White Sox

Alabama leaves no doubt about BCS champion

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Alabama leaves no doubt about BCS champion

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- As required, Alabama's players whooped it up amid the confetti and fireworks, yet there was something muted about this championship celebration. Turns out, these guys knew the ending to the sequel before they even got to the Big Easy. For two months, the Crimson Tide stewed over its first meeting with top-ranked LSU. By the time the team touched down in New Orleans, there was little doubt in anyone's mind about the outcome. Not just win, but dominate. Boy, did they ever. With a smothering display of old-school football, No. 2 Alabama blew out the Tigers 21-0 in the BCS championship game Monday night, celebrated a bit and headed back to Tuscaloosa with its second national title in three years. The Crimson Tide also claimed the top spot in the final Associated Press poll for the eighth time, tying Notre Dame for the most of any team in college football. Coach Nick Saban's team was an overwhelming choice with 55 of 60 first-place votes. "We knew what we were capable of," offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. "I guess that's kind of arrogant, but it's the way we felt. We felt like we were capable of dominating, and we did that." Credit one of the greatest defenses in college football history, a bunch of NFL-ready players such as Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower who made sure LSU (13-1) never had a chance. When Jordan Jefferson dropped back to pass, he was swept under by a tide of crimson. When the LSU quarterback took off running, he must've felt like Alabama had a few extra players on the field. It sure seemed that way. "It feels like a nightmare," Jefferson said. "We just didn't get it done on offense. Some defenses have your number, and Alabama had our number." LSU beat the Crimson Tide (12-1) in overtime on Nov. 5, a so-called Game of the Century that was roundly criticized as a dud because neither team scored a touchdown. The Rematch of the Century was next, after Alabama worked its way back up to second in the rankings to claim a spot in the BCS title game. Turns out, it was even less of a classic than the first meeting, much closer to "Speed 2" than the "Godfather II." But the Alabama defense was a thing of beauty, putting its own spin on this postseason of high-scoring shootouts. "They are unbelievable," said Jones, relieved that he only has to go against them in practice. "That defense is as good as any defense I've ever seen. They rush the passer, they have awesome linebackers and they're great in coverage. They really don't have any weaknesses. They have to be as good as any defense ever." LSU didn't cross midfield until there were less than 8 minutes remaining in the game. The Tigers finished with just 92 yards and five first downs, on the wrong end of the first shutout in the BCS' 14-year history. "This defense is built on stopping them, and that's what we did," said Upshaw, the game's defensive MVP. "We wanted to come out and show the world we beat ourselves the first game. We wanted to come out and dominate from start to finish, and that's what we did." The Crimson Tide, piling up 384 yards and 21 first downs, spent much of the night in LSU's end of the field, setting up Jeremy Shelley to attempt a bowl-record seven field goals. He made five of them, matching a bowl record. Then, as if responding to all the critics who complained that an offensive powerhouse such as Oklahoma State or Stanford should've gotten a shot in the title game, Alabama finally made a long-overdue trip to the end zone. With 4:36 remaining, Heisman finalist Trent Richardson broke off a 34-yard touchdown run. It was the lone TD that either of the Southeastern Conference powerhouses managed over two games, plus that overtime period back in November. "It felt so good to get that touchdown against LSU," lineman D.J. Fluker said. "That's all we talked about. We said we were going to get (Richardson) a touchdown, and we did it." On LSU's one and only trip into Alabama territory, the Tigers quickly went back, back, back -- the last gasp ending appropriately with the beleaguered Jefferson getting the ball jarred from his hand before he could even get off a fourth-and-forever pass. "We didn't do a lot different," Saban said. "We did some things on offense formationally. Our offensive team did a great job. Defensively, we just played well, played the box. Our special teams did a great job." The coach has now won a pair of BCS titles at Alabama, plus another at LSU in 2003. He's the first coach to win three BCS titles, denying LSU's Les Miles his second championship. The Tigers will have to settle for the SEC title, but that's not likely to ease the sting of this ugly performance. "I told my team that it should hurt," Miles said. "We finished second. It's supposed to hurt." LSU simply couldn't do anything -- running or passing. Kenny Hilliard led the Tigers with 16 yards rushing, while Jefferson was 11 of 17 passing for 53 yards, usually hurrying away passes before he was sent tumbling to the Superdome turf. He was sacked four times and threw a mystifying interception when he attempted to flip away a desperation pass, only to have it picked off because his intended receiver had already turned upfield looking to block. A.J. McCarron was the offensive MVP, completing 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards. Richardson added 96 yards on 20 carries. But an even bigger cheer went up when the defensive award was presented to Upshaw, who had seven tackles, including a sack, and spent a good part of his night in the LSU backfield. "The whole defense is the MVP," Upshaw said. "The whole defense. Roll Tide, baby. Roll Tide!" With the way his defense was playing, McCarron simply had to avoid mistakes and guide the offense into field-goal range. He did that to perfection. "When you have a great offensive line like I have, and great players around you, it makes your job easy as quarterback," McCarron said. "I've got to give all the credit to them. I wish I could have the whole team up here." While LSU was used to getting big plays from its Honey Badger, cornerback and return specialist Tyrann Mathieu, Marquis Maze dealt the first big blow for the Crimson Tide with a 49-yard punt return midway through the opening quarter. He might've gone all the way to the end zone if not for a leg injury that forced him to pull up. Punter Brad Wing was the only defender left to beat, but Maze had to hobble out of bounds. McCarron completed a 16-yard pass to Darius Hanks at the LSU 10, setting up Shelley for a 23-yard chip shot field goal. If nothing else, Alabama had accomplished one of its goals coming into the game: to at least get close enough to the end zone for its embattled kickers to have a better chance of converting. In the first meeting, Shelley and Cade Foster combined to miss four field goals -- all of them from at least 44 yards. In the do-over, Foster handled kickoffs while Shelley also connected from 34, 41, 35 and 44 yards. Not that it was a flawless kicking performance. Shelley had another kick blocked and pushed another wide right. In addition, he clanged the extra point off the upright after Richardson's touchdown. It didn't matter. LSU's best weapon was Wing, who averaged nearly 46 yards on nine punts. That was about the only highlight for the purple and gold, which failed to match its BCS title game victories in 2003 and 2007, the last two times the game was played in New Orleans, about 80 miles from its Baton Rouge campus. "We couldn't sustain any consistency," Miles said. Miles never considered switching to backup quarterback Jarrett Lee, who started the first eight games for the Tigers -- four of those while Jefferson was serving a suspension for his involvement in a bar fight. In all likelihood, it wouldn't have mattered. Not against an Alabama team that was determined to write a different ending. "We fell short the first time and we didn't play well," safety Mark Barron said, "but we showed that we were the better team tonight. We shut them out."

