Bulls

Entering crucial stretch, Notre Dame not looking big picture

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Entering crucial stretch, Notre Dame not looking big picture

The next three Saturdays just might make or break Notre Dame's BCS hopes.

After Saturday's contest against No. 18 Stanford, the Irish face unranked (but stronger than that) Brigham Young before facing No. 13 Oklahoma in Norman, where the Sooners have only lost four times under coach Bob Stoops.

A 2-1 record over these next three games likely would provide enough of a cushion to Notre Dame to its first BCS bowl since January of 2007, regardless of what the team does against USC the last week of the season. If Notre Dame beats USC and has 11 or 12 wins, then of course they'll be plucked for a top bowl -- but if they don't go into Los Angeles and win, a 10-win Irish squad would be a great bet to make a BCS bowl.

Fanbases often speak louder than rankings, and Notre Dame's fanbase arguably offers more national clout than any other in college football. We saw it last year, when the Sugar Bowl took No. 13 Michigan over No. 8 Kansas State because, and nothing against K-State fans, Michigan's fanbase is regarded as much stronger.

That kind of stuff happens all the time with bowl selections, and Notre Dame may benefit from it even if they're 10-2 and rank below a handful of teams.

But that kind of bet-hedging isn't something coach Brian Kelly is interested in, obviously. The Irish aren't shooting for 10-2 -- they're just shooting to win their next game.

"We don't talk about that level from 30,000 feet because it doesn't do us any good," coach Brian Kelly said. "All we can focus on is what we can control on a daytoday basis.  When I do maybe press conferences or talk to the media, sometimes I let our team know, listen, I'll talk in those terms. But among us, it's about today and what we do today 37."

The defenses Notre Dame will face in these next three weeks are among the best in college football, even if Stanford did allow Arizona to hang 48 points and rack up 617 yards on Saturday. Those totals dropped Stanford's total defense from 24th to 54th and its scoring defense from 21st to 42nd, but by the opponent-adjusted S&P rankings (explained here), the Cardinal still possess the nation's 11th-best defense. Going by that, Oct. 6 was much more of an aberration than anything else for the Cardinal D.

But Stanford's defense isn't exactly rolling, even if its full-season work has been much better than it showed last week. A defense that is rolling, though, is BYU -- the Cougars' D ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring defense, allowing 8.8 points per game. Only Notre Dame (7.8) and Alabama (7) have been better, and S&P pegs BYU as the second-best FBS defense.

Oklahoma, too, rates in the top 10 defensively by S&P and has a top 20 scoring defense. The Sooners are a little further off, though, and if Notre Dame looks past BYU a week from now, that could be a problem on Oct. 20.

After OU, Notre Dame gets Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest before USC. If the Irish head to Los Angeles with one loss, they'll be in excellent shape. Two losses, and the pressure's on.

And these next three games will likely determine what direction Notre Dame goes before and after Los Angeles.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do Bulls or Blackhawks have a better chance at making playoffs?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do Bulls or Blackhawks have a better chance at making playoffs?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan was joined by Ben Finfer, David Haugh and Mark Lazerus to discuss the Bulls not tanking well and the Blackhawks tanking too well.

Plus, Alshon Jeffery is heading to the Super Bowl while the Bears stay home. And is the hot stove league about to heat up with Yu Darvish?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

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AP

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

Chris Gimenez, come on down.

The 35-year-old catcher isn't exactly a household name, but he's been signed by the Cubs to add backstop depth, according to Chris Cotillo and Ken Rosenthal:

The Cubs didn't have much depth in the catching department beyond Willson Contreras and inexperienced rookie Victor Caratini and while Gimenez doesn't light up the stat column, he's a link to Yu Darvish that could give the Cubs a unique advantage in that domain:

Darvish and Gimenez played together with the Texas Rangers in 2014-15 (though Darvish was hurt in 2015) and Gimenez has been shedding some light on what the free-agent pitcher may be thinking this winter. Is this Part II of a David Ross-Jon Lester personal catcher situation?

That may be reading a bit too much into things, as the Cubs were always going to sign a veteran catcher to provide depth beyond the unproven Caratini. They saw how important that was in 2017 when Alex Avila spent roughly a month as the starter when Contreras was hurt.

The link between Gimenez and Darvish is real, but the frontline starter has also made 48 starts over the last two seasons while throwing to a catcher not named Gimenez. And the free agent catching market is pretty thin beyond Avila and Jonathan Lucroy, both of whom should earn starter's money or close to it.

Gimenez has played 361 games in the big leagues over the last nine seasons as a journeyman, with stops in Cleveland, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Texas, Cleveland (again), Texas (again), Cleveland (again) and then Minnesota last year. He played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey while in Tampa Bay.

Gimenez turned in a career season in 2017 with the Twins, notching new highs in games played (74), at-bats (186), runs (28), hits (41), homers (7), RBI (16) and walks (33).

He has a career .218 batting average with a .309 on-base percentage, .345 slugging and .654 OPS. 

But Gimenez isn't just a catcher. He's made nine appearances as a pitcher over the last few years, including six in 2017, where he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.

Gimenez will probably compete with Caratini for the backup catcher role in Chicago and can lend a veteran presence. He's also the best bet to take for first position player to pitch in a game in 2018.