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High School Lites: Football state final preview

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High School Lites: Football state final preview

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010
6:05 PM

By Joe Collins
CSNChicago.com

High School Lites: Championship Weekend

Championship weekend is here! Some teams will earn a first place trophy at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. And others will have to endure a long, long bus ride home. High School Lites is your home for high school football coverage in Chicagoland. Friday's edition will air just after the BullsNuggets game and will feature previews of the 5A, 6A, 7A and 8A title games, including an in-depth profile of Wheaton Warrenville South-- Comcast SportsNet's Team of the Week. Our Chris Boden will also feature a Marmion team that is looking to bring the first football championship to Aurora. We'll also bring you highlights of the 1A-4A games and have a complete recap of the 2010 Prep Bowl featuring Curie and Fenwick. Here is a sneak peak at some of the matchups featuring Chicago-area teams:

PREP BOWL: Curie (9-5) vs. Fenwick (7-5), 11:00am Friday at Soldier Field

If there's one thing Curie might be feeling by now, it would be exhaustion. Not that their recent performance would indicate that, of course. In fact, the Condors have actually become stronger. Thanks to a quirk in the IHSA and Chicago Public League Playoff schedule, Curie will become only the second team in Illinois state history to play a 15-game football schedule. Their dramatic postseason continued last week in an epic 40-34 2 OT win over Morgan Park. Brandon Barker scored three touchdowns for Curie. Fenwick's defense was rock-solid in a 7-3 win over Brother Rice last week in the Catholic League championship. Eric Hulihan shook off defenders to score the game's only touchdown. This will be Fenwick's first Prep Bowl appearance since 1991 (28-0 win over Bogan). This will be the first Prep Bowl for Curie.
5A: Montini (11-2) vs. Glenwood (10-3), 10:00am at Memorial Stadium

Can Montini take home the first place trophy for the second straight year? Last years defeat of mighty Joliet Catholic was considered an upset in some circles. This years run to state was built on a strong non-conference schedule, which included those same Hilltoppers and the Loyola Ramblers. Keep an eye on the WesterkampsMatt and Jordan. Quarterback Matt has passed for 2600 yards and 27 touchdowns on the year. His cousin, Jordan, has caught 18 of those touchdowns. Both were integral in last weeks 27-14 win over Kaneland. Matt went 21-for-31 for 295 yards. Jordan had 9 catches for 175 yards and one touchdown catch-- from Matt. Glenwood, near Springfield, advanced by crushing Peoria Richwoods 42-13. Devin VonNordheim-Moore and Tony Giovannelli combined for 326 yards and four touchdowns. Fun fact: Montinis conference (the Suburban Christian Blue) has six teamsand five of them reached the playoffs. Two of them Marmion being the other teamare playing for a state title.

6A: Marmion (12-1) vs. Boylan (13-0), 1:00pm Saturday at Memorial Stadium

After this weekend, Aurora might be known for more than Waynes World, I-88 and the Fox River. They could add football state champions to the citys welcome sign. Auroras Marmion Academy will look to bring the western suburb its football championship ever this Saturday. The Cadets might have the best team in their 77 years of football. T.J. Rally gained 165 yards and scored a touchdown on the third play of scrimmage in last weeks 31-28 victory over Danville. A state championship would be the cherry on top of a fine season. As for Boylan, the Titans took care of business last week, beating Prairie Ridge 14-7 to advance to the state final for the first time since 1975. The defense has been sharp all season. Like Wheaton Warrenville South, they have also kept nine opponents to a touchdown or less. Junior Adonis Brown secured two fumble recoveries in last weeks victory. Fun fact: Marmions football program had six straight losing seasons before head coach Dan Thorpes arrival in 2005, which turned around the program.

7A: Lake Zurich (12-1) @ Wheaton Warrenville South (13-0), 4:00pm Saturday at Memorial Stadium

Lake Zurichs defense steamrolled two of the best offenses in Illinois (Simeon and St. Rita) over the last two weeks. Wheaton Warrenville Souths offense, guided by Illinois-bound quarterback Reilly OToole, is putting up an averageaverageof 43 points per game. The elite defense faces the elite offense. Something has to giveright? These two teams squared off for a state title in 2007, with Lake Zurich coming out on top 7-3. The game could rest in the hands of the Bears offense and Tigers defense. Lake Zurichs running back Jacob Brinlee is the main threat. As for the WWS defense, the underrated unit has kept nine opponents to a touchdown or less, three of them were shutouts. Note: Wheaton Warrenville South wide receiver Travis Kern will miss the game due to a broken collarbone.

8A: Maine South (11-2) vs. Mount Carmel (11-2), 7:00pm Saturday at Memorial Stadium

Its amazing that so many people wrote both of these teams off early in the regular season. Maine South started 0-2 and rattled off 11 straight wins to land in Champaign. Again. Mount Carmel shook off two early losses as well. They have now won seven straight and also find themselves in Champaign. Again. Its a credit to the two coaches, Dave Inserra and Frank Lenti, who always find ways to get their teams back to Memorial Stadium. Credit is due to the players of course, and specifically both quarterbacks as well. The Caravans Chris Suijka scored two more touchdowns last week in Mount Carmels 28-21 victory over Homewood Flossmoor. Meanwhile, Maine Souths talented sophomore quarterback Matt Alviti carried his team past a very tough Loyola defense last week. He racked up over 300 yards of total offense in their 29-22 win. Both defenses face challenges. Fun fact: Maine South and Mount Carmel have played for a title a combined 16 times since 1995.

Also, be sure to stay with us at CSNChicago.com and Comcast SportsNet on Saturday. We will have highlights of the days action and have pep rally coverage if availableon the late edition of SportsNet Central after Blackhawks hockey. Our basketball coverage will begin next FridayDecember 3rd.

