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Notre Dame gets its blowout win at home over Wake Forest

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Notre Dame gets its blowout win at home over Wake Forest

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It took until the final home game of the season, but the Irish finally blew an opponent out at Notre Dame Stadium.

Everett Golson was spectacular, dismantling Wake Forest's secondary as Notre Dame cruised to a 38-0 win. It was easily the best game of the season for the redshirt freshman, with his only mistake coming on an ill-advised heave toward the end zone in the second quarter that went for an interception.

But Golson completed 20 of 30 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns, frequently linking up with Irish receivers downfield as Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin continued to open up the playbook for the first-year starter.

"We showed our explosiveness and what we could do on the field," wide receiver John Goodman said. "We had a lot of spurts of that throughout the season but I think really, tonight that showed a lot throughout the whole game."

Golson completed six passes to tight end Tyler Eifert for the third straight week, with the senior captain racking up 85 yards and a touchdown. T.J. Jones caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, while Goodman caught a 50-yard touchdown as well.

Cierre Wood, playing in potentially his final game at Notre Dame Stadium, rushed 11 times for 150 yards and a touchdown, which was a 68-yard dash in the first quarter.

"I think we're playing really good football at this point offensively and defensively," coach Brian Kelly said. "Our special teams have been okay, but I think offensively we're growing. We're very explosive. We had nine explosive plays in the first half. I think if you can match with what we've done defensively, we're playing pretty good football."

It was Notre Dame's first home rout of the 2012 season, with the team's 38-point margin of victory larger than the combined margins in the Irish's five other home wins (23 points).

"You can never look past one team, because if you lose then what, you drop in rankings, you're not going to get where you want to be and that's the 'ship, so you can't look past one team," defensive tackle Louis Nix explained. "We almost looked past Pitt and the outcome was almost different, they could've won the game. You can't look past any team, you just gotta stay focused on the next one, and that's USC."

The blowout came off an emotional senior day celebration, which saw the Notre Dame student section packed with lei-wearing fans chanting Manti Te'o's name as he embraced his parents at midfield prior to the game.

"I was emotional, but I held it in and managed to hold it in," Te'o said. "But I shed a few tears when I embraced my parents."

Early in the fourth quarter, Kelly called a timeout to give seniors Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zeke Motta and Te'o proper ovations from the home crowd.

"I wanted to make it a special moment for the seniors on defense," Kelly said. "They have been obviously the rock. They've carried us while we were trying to find ourselves offensively. It just seemed to me to be a pretty good gesture to allow us to honor those seniors."

Last Sunday, Notre Dame received one first-place vote in the coaches poll. It was from their own coach, which looked like more of a ploy to boost Notre Dame's BCS number than anything else.

"I voted them number one in the country for a reason because I think they're the best team in the country," Kelly said. "And I think they played like that tonight."

Kelly won't be alone in voting Notre Dame No. 1 in the coaches poll released Sunday morning. And when the BCS standings are released Sunday night, they'll reveal Notre Dame as the No. 1 team in the country.

Just where Kelly had them a week ago.

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.