Cubs

Te'o, 'the finest football player in America,' lands on SI cover

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Te'o, 'the finest football player in America,' lands on SI cover

The Heisman Trophy is mainly an honor reserved for those who score points. But Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o has received a few calls for his name to enter the Heisman race over the last week or so, and ESPN's Heisman Watch has the Irish captain with seven points (two fourth-place, three fifth-place votes).

He has a host of offensive players to vault, with six quarterbacks (Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, Collin Klein, Braxton Miller, Aaron Murray and Matt Barkley) and one running back (De'Anthony Thomas) all in the mix. It's an unlikely candidacy, but Te'o certainly deserves all the attention he's getting.

Which now includes a regional cover of Sports Illustrated:

(You can read Pete Thamel's story on Te'o here)

"I would say that Manti's the finest football player in America, all positions, all teams in college," Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said Wednesday. "And that's he's the best football player that I've personally coached."

Te'o tragically lost his girlfriend and grandmother in the span of 24 hours, but played through his personal pain to lead the Irish to victories over Michigan State and Michigan. He was humbled by the support shown for him at Saturday's game against Michigan, with many in the crowd donning leis to support the linebacker.

And Te'o's teammates were inspired by his performance.

"Manti's one of our brothers. And not only is he one of our brothers, but he's like one of our big brothers," defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. "He's been here for a long time, he's a leader, he knows offenses very well, he knows how to put the defense in a spot to overcome so many situations that we're in.

'And the situation that he went into was a very tragic situation, which all of us pray for him. He's going through a hard time but we all gave him confidence to keep going and, at that time he may be a little weak inside, but he never showed it out. He always stayed strong, and watching that from him kept us going strong and kept us going every day and going out to Michigan to play really hard for him."

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

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USA TODAY

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

ESPN’s Jesse Rogers stops by the CubsTalk Podcast to chat with Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki about his new book on Joe Maddon. The trio also debate whether Maddon’s tactics get stale and how the new coaching staff will affect the season.

Plus, who should hit leadoff? Fans are all in on Albert Almora Jr., but that might not be the best option. And whose side do you take in the Willson Contreras-Yadier Molina tiff?

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

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USA TODAY

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

The Cubs' offseason has been hyperfocused on pitching, pitching and more pitching.

But what about the offense? Specifically: Who's going to hit leadoff for the 2018 Cubs?

That question seems to be one of the hot topics surrounding the team as they strive to make Even Year Magic a Chicago thing and win another World Series in 2018.

Before we get into who SHOULD lead off, I'll tell you who shouldn't: Albert Almora Jr., who is a popular choice among fans to fill in for the ghost of Dexter Fowler atop the order.

That's not a knock on the young outfielder, who seems primed for a breakout in 2018 when he should be playing on a regular basis and seeing a lot more time against right-handed pitching. 

This will only be Almora's second full season in the big leagues and given he was in a platoon for most of last year, he still only has 411 career plate appearances in the majors. 

So he's not much more experienced than Kyle Schwarber was when he was penciled into the leadoff spot for the Cubs to kick off 2017 and we all know how that experiment went. Leading off is a tough position to put players in, especially those that are still growing in their big-league skin.

Plus, Almora simply doesn't see enough pitches. He swings at the first pitch often (more than 11 percent of the time) and saw only 3.45 pitches per plate appearance in 2017. That mark was good for 29th on the Cubs behind eight pitchers (Dylan Floro, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Eddie Butler, Jose Quintana, Jake Arrieta and Hector Rondon), though the pitchers obviously have a small sample size of plate appearances.

Still, that's a shockingly small number for a position player. Almora would've been tied for 143rd out of 145 position players in baseball in pitches per plate appearance if he had enough at-bats to qualify.

But as for who SHOULD lead off, my choice is Ian Happ, though I would like to see Kris Bryant get some run up there and maybe even another Anthony Rizzo stint as "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."

Here are my Top 5 suggestions if Joe Maddon were writing out the lineup today:

1. Ian Happ
2. Kris Bryant
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Jason Heyward
5. Anthony Rizzo

Here's more on the reasoning behind that:

Hot Stove - Cubs Leadoff Hitters/2021 White Sox Predictions

Who should be the Opening Day leadoff man for the Cubs? What will the 2021 White Sox lineup and rotation look like? We make our predictions and want to hear yours NOW on Hot Stove Live!

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday, January 17, 2018