Cubs

Looking ahead: Notre Dame's schedule tough, but less menacing?

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Looking ahead: Notre Dame's schedule tough, but less menacing?

Notre Dame has played the nation's 15th-toughest schedule, according to Jeff Sagarin's ratings, and is undefeated in those four games. While it's far too early to start thinking about what bowl game in which the Irish will play, there is a fairly clear path to the program's first BCS bid since the 2006 season.

That path involves winning one of three games against Stanford, Oklahoma and USC and not tripping up against the likes of Miami, BYU, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest. Notre Dame already has a signature road win -- at Michigan State -- and with a national fanbase that travels well, it's highly likely a BCS Bowl would jump at the chance to select a 10-2 Notre Dame team.

With that in mind, here's how Notre Dame's remaining schedule breaks down. (the Irish are ranked No. 10 in the AP poll and 8th in Football Outisders' F rankings)

Results are updated for Saturday's games; rankings are heading into this week:

Oct. 6 vs. Miami (4-1, APcoaches: NR, F: 45)

The 'Canes have had a problem keeping opponents off the scoreboard, allowing Boston College, Kansas State and Georgia Tech to rack up 120 points. Tech was a good win on the road, but if that blowout loss to K-State was more of an indication of where Miami is, Notre Dame will have no problem beating them in a week at Soldier Field.

Miami beat NC State 44-37 on Saturday, as QB Stephen Morris threw a 62-yard touchdown strike with 19 seconds left, upping his game totals to 556 yards and five touchdowns.

Oct. 13 vs. Stanford (3-1, AP: No. 8, F: No. 11)

Those rankings, of course, are prior to Stanford's 17-13 loss to Washington in Seattle Thursday night. The Cardinal were the last undefeated team left on Notre Dame's schedule before yesterday, but Washington corralled running back Stepfan Taylor and forced Josh Nunes to throw 37 times. Stanford's defense accounted for its only touchdown against Washington, and chances are their Oct. 13 contest against Notre Dame will be a defensive struggle. Having the game in South Bend could prove to be the tipping point.

Oct. 20 vs. BYU (3-2, AP: NR, F: No. 22)

Notre Dame's matchup with BYU looks like a classic trap game, sandwiched between games against Stanford and Oklahoma. Both of BYU's losses have been close (by a combined four points) on the road to Utah and Boise State, and the Cougars have a fearsome defense (No. 4 in Football Outsiders' S&P rankings). While beating BYU -- which beat Hawaii 47-0 Friday night -- won't have the national impact of a win over Stanford, Oklahoma or USC, it may be about as difficult a challenge for the Irish.

Oct. 27: @ Oklahoma (2-1, AP: No. 16, F: No. 10)

While Bob Stoops still owns a 78-4 record at home during his tenure in Norman, half of those losses have come in the last two years. Last year, OU lost to unranked Texas Tech, and last week Kansas State defeated Oklahoma 24-19.

It's worth noting that, since OU-Texas is played in Dallas and a scheduling anomaly that meant the Sooners' last two games against Oklahoma State came in Stillwater, Oklahoma hasn't played many top-10 opponents at Owen Field in the last few years. The last time they did was 2008, when Sam Bradford led a 65-21 pasting of No. 2 Texas Tech.

A few costly turnovers victimized Oklahoma in its loss to Kansas State. Landry Jones will represent a stiff challenge for Notre Dame's secondary, but if the Irish front seven can put pressure on the Sooners' QB, perhaps those turnover issues will pop up once again.

Nov. 3: vs. Pittsburgh (2-2, AP: NF, F: No. 44)

Pittsburgh's had one of the weirdest starts to the season of anyone in college football, losing by two touchdowns at home to FCS-level Youngstown State and coming back two weeks later to beat then-No. 13 Virginia Tech 35-17. We'll learn a little more about Pitt in the coming month with games at Syracuse and against Louisville, but they appear to be playing a little better after a rocky start under first-year coach Paul Chryst.

Nov. 10: @ Boston College (1-2, AP: NR, F: No. 58)

BC has shown a decent passing game run by quarterback Chase Rettig, but they're one of the worst rushing teams in the country and their defense is pretty middle of the pack without Luke Kuechly. This could be a trap game, just given it's on the road late in the season, but as things stand right now BC shouldn't give the Irish much trouble.

Nov. 17: vs. Wake Forest (3-2, AP: NR, F: No. 86)

Wake currently is the weakest team on Notre Dame's schedule, and while things can change in the next two months this figures to be a softball heading into USC. The Deacons lost to Duke 34-27 on Saturday, but also lost star wide receiver Mike Campanaro to a broke hand in the second quarter.

Nov. 24: @ USC (3-1, AP: No. 13, F: No. 16)

Matt Barkley and the Trojans haven't looked invincible, as some predicted prior to the season, dropping a contest to Stanford in Palo Alto and skating by Syracuse in New Jersey. That being said, Barkley has thrown for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns through four games, and if USC can beat Oregon Nov. 3 in Los Angeles there's still a chance they're playing for a national championship berth against the Irish.

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Tracey Myers and Pat Boyle discuss Nick Schmaltz returning to the Blackhawks line-up on Wednesday night and which player is looking forward most to his return?

They also weigh in on Corey Crawford’s incredible start to the season and why he’s the major reason why the Hawks begin the week in first place in the Central.

They also discuss who is the biggest Hawks rivalry right now, which new defenseman has impressed the most and how is Connor Murphy dealing with being a healthy scratch at times this season?

Plus, they discuss someone other than Nick Schmaltz returning to work on Wednesday night.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: