Cubs

Lemming: Foster will be a star at Illinois

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Lemming: Foster will be a star at Illinois

Illinois football fans who are calling for the ouster of first-year coach Tim Beckman are reminded that Wisconsin boosters and the Madison media endorsed the firing of Barry Alvarez after his first Badger team went 1-11.

From all available evidence, however, it hasn't seemed to deter Beckman's ability to recruit. Longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports predicts running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods will be a star at Illinois.

Foster, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a junior and senior, is the type of player that Beckman needs to improve the talent level of his program, a difference-maker, an instant impact player, a game-changer. Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey could be the same. But the Illini need more of everything.

At Purdue, Joe Tiller re-energized his program when he recruited Drew Brees. Auburn did the same with Cam Newton. And look what Johnny Manziel, a 6-foot quarterback who was passed over by Texas and other major schools, has done for Texas A&M.

"Illinois isn't winning so they don't have any attraction for kids," Lemming said. "But give them an A for effort. Their organization is great. They have been on guys in the Midwest quicker than anyone else in the Big Ten. The bad-mouthing by fans and alumni is undeserved.

"Of course, you must win to draw kids back. Beckman must get the good Illinois players to stay at home. Remember, Beckman was left with an empty cupboard. There isn't much talent on the current roster. They need to get impact players."

To restock the roster with talent that can be competitive in the Big Ten, Lemming said Beckman and his staff must recruit nationally and evaluate everybody from coast to coast. Even Northwestern has become a national recruiter.

"If you can't beat Michigan and Ohio State and Notre Dame in the Midwest, you must go national and be aggressive recruiters. You've got to get a player like Marian Central's Chris Streveler, who went to Minnesota, or Ethan Pocic, who went to LSU, or Ty Isaac, who went to USC, or Jordan Westerkamp, who went to Nebraska."

Beckman is doing his best to make a dent in the class of 2014. There are no first-team All-Americans in Illinois, like Ty Isaac in the class of 2013, but it is a good class that is headed by five players who likely will rank among the top 100 in the nation.

They are tight end Nic Weishar of Marist, linebacker Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South, linebacker Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee, safety Parrker Westphal of Bolingbrook and tackle Jamarco Jones of De La Salle. None of them, however, figure to rank in the top 50.

The nation's No. 1 player in the class of 2013, 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Georgia, apparently is headed for Ole Miss after de-committing from Clemson.

Why Ole Miss over Alabama and Georgia, the two other schools he said he was considering?

"When I interviewed him in February, I thought he would go to Alabama," Lemming said. "But he attended the Ole MissArkansas game. His brother plays for Ole Miss. And his mother wants her sons to play together. I think he will go to Ole Miss."

Lemming spent the month of October traveling and observing and evaluating players in Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. "There are a lot of great players in the South," he said.

Alabama has at least seven players who could rank in the top 50 in the nation in the class of 2014.

The best ones are 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back Bo Scarborough of Tuscaloosa and 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker Tre Williams of Mobile.

Humphrey, son of former Alabama star Bobby Humphrey, is a top 10 player who likely will attend his father's alma mater. Scarborough, who is committed to Alabama, is one of the top five running backs in the nation.

Missouri's top prospects are 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman Andy Bauer of St. Louis Vianney, who is committed to Missouri, and 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive lineman Roderick Johnson of St. Louis Hazelwood Central.

It shapes up as a subpar year for quarterbacks nationally but Oklahoma has two blue chippers in 6-foot-5, 220-pound David Cornwell of Jones and 6-foot-4, 200-pound Justice Hansen of Edmond. Another standout is 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back Devon Thomas of Broken Arrow.

But the best player in Oklahoma is 6-foot-5, 235-pound defensive end Deondre Clark of Oklahoma City, who had 21 sacks in his first eight games. He is a top 20 player nationally.

It is an outstanding year for talent in the Nashville area. The No. 1 prospect in central Tennessee is 6-foot-3, 190-pound wide receiver Josh Malone of Gallatin.

Two of the best players in Arkansas are a pair of nose tackles, 6-foot-2, 320-pound Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado and 6-foot-4, 330-pound Josh Frazier of Fayetteville.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.