White Sox

Could Notre Dame compete in the SEC?

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Could Notre Dame compete in the SEC?

BOSTON -- No, this question may not matter. Notre Dame's joining the ACC on a limited basis, not the SEC. At most, they'll face one SEC team every few years, with that game coming during bowl season.

But as Notre Dame is grouped among the best teams in college football, it begs the question: could the Irish compete in the best conference in college football?

One former SEC coach thinks the answer is yes.

"I think they could," Houston Nutt, who coached at Arkansas and Ole Miss, said. "The thing that would be different for them, the thing that you still don't know is when they play Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia back-to-back-to-back, it's that grind.

"And if you just look at their team, I feel like they've got a very good defensive team, a very good offensive team, special teams they don't beat themselves, they're physical -- all those things."

That grind Nutt mentioned separates the top tier of the SEC from the rest of the conference -- just look at South Carolina, a team that crushed Georgia only to lose back-to-back games to LSU and Florida to fall out of the national title discussion. Notre Dame's schedule isn't easy by any means, and players would tell you it's certainly a grind, but no matter how hard Pittsburgh and other opponents play, nothing measures up to back-to-back games in Death Valley and the Swamp.

Notre Dame certainly has the stereotypical profile of an SEC team: Great defense, plenty of size and athleticism on the interior and a stable of athletic running backs who lead a good-not-great offense. It doesn't hurt, either, that some of Notre Dame's stars are from SEC country. T.J. Jones and Stephon Tuitt are from Georgia, while Zeke Motta and Louis Nix hail from Florida (Jamoris Slaughter and Lo Wood are from Georgia and Florida, respectively, but are out for the 2012 season).

It's not just the guys from the South, too -- Notre Dame has plenty of speed on its defense, and it features arguably the best defensive player in the nation in Manti Te'o. On offense, there's plenty of speed, too, namely with the game-breaking abilities of Cierre Wood and George Atkinson.

But even with all that talent, Notre Dame would be a two-touchdown underdog to Alabama if the two teams were to meet this weekend. Most around the SEC would tell you Alabama would roll Notre Dame, and they're well within their rights to say that -- the conference winning six straight national titles certainly breeds that confidence.

"When Notre Dame watches the film and watches Alabama, they're going to see how physical, how fast and how very consistent they are," Nutt, now an analyst for CBS College Sports, said. "They don't beat themselves. They win the turnover margin. They're a well-coached team. Alabama is used to winning, they expect to win. It'd be a heck of a battle."

The talent gulf isn't so wide, though, that Notre Dame couldn't come out and beat Alabama if the two were matched up in the National Championship. With a month to prepare, anything could happen.

"You got 30 days to get ready, I think you don't know. You just don't know," Nutt explained. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. You look at Boise State several years ago, one of the funnest games I've ever seen. Boise State got ready for Oklahoma and they beat them. Absolutely, it could happen."

As for Notre Dame competing in the SEC, it's worth noting that the conference's gauntlet may not be far more difficult than Notre Dame's schedule. Among the Top 25 by Football Outsiders' F rankings are five SEC teams (Alabama, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia) and five of Notre Dame's opponents (Oklahoma, Michigan State, USC, Stanford, BYU), although four of the SEC teams are in the top 10, while four of Notre Dame's opponents are outside the top 10.

Chances are, Notre Dame wouldn't run the table in SEC play -- but if they did, they wouldn't need any sort of attrition to reach the BCS title game. That's just an interesting hypothetical, nothing more.

What does matter, though, is Notre Dame has the ability to compete with Alabama if they reach the National Championship. After all, the Irish resemble an SEC team more than anyone else outside the nation's best conference.

Plenty of reasons to #VoteMcCann, but White Sox catcher should be an All Star regardless of election outcome

Plenty of reasons to #VoteMcCann, but White Sox catcher should be an All Star regardless of election outcome

James McCann should be an All Star. That's not me advocating a position as much as it is stating a fact: Barring something crazy, McCann should be a member of the American League roster next month in Cleveland.

Whether McCann is starting behind the plate or he'll get his turn in one of the later innings is in the hands of baseball fans, with the polls currently open for them to choose a starter between him, Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees and Robinson Chirinos of the Houston Astros. Sanchez is probably the favorite to win the most votes. He has the first-place Yankees' worldwide fan base behind him, as well as 23 home runs and 52 RBIs.

But McCann has his own stellar case to start, in the midst of a, frankly, out-of-nowhere campaign of spectacular proportions. He entered Wednesday afternoon's game against the Boston Red Sox with a .326/.387/.508 slash line to go along with everything else he's done for this team.

