Bears

One final objective for Northwestern seniors: a bowl victory

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One final objective for Northwestern seniors: a bowl victory

The most accomplished senior class in Northwestern football history has one last objective.

The group of 16 fourth and fifth-year players are determined to close as the Wildcats first bowl winner since 1949 when they battle Mississippi State on Jan. 1.

It would be great to end the season with an exclamation point, said senior defensive lineman Quentin Williams. Thats all were really focused on right now ... its been a good ride so far, but youve got to finish it off.

The Wildcats (9-3) meet the Bulldogs (8-4) for the first time when they clash at 11 a.m. Central in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

Northwestern has 39 victories in the last five years, three more than last years seniors -- the next closest comparable class. More importantly, this group has qualified for five straight bowl games in that span, unprecedented in school history.

The foundation of success that theyve created is unmatched and unparalleled in our program, said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, also part of a school first as a member of NUs 1996 Rose Bowl team. To see what theyve done on and off the field is incredibly motivating for the rest and underclassmen.

Still, bowl victories have been elusive since Northwestern began reaching post-season play with some regularity starting in 1996. The Wildcats have lost nine straight since a 20-14 triumph over Cal in the 1949 Rose Bowl.

So a victory in Jacksonville 11 days from now would obviously be a huge exclamation point for their careers, Fitzgerald said.

But the benefits would also extend to the schools reputation and help in recruiting as Northwestern continues to build a consistent winning program.

The nine wins in 2012 is Northwesterns most since 2008 and includes victories over teams from four different BCS conferences. A 10th win Jan. 1 would make this Wildcat edition the winningest since 1995s Big Ten champs.

I think weve raised the levels of expectations for Northwestern football to the point where we are expecting to go to a bowl game each year, expecting to go to a New Years Day bowl each year, said offensive lineman Pat Ward.

Ward, a Providence Catholic alum, wrapped up an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering this month. He spent two years at right tackle, then moved to left tackle in 2012 and earned honorable mention all-Big Ten honors from coaches and the media.

Hes also a first-team Capital One Academic All-American for the second straight year.

Were moving the program toward elite status, Ward said. Thats where we believe we can be, we should be and we will be. I think were real close. We could have been there this year and with the guys that we bring back next year we could be there real soon.

Williams, meanwhile, is a redshirt senior and four-time selection to Northwesterns 10-player leadership council.

Northwesterns football culture and academics were the attractions for the Pittsburgh native, whose older brother, Nate, played linebacker at Northwestern from 2007-10.

Its been great experience and be withe a program thats on the upswing, but weve got to keep pushing, Williams said. I love that I came here, I have no regrets. I could have gone to Pitt, or a number of schools. I went to high school basically on the Duquesne campus. It was nice to get away and experience something new.

Williams played in all 12 games to date this season and had 23 solo tackles among his 35, eighth best on the Wildcats. He also had 3.5 sacks.

Fitzgerald and the Cats wrapped up the Evanston phase of training with more game plan focus on Thursday before breaking for the Christmas holiday. Theyll return to campus last next Tuesday and depart for Jacksonsville, Fla. early the next day.

(Thursday) was finishing up the game plan, going over a few things we wanted to make sure we exposed the guys to before we went away for break, Fitzgerald said. Weve tweaked some things as we went along. Well go through our typical game week when we get down there (to Jacksonville).

Along with game preparation, recent days spent training at home should also produce benefits for up the road for younger and redshirt players who got in significant time.

We got a lot of work done, a lot of reps, Fitzgerald said. All those guys (got) 300 plus reps of good work.

A bowl victory would give Fitzgerald his 50th win, making him the winningest in Northwestern history. The seventh-year Cats coach is currently tied with Lynn Walfords 49 wins from 1936-45.

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

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USA TODAY

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

We may have seen the last of Derrick Rose on a basketball court. 

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin and Adrian Wojnarowski, the point guard, who's currently recovering from ankle injury, is away from the Cavaliers organization and contemplating his future in basketball: 

The news may come as a shock considering Rose is still only 29 years old, but the Chicago native has experienced triumphant highs and depressing lows like few others in league history. Undoubtedly, that's taken a toll. 

From youngest MVP in league history to injury-prone backup, the former No. 1 pick of the Bulls has seen it all in his nine-year career. And just last season in New York, his passion for the game was called into question after missing a game without informing coaches, players or staff to attend to a family issue. 

He decided to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland last offseason -- a move that nobody could have predicted five years ago -- on a veteran's minimum contract, and averaged 14.3 points before, you guessed it, being forced to sit with injury. 

Fred Hoiberg, who coached Rose for one season in Chicago, weighed in before Friday's Bulls-Warriors game: 

If Rose ultimately decides to step away for good, eerie parallels can be drawn to Doug Collins' NBA stint. Collins didn't have quite the upside Rose had, but he was a three-time All-Star before foot and knee injuries cut his career short at, yes, also 29. 

It's another sad twist in the Derrick Rose Story. He may be the greatest 'What if' in NBA history.