White Sox

Irish have shot at resume-making win in Oklahoma

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Irish have shot at resume-making win in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Ask anybody on Notre Dame, and they'll give you the same line: we're taking it one game at a time, this game is just as big as the rest, etc., etc.

That's the mantra coach Brian Kelly has instilled in the team, keeping any discussions of BCS aspirations as muted as possible. But since Notre Dame won't look at the big picture, here's what it is:

If Notre Dame goes into Norman on Saturday and wins, they'll have a legitimate stake in the national title discussion. Of course, that's much easier said than done.

"It'll just be a great environment, loud crowd, everybody against us," defensive tackle Louis Nix said. "We just gotta prove some people wrong, try to come out with a win."

Notre Dame has only played one true road game this year, a 20-3 win over a Michigan State team that looks much weaker than its No. 10 ranking on Sept. 15. Bob Stoops is 79-4 at Owen Field during his tenure in Norman, a number that sets the odds well against Notre Dame heading into Saturday.

"It's an incredible accomplishment, and obviously, you know, they're a really good football team and they've been a really good football team," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "But we're going to prepare the way we've always been preparing and we're not going to do anything different."

But a recent blueprint does exist for beating Oklahoma in Norman, thanks to No. 3 Kansas State. Collin Klein and K-State beat Oklahoma in Norman 24-19 earlier in the season, partly due to forcing a few Landry Jones mistakes. Irish safety Zeke Motta has seen the film of that game, and noticed something that could work to Notre Dame's advantage.

"Landry Jones has the ability to be a little mobile in the pocket to extend the play if he needs to, he has that athletic ability," Motta prefaced. "But I think looking at the Kansas State game, you see the receivers who are coming off and they're getting jammed up a bit and slowing them down, so taking a little bit of speed off helps."

Taking away those quick passes could allow Notre Dame's pass rush to hit Jones early and knock him out of his comfort zone. Jones has been locked in the last few weeks, largely thanks to only being hit a combined three times in OU's last three games. K-State got to Jones five times, with two sacks and a forced fumble.

"He's gotten into a good rhythm," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "He hasn't been disrupted very much. And I think, like most good quarterbacks, if you can get into a good rhythm and you're not disrupted, you're going to be pretty effective. You can see that's been the case."

If Notre Dame can replicate the pressure K-State put on Jones, they should be able to avoid a shootout. Chances are, if Notre Dame is to win, it's going to be on the backs of their defense.

"You're not going to win those games," Kelly said of high-scoring contests against OU. "So it's going to start on the defensive side of the ball for us and to keep the points down, and then obviously find a way to get some scores. And it's going to be hard on both ends. I think we're going to see two teams that are going to be really pushing hard to get points on the board on both sides."

Keeping Oklahoma's points down has a major advantage for Notre Dame's offense, too. If OU jumps out to a big lead early, Notre Dame may be forced to try to pass their way back into the game -- and that's with a quarterback -- Everett Golson -- who will start just his second career road game.

But if Notre Dame is able to get the ball to Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson on the ground, the Irish could find a way to set the tempo for the game.

A lot needs to go right for Notre Dame to pull off a win on Saturday, but Notre Dame has already done those things in previous games this year. And a win in Norman would be a signature win for Notre Dame's national title hopes, no matter how much the team downplays that notion.

"At this point every game is a signature game," Te'o said. "Every game is important. We approach every game that way, and I think we've come a long way and I think at this point in time in the season every game is a signature game."

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.

96 Days to Kickoff: Jacobs

96 Days to Kickoff: Jacobs

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O'Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we'll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Jacobs

Head coach: Bill Mitz

Assistant coaches: Bubba Smith, Mike Warren, Brian Zimmerman, JM Foote, Ryan Arndt and Bob Mackey

How they fared in 2017: 6-4 (5-3 Fox Valley Conference). Jacobs made the Class 7A playoff field. The Golden Eagles lost to Lincoln-Way West in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 Hampshire 

Aug. 31 @ Huntley 

Sept. 7 Dundee-Crown 

Sept. 14 @ McHenry 

Sept. 21 Neuqua Valley 

Sept. 28 Prairie Ridge 

Oct. 5 @ Cary-Grove 

Oct. 12 Crystal Lake South 

Oct. 19 @ Crystal Lake Central

Biggest storyline: Can the Golden Eagles move up in the Fox Valley Conference pecking order in 2018?

Names to watch this season: OT Joacheim Price and OL Nick Zonta

Biggest holes to fill: The Golden Eagles will need to replace its entire starting linebacker group from a season ago.

EDGY's Early Take: Year in and year out, Jacobs is always a factor in the rugged Fox Valley Conference (seven playoff appearances in the last eight years). The Golden Eagles return some starters in several key spots. If the underclassmen group can step up this summer, look for Jacobs to challenge for the FVC conference title and a higher seed in 7A come IHSA playoff time.