McCann did a little more to add to his case Wednesday, picking up a pair of hits against Chris Sale, one of which was mashed over the Green Monster for a third-inning home run in the White Sox win on getaway day.

"He's the best catcher in the American League," White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said during Wednesday's broadcast. He's a tad biased, of course, but it doesn't mean he's necessarily wrong. "So I think that's all you have to really say. Offensive numbers, how much he's helped this team from a leadership standpoint, he checks all the boxes. He deserves to be starting the All-Star Game."

McCann has been a hell of a find for the White Sox. When they added him in December, it appeared they were simply acquiring a veteran bridge, and a backup at that, to get them to highly rated catching prospect Zack Collins. Instead, McCann has performed so well that he's being penciled in by fans and onlookers as the team's catcher moving forward. At 29 years old, that's hardly outrageous, and he's still arbitration eligible following this season, making it very easy for the White Sox to bring him back for 2020.

And why wouldn't they? He's made a shocking improvement to the offensive numbers he put up in five years with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, a half-decade during which he hit only 240/.288/.366. It goes without saying that whatever McCann did this offseason worked.

"It's something I've worked for," McCann said last week at Wrigley Field. "It's something, as a little boy, you dream of, and as you get older you work for it. It's a culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication.

"After a down year offensively last year, I got to do some soul searching, and the biggest thing for me was not trying to be someone that I wasn't. And it sounds simple, sounds silly, but literally just trying to be who James McCann is and not trying to be someone else."

Who James McCann is has been a middle-of-the-order hitter for these White Sox and a game-changer behind the plate. It didn't take long for manager Rick Renteria to make #CleanupManJamesMcCann a thing, and it took a similarly brief amount of time for Renteria to give the majority of the catching duties to McCann in his timeshare with Welington Castillo.

While McCann's offensive presence has been great, his ability to do what Castillo couldn't during the latter's 80-game steroid suspension last season has been perhaps McCann's greatest contribution. He's excelled working with the pitching staff, specifically Giolito, whose turnaround from the statistical worst pitcher in the game to one of the best has been the biggest story of the team's season to this point.

"I have nothing but fantastic things to say about him," Giolito said last week. "He's done a great job this year. Looking forward to him being an All Star. There's not enough good things I can say about what he does defensively and offensively for us."

McCann often deflects the credit heaped onto him by Giolito back to the pitcher. But certainly that part of the White Sox acquisition of the veteran backstop in the offseason has come to fruition. The offense? General manager Rick Hahn has said multiple times that McCann has exceeded their expectations in that department.

"Obviously I played against them for five years, so they'd seen me quite a bit," McCann said last week. "I just turned 29, which I guess in the game of baseball some people think is old now, but in all reality I feel like I'm just coming into my prime. I hope that's the way the organization looks at me.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity, and I've really enjoyed my time here."

That opportunity has yielded an All-Star first half for McCann. See you in Cleveland, James.

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Jose Abreu flips the score, beats the Red Sox with a ninth-inning home run

Jose Abreu flips the score, beats the Red Sox with a ninth-inning home run

Alex Colome blew his first save of the season in the eighth inning, and the White Sox seemed destined for a deflating loss that would have had them swept out of Fenway Park.

Jose Abreu had different plans.

Down a run with one out in the top of the ninth, Abreu battled Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes in a 10-pitch at-bat. The 10th of those pitches was sent over the Green Monster for a score-flipping, two-run homer that took a 7-6 loss to an 8-7 lead.

Clutch.

It was the second ball Abreu blasted over the Monster in this series. He smacked one off the National Car Rental sign Monday night. This one did even more damage and traveled completely outside of Fenway Park, to boot.

That 8-7 lead turned into an 8-7 win when Colome shut the door in the bottom of the ninth.

Abreu doesn't have the same averages he has throughout his immensely productive big league career, the owner of a .255/.295/.493 slash line coming into Wednesday's game. But he's back on track from a power perspective after last season's injury-plagues season, with 19 homers and 59 RBIs. The four runs he drove in Wednesday's three-hit effort brought him to that 19-59 total that's a special numerical combination to White Sox fans. As of this writing, Abreu is one off the league-leading 60 RBIs of Seattle's Domingo Santana.

Abreu's heroics prevented the White Sox losing streak from sliding to five. It also continued a nice bounce-back season for him that has proven he's still capable of doing plenty of damage and could keep him around on the South Side into the future. He's slated to hit free agency at the end of the 2019 campaign, but general manager Rick Hahn has made it sound like Abreu is part of the team's plans moving forward.

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