We are your source for playoff highlights, scores and more. High School Lites streams live at csnchicago.com.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jon Graff, Matt Buckman and Scott Changnon rattle off their main takeaways from the weekend’s Cubs Convention, including the funniest moments and how the players engaged with fans and each other throughout the three days at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

Plus, which players — besides Kyle Schwarber — made the most of the offseason and are primed for a breakout in 2018? The crew gives its take, with options including Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ and Jason Heyward.

Take a listen below:

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

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USA TODAY

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

Circling back around from the playoffs to the Bears, or at least to the Bears using the current postseason as a bit of a prism, magnifying glass, measuring stick, all of the above:

The ultimate question, obviously meaningfully unanswerable for perhaps another 10 or 11 months, revolves around expectations that were ushered in along with Matt Nagy and the rest of his coaching staff. One early guess is that there’ll be an inevitable positive bump in the record, the only true measuring stick. Depending on changes in practices, strength training, luck, whatever, Nagy might fare better than John Fox simply by virtue of having a presumably healthier roster — pick any three Bears who were injured during the 2017 season: Leonard Floyd, Cameron Meredith, Eric Kush, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Mitch Unrein, Kevin White and Willie Young — and a broken-in Mitch Trubisky from the get-go.

This is far from a given, however. Far, far from a given for the Bears. Of the 10 coaches hired in the 50 years since George Halas stopped, only Fox, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt improved on the winning percentage of their immediate predecessor. All dipped, save for Jack Pardee, who in 1975 equaled the 4-10 finish of Abe Gibron before him. And Pardee was getting Walter Payton in that year’s draft, so things started looking up in a hurry.

And maybe that should be the expectation for Nagy, who projects to get some or all of Fox’s wounded back, plus a draft class beginning with No. 8 overall.

Better Bears record in 2018? Maybe, but ...

The Bears are perhaps something of an anomaly (imagine that) in the near constant of incoming coaches failing to improve matters in their first years. One of the more memorable aspects of this writer’s first year on the Bears beat (1992) — besides the obvious pyrotechnics of Mike Ditka’s epic final season — was the startling turnarounds effected by first-year (and first-time) NFL coaches that year, with several teams on the Bears’ schedule that year, meaning there were chances to study those in depth.

Consider: Bill Cowher took the Steelers from 7-9 to 11-5, Dennis Green took the Vikings from 8-8 to 11-5, Mike Holmgren took the Packers from 4-12 to 11-5, Bobby Ross took the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-5, and Dave Shula took the Bengals from 3-13 to 5-11.

The Bears played all but the Chargers that year, losing twice to Green, once to Holmgren and defeating the Cowher and Shula teams. Holmgren’s Packers didn’t make the playoffs, but he had to make an in-season quarterback change, which worked out pretty well long-term (Brett Favre).

Bears coaching-change history notwithstanding, the Nagy bar should be well above the five wins of Fox’s 2017. Nagy is a first-time head coach, but none of Cowher, Green, Holmgren, Ross or Shula had ever been NFL head coaches previously, either. Green and Ross had been college head coaches, albeit Green with a losing record and Ross barely .500 in those tenures.

And those coaches were taking over in the last year before the advent of free agency, which began in 1993. The Bears “landed” Anthony Blaylock and Craig Heyward. The Vikings secured Jack Del Rio. The Packers, Reggie White.

Odd years coming

Expectations vs. results will be interesting to observe in quite a few places this season. In some spots, the situation wasn’t completely broken but they “fixed” it anyway, in the dubious tradition of the Bears axing Lovie Smith after consecutive seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6 — two more wins (29) than Fox and Marc Trestman had combined (27) over the next five years.

Sometimes that sort of thing can work out. Phil Jackson did get the Michael Jordan Bulls to the next level that Doug Collins hadn’t. And Joe Maddon got the Cubs over the Rick Renteria hump, though adding Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester probably helped, too. Fox got the Broncos into a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but Gary Kubiak won one with Manning. Fox’s Broncos went against the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, one of the top 10 defenses of all time, while Kubiak had the good fortune of instead having one of the all-time great defenses in 2015.

But back to current NFL case studies:

— The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, his third winning year out of four there, two of those going to the playoffs.

— The Titans concluded their playoff year with the exit of Mike Mularkey, his reward for a second straight 9-7 that reversed four straight losing years under others.

— Chuck Pagano had five .500-or-better seasons with the Colts, didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, and was fired two years after going 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for Luck.

What the expectations are in those venues is their business, just as it was when Phil Emery launched Smith in a fashion similar to the Titans with Mularkey. Smith didn’t reach the 2012 playoffs but would have been fired for anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, as Mularkey was for only winning one playoff game with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.

All of which makes the Nagy/Pace Era more than a little intriguing. Nagy takes over a team with a No. 2-overall quarterback, as Mularkey did with Mariota. Some of Mularkey’s undoing traced to failing to maximize Mariota with an offense suited to how his quarterback plays his best, and force-fitting a player into a scheme is high-risk at best.

That doesn’t really apply in the case of a conservatively wired Fox, who directed that the offense be kept under ball-security control with a rookie quarterback. Fox and Dowell Loggains arguably were as constrained by Trubisky as he was by them.

But Nick Foles flourished with the Eagles under Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson, struggling a bit under Jeff Fisher. Case Keenum, a teammate of Foles when the Rams played in St. Louis, was so-so under the defense-based Fisher with the Rams, yet went supernova this year under the defense-based Mike Zimmer with the Vikings, which speaks to the value of the right coordinator irrespective of the head coach’s offensive or defensive background.

In the end Nagy’s achievements will be player-based. They always are. What he can do with what he’s got and given, via draft, free agency or whatever, vs. the successes and non-successes of others in his situation, is the work in progress now.