston had filed a complaint against USA Diving and the U.S. Olympic Committee asking to be placed on the team or have another competition to see if they or Ishimatsu and Dunnichay should compete in Beijing.
– NEW WAVERLY, Texas ó Now it’s official: Chellsie Memmel, Alicia Sacramone and Samantha Peszek are going to the Beijing Olympics. And they’re bringing Bridget Sloan with them.
Considered all but locks after strong showings at last month’s nationals and Olympic trials, Memmel, Peszek and Sacramone looked even better Saturday night to earn spots on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Sloan, the alternate on last year’s world championship team, upgraded herself with an impressive performance at the two-day selection camp.
The four join Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, who secured spots with their 1-2 finish at trials, on the last U.S. team to be finalized.

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