Cubs

Entering crucial stretch, Notre Dame not looking big picture

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Entering crucial stretch, Notre Dame not looking big picture

The next three Saturdays just might make or break Notre Dame's BCS hopes.

After Saturday's contest against No. 18 Stanford, the Irish face unranked (but stronger than that) Brigham Young before facing No. 13 Oklahoma in Norman, where the Sooners have only lost four times under coach Bob Stoops.

A 2-1 record over these next three games likely would provide enough of a cushion to Notre Dame to its first BCS bowl since January of 2007, regardless of what the team does against USC the last week of the season. If Notre Dame beats USC and has 11 or 12 wins, then of course they'll be plucked for a top bowl -- but if they don't go into Los Angeles and win, a 10-win Irish squad would be a great bet to make a BCS bowl.

Fanbases often speak louder than rankings, and Notre Dame's fanbase arguably offers more national clout than any other in college football. We saw it last year, when the Sugar Bowl took No. 13 Michigan over No. 8 Kansas State because, and nothing against K-State fans, Michigan's fanbase is regarded as much stronger.

That kind of stuff happens all the time with bowl selections, and Notre Dame may benefit from it even if they're 10-2 and rank below a handful of teams.

But that kind of bet-hedging isn't something coach Brian Kelly is interested in, obviously. The Irish aren't shooting for 10-2 -- they're just shooting to win their next game.

"We don't talk about that level from 30,000 feet because it doesn't do us any good," coach Brian Kelly said. "All we can focus on is what we can control on a daytoday basis.  When I do maybe press conferences or talk to the media, sometimes I let our team know, listen, I'll talk in those terms. But among us, it's about today and what we do today 37."

The defenses Notre Dame will face in these next three weeks are among the best in college football, even if Stanford did allow Arizona to hang 48 points and rack up 617 yards on Saturday. Those totals dropped Stanford's total defense from 24th to 54th and its scoring defense from 21st to 42nd, but by the opponent-adjusted S&P rankings (explained here), the Cardinal still possess the nation's 11th-best defense. Going by that, Oct. 6 was much more of an aberration than anything else for the Cardinal D.

But Stanford's defense isn't exactly rolling, even if its full-season work has been much better than it showed last week. A defense that is rolling, though, is BYU -- the Cougars' D ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring defense, allowing 8.8 points per game. Only Notre Dame (7.8) and Alabama (7) have been better, and S&P pegs BYU as the second-best FBS defense.

Oklahoma, too, rates in the top 10 defensively by S&P and has a top 20 scoring defense. The Sooners are a little further off, though, and if Notre Dame looks past BYU a week from now, that could be a problem on Oct. 20.

After OU, Notre Dame gets Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest before USC. If the Irish head to Los Angeles with one loss, they'll be in excellent shape. Two losses, and the pressure's on.

And these next three games will likely determine what direction Notre Dame goes before and after Los Angeles.

Jim Hickey steps down as Cubs pitching coach

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USA TODAY

Jim Hickey steps down as Cubs pitching coach

The Cubs' coaching staff shakeup continued this offseason with pitching coach Jim Hickey leaving for personal reasons, according to a statement from the Cubs.

Hickey - a Chicago native - spent just the one year as pitching coach of the Cubs after serving in the same capacity with the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays for 11 seasons.

“Jim Hickey notified us yesterday of his decision to step down as pitching coach and leave the organization for personal reasons," Theo Epstein said in the team's statement. "We thank Jim for his season with the Cubs and his positive impact on our pitchers. Jim has our full support and we all wish him well.”

Since being ousted from the postseason after just one game, the Cubs have already replaced their hitting coach - hiring Anthony Iapoce for the departed Chili Davis - and are in the same boat in terms of run prevention, now creating a situation where there will be a third different voice coaching pitchers in the span of roughly a calendar year.

The overall numbers for the Cubs pitching staff look good, but there were some deeper issues.

The bullpen led baseball in ERA in 2018, but faded down the stretch (though that was in large part due to injures and overuse).

The starting rotation struggled in the first half, ranking 26th in baseball in innings pitched as a unit, too often failing to pitch deep into ballgames, which put pressure on the offense and the bullpen and kept the team from hitting a groove and rattling off a long stretch of winning baseball.

In much the same way Davis was the scapegoat for several individual players failing to take the next step in the Cubs offense, Hickey may be in that same boat.

The Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood to a three-year deal before the 2018 season and he wound up leading baseball in walks despite hardly pitching in the entire second half. Obviously a lot of that is on Chatwood, but he admitted his mechanics got out of whack and obviously Hickey and the Cubs coaching staff couldn't get him back in line.

In the same vein that a healthy and effective Kris Bryant may have made all the difference in the world in keeping Davis' gig, a healthy and effective Yu Darvish would've completely changed the complexion of the Cubs pitching staff (though that also would've meant no Cole Hamels, who pitched beautifully down the stretch).

Still, this is another surprising shakeup on the Cubs coaching staff just weeks after Theo Epstein stressed the importance of continuity within the organization.

Under Center Podcast: How Mitchell Trubisky’s shoulder changes Bears-Lions

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: How Mitchell Trubisky’s shoulder changes Bears-Lions

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Mitchell Trubisky’s shoulder injury could change the outlook for Thanksgiving’s date with the Lions and what Chase Daniel could bring to the table if he does play. Plus, could this be a letdown game for the Bears?

0:40: So there’s a possibility Trubisky will not play against the Lions, huh?

2:10: Matt Nagy said Trubisky’s situation is similar to the Khalil Mack/Allen Robinson one, but how similar is it really?

3:10: What should we expect if Chase Daniel plays?

5:05: Hear from Daniel, who spoke to the media Tuesday, on his readiness to play if Trubisky can’t go

8:15: Daniel knows the offense well, but does he know it at game speed?

10:20: If Trubisky does play, how might the shoulder affect his play?

13:10: What’s your gut – does Trubisky play on Thursday?

17:15: Why the Bears need to take the Lions seriously

21:00: If the Bears win, why it’d be an outstanding coaching job by Nagy

23:00: Kerryon Johnson not playing will be a big factor

25:00: Reactions to Monday night’s Chiefs-Rams thriller, and what it means for the Bears

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

Under Center Podcast

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