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

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USA TODAY

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

GLENDALE, Ariz. — All that was missing was a dinner bell.

From all over the White Sox spring training complex at Camelback Ranch they came, lined up in front of the third-base dugout and all around the cage to see a trio of future White Sox take batting practice.

This is all it was, batting practice. But everyone wanted to get a glimpse of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo swinging the bat. And those three outfield prospects delivered, putting on quite a show and displaying exactly what gets people so darn excited about the White Sox rebuild.

How to sum it up if you weren’t there? Just be happy you weren’t parked behind the left-field fence.

Jimenez and Robert are two of the biggest stars of the White Sox rebuilding effort, with Adolfo flying a bit more under the radar, but all three have big dreams of delivering on the mission general manager Rick Hahn and his front office have undertaken over the past year and change: to turn the South Siders into perennial championship contenders. The offensive capabilities of all three guys have fans and the team alike giddy for the time they hit the big leagues.

And those three guys can’t wait for that day, either.

“Actually, just a few minutes ago when we were taking BP, we were talking about it,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “Micker and Luis said, ‘Can you imagine if we had the opportunity one day to play together in the majors: right, left and center field? The three of us together and having the opportunity to bring a championship to this team?’ I think that’s a dream for us, and we’re trying to work hard for that.”

“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day all three of us be part of the same outfield,” Adolfo told NBC Sports Chicago. “We were talking about hitting behind each other in the order and just envisioning ourselves winning championships and stuff like that. It’s awesome. I really envision myself in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”

How those three would eventually line up in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field remains to be seen. Adolfo’s highly touted arm would make him an attractive option in right field. Robert’s speed and range makes him the logical fit in center field. Jimenez will play whichever position allows his big bat to stay in the lineup every day.

Here in Arizona, the focus isn’t necessarily on some far off future but on the present. As intriguing as all three guys are and as anticipated their mere batting practice sessions seem to be, they all potentially have a long way to go to crack the big league roster. Jimenez is the furthest along, but even he has only 73 plate appearances above the Class A level. Adolfo spent his first full season above rookie ball last year. Robert has yet to play a minor league game in the United States.

The group could very well make its way through the minor leagues together, which would obviously be beneficial come the time when the three arrive on the South Side.

“We were talking about (playing in the big leagues), but also we were talking about just to have the first stage of the three of us together in the minor leagues first and then go to the majors all three of us together,” Robert said. “To have the opportunity to play there should be pretty special for us. We were dreaming about that.”

For months now, and likely for months moving forward, the question has been and will be: when?

Whether it’s Jimenez or top pitching prospect Michael Kopech or any other of the large number of prospects who have become household names, fans and observers are dying to see the stars of this rebuilding project hit the major leagues. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez made their respective jumps last season. Hahn, who has said repeatedly this offseason that the front office needs to practice patience as much as the fan base, has also mentioned that a good developmental season for these guys might involve no big league appearances at all.

And it’s worth remembering that could be the case considering the lack of experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues for all three of these guys.

“In my mind, I don’t try to set a date for when I'm going to be in the majors,” Jimenez said. “That is something I can’t control. I always talk with my dad and we share opinions, and he says, ‘You know what? Just control the things that you can control. Work hard and do the things that you need to do to get better.’ And that’s my key. That’s probably why I stay patient.”

But staying patient is sometimes easier said than done. The big crowd watching Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo send baseballs into a to-this-point-in-camp rare cloudless Arizona sky proved that.

Dreaming of the future has now become the official pastime of the South Side. And that applies to fans and players all the same.

“I’m very, very excited,” Jimenez said, “because I know from the time we have here, that when the moment comes, when we can all be in the majors, the ones that can finally reach that level, we’re going to be good, we’re going to be terrific. I know that.”

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.