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Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

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Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is a Boston native and a lifelong Red Sox fan, someone who's fond of using baseball analogies to explain the workings of his football team. So naturally, the prospect of playing UConn at Fenway Park in a few years is enticing for the third-year Irish coach.

But he's also wary of size of the field, especially in light of the attempt to play football at Wrigley Field a few years back.

"You know me, I love Fenway Park. I just don't know if it's big enough," Kelly said. "We don't want to get into that NorthwesternIllinois game where the end zone is not big enough. As long as they do the due diligence, and I know (Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick) is looking for great venues -- and I don't think they played a game there in a long time. If it's on the schedule, we're going to play it. Being a Boston guy, baseball has not been very good there, so maybe we'll bring some football."

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, though, indicated nothing regarding Notre Dame's future schedule is set as the football program works five ACC opponents into their slate.

"Media reports today that we will play UConn in Fenway Park in 2014 are inaccurate," Swarbrick said in a statement.

That doesn't mean a contest absolutely will not be played there, but it's doused the flames for a bit -- at least until Notre Dame's ACC scheduling arrangement is figured out.

Fenway Park hasn't held a football game on its grounds since 1968, but the park did host a soccer match between Italian and English clubs AS Roma and Liverpool this summer. Generally, soccer pitches are about 110 meters long or 120 yards -- the exact length of an American football field.

While the pitch for AS Roma-Liverpool was shortened to about 107 yards, it was wider than what's required for American football. Still, the way Fenway's football field was tucked in back in the 1960's makes for a tight fit in two corners of the end zone. It's not like players will risk banging into a brick wall as they did at Wrigley Field.

However, at this point a Notre Dame game at Fenway appears to be a longshot. A neat idea, but a longshot.

Meanwhile, in South Florida...

While the viability of Fenway Park remains in question, the chances Notre Dame secures a tie-in with the Orange Bowl appear to be increasing. A report has the Orange Bowl closing in on a deal that would pit Notre Dame or a Big TenSEC team against the ACC champion beginning in 2014, when college football's playoff format begins.

College Football Talk's Ben Kercheval has the details, along with a good take on the agreement. He's exactly right -- with the way the college football landscape is shaping up after 2014, "either your team is part of the privileged group or it isn't." That group includes the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, Pac-12 and Notre Dame.

During the conference realignment cycles of 2010 and 2011, when the prospect of four 16-team superconferences was floated as college football's endgame, there was some consternation over whether Notre Dame's steadfast independence could leave them on the outside looking in. Taking a step back, that never was going to be the case -- while plenty of national columnists and talking heads have been eager to say Notre Dame is losing its relevancy, that never was the case.

Notre Dame football still packed a tremendous punch in terms of ratings and ticket sales, even during its lean years. The agreement with the ACC and, more importantly, the apparently impending one with the Orange Bowl only goes to prove that.

'Superior' Shoelace offers another challenge for Notre Dame

Before Saturday's game, I hopped on WSCR-670 AM with Connor McKnight and Nick Shepkowski to look ahead to Notre Dame's contest against Michigan State, and we kind of figured we'd learn a lot about where the Irish stood after their performance in East Lansing, especially with regard to Everett Golson and the secondary.

While Golson didn't have a great game statistically, he did enough (by not turning the ball over) to allow Notre Dame's defense to handle most of the heavy lifting in the team's 20-3 win. But the Irish secondary also showed up in a big way, helping limit Spartans QB Andrew Maxwell to 187 yards and a 51.1 completion percentage.

Denard Robinson and Maxwell are completely different, though, and the Michigan signal-caller's explosive playmaking ability on the ground and through the air present a massive challenge to a secondary that's still fairly inexperienced.

"If there was a secret out there, you know, we would have probably gotten it way before anybody else. We've got great alumni out there," Kelly joked Tuesday. "It's a difficult proposition, because you can't sell out on either one of those. You have to be balanced. You have to be able to manage it and you've got to keep him from making big plays.

"So there isn't an easy answer to that. He's a superior football player. He's not a great player, he's the best player on the field."

Making matters more difficult will be the absence of safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury during the Michigan State game. There's a chance Slaughter could be granted a sixth year of eligibility, although Kelly didn't sound too confident that'd be the case.

"Doesn't appear so," Kelly said. "He did have another injury that caused him to miss some time. We are still kind of vetting through all that right now. The early indication is we couldn't tell you one way or the other. We'll do some more work before we are ready to publicly comment on it."

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.