Comparing the schedules: Notre Dame vs. Alabama


Comparing the schedules: Notre Dame vs. Alabama

Alabama and Notre Dame have plenty of similarities, chief among them the teams' staunch defenses. A deeper dig, though, reveals the two programs navigated their paths to the BCS Championship through similarly difficult schedules.

Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule rankings have Notre Dame at No. 31 and Alabama at No. 34. But those two numbers don't tell the whole story. Going a bit further:

Alabama played more cupcakes than Notre Dame, but there's no separation in difficult opponents. If we're calling cupcakes teams ranked No. 80 or worse by Sagarin, the Tide beat Western Kentucky (No. 80), Florida Atlantic (No. 131), Western Carolina (No. 199) and -- Alabama fans will love this -- Auburn (No. 83). Alabama played four top-20 opponents in Texas A&M (No. 6, and a loss), Georgia (No. 7), at LSU (No. 11) and Michigan (No. 20).

Comparatively, Notre Dame played only two easy opponents in Wake Forest (No. 117) and Boston College (Sagarin No. 122). The Irish played four top-20 opponents: Stanford (No. 8), at Oklahoma (No. 9), at USC (No. 16) and Michigan (No. 20).

Inside the Irish: The perfect coaching staff for the perfect season

So by this measure, Notre Dame had the more difficult slate, but not by much. A look into each team's mid-level opponents (for example, BYU and Mississippi) doesn't reveal much of a difference, either.

But Alabama's non-conference cupcakes have a reasoning behind them. If you're Alabama, why would you bother playing a rigorous out-of-conference slate?

Michigan on a neutral field was about as tough as it got, and Alabama won that game 41-14. But playing in the SEC qualifies Alabama's schedule as difficult -- mainly a stretch of play that had the Tide play Mississippi State (No. 39), at LSU (No. 11) and Texas A&M (No. 6).

With a schedule that already grades as difficult, there's little incentive for an SEC school to make things tougher with more than one difficult non-conference opponent. Consider this: Mizzou, in its first year in the SEC, scheduled Arizona State (No. 22) and Syracuse (No. 53) in non-conference play. Combined with games against top-10 teams in Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia and South Carolina, the Tigers played the nation's second-toughest schedule.

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Houston Nutt, who coached in at Arkansas and Ole Miss, brought up the constant grind of the conference as being the most imposing challenge of the SEC. Perhaps that wore on Alabama when they reached their game against A&M, which saw a good team with a great quarterback win in Tuscaloosa.

"The thing that's really different -- it's the constant grind and you're hoping no one gets hurt, your injuries stay very few and you hang in there and that ball bounces your way," Nutt explained.

That's not to say Notre Dame's schedule wasn't a grind. After the team's most difficult three-game stretch (No. 8 Stanford, No. 34 BYU, at No. 9 Oklahoma) the Irish took their foot off the gas against Pittsburgh (ranked No. 59) and nearly lost.

But back to the question posed in the headline. Both Notre Dame and Alabama's schedules have their positives and negatives, but ultimately Notre Dame's was probably slightly stronger.

Not by much, though. As with plenty of aspects (but hardly all of them) to Notre Dame-Alabama, there's not much separation here.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

On the latest edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast, Charlie Roumeliotis is joined by Scott Powers of The Athletic to discuss Stan Bowman's comments following the Marian Hossa trade and debate whether they're finished making moves this summer.

They also provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks' top prospects and which players have caught their attention as development camp winds down.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow is getting an extended All-Star Break.

For the second time in the last month, the Cubs closer is heading to the disabled list to get another break, this time with inflammation in his right biceps.

That leaves the Cubs without their best relief pitcher — a guy with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 22 saves in 24 chances — for the next week as the team hits the ground running in the second half with 12 games in 11 days against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

"It's been bothering him a bit, but we thought it was manageable," Joe Maddon said before the Cubs kicked off play Thursday evening. "But now it's not [manageable], so just have to take a little bit of a break. 

"We don't anticipate him being gone for a long time, but it seems to be prudent to go this course right now."

Maddon pointed to a bit lower velocity Morrow had in San Diego Sunday and believes now is "the right time to back off for the latter part of the season."

The Cubs do have Carl Edwards Jr. back from the paternity list and the 26-year-old flamethrower already got a "break" of his own earlier this season when he missed about 5 weeks with a shoulder issue.

The word "break" is key here because that's how Maddon and the Cubs characterize these little stints on the disabled list.

After all, they are "breaks," even if they're not built into a season like the All-Star Break.

The Cubs want both Morrow and Edwards to be healthy and dynamic in late September and throughout the postseason in October. They've been uber-cautious about the two pitchers throughout their respective Cubs careers and a stint on the disabled list serves to save bullets and wear and tear on their right arms in the dog days of the season.

After all, Morrow has already appeared in 35 games this season, which he's only done once since 2008 — last year, when he pitched in 45 games. Morrow has a long history of arm issues, so the Cubs have given him plenty of slack as they try to keep him healthy for the most important stretch of the season.

But that's also why the Cubs are looking to add some reinforcements to the bullpen before the trade deadline. They were linked to Brad Hand before the lefty was traded to the Cleveland Indians Thursday and they've also been linked to Orioles closer Zach Britton.

If Britton's healthy, he could serve as a perfect fit for the Cubs as a rental with closing experience and a guy from the left side to help fill both needs in the Chicago bullpen.

The Cubs currently have Justin Wilson, Randy Rosario and Brian Duensing as left-handed options in the bullpen, but all are at varying levels of confidence at the moment.

Wilson still has some issues with control, but otherwise has been very good of late. Rosario is a rookie and his outlying numbers indicate his 1.95 ERA is a bit of a mirage. Duensing just recently returned from the DL himself and currently boasts a 6.59 ERA and 1.83 WHIP on the season.

Then there's Mike Montgomery, who right now has a stranglehold on a spot in the Cubs rotation while Yu Darvish gets healthy. There is currently no update on Darvish, which means Montgomery won't be moving back to the bullpen anytime soon.

With less than 2 weeks left until the trade deadline, Maddon would be all for adding another arm or two to his pitching staff.

"Sure. All of the pitching, they're definitely going to want to look at it," Maddon said. "Our numbers are among the best in the NL both overall and as a bullpen and then even into the starters.

"But you're always looking to make it better. That's what GMs do. We'll see how it all plays out. We're hoping the [Morrow] thing is a shorter situation, which we believe it will be."