Cubs

NIU's amazing season could end with BCS Bowl bid

913477.png

NIU's amazing season could end with BCS Bowl bid

Notre Dame may not be the only Chicagoland team to play in a BCS Bowl game.

Northern Illinois has steadily emerged as one of the country's top teams, cracking the BCS Standings at No. 21 Sunday.

The Huskies take on No. 17 Kent State in the MAC Championship Friday night, with tipoff scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPN2. The winner may have a chance at earning a bid to a BCS bowl game, which would be the first time a MAC team has earned such an honor.

"We've definitely earned national respect as a conference," NIU head coach Dave Doeren said in his press conference Monday. "And it's not like only one team had a great year. There's multitude of teams that have had big wins this year in our league over BCS teams.

"If you can win this league, that says a lot about who you are. It's a very balanced league with a lot of good football teams in it and very good coaches. It'd be deserving for the best team to get the opportunity to play or whatever BCS game they put us in."

Both NIU and Kent State are 11-1 overall and 8-0 in conference play, but it was Kent State's victory over nationally-ranked Rutgers Oct. 27 that gave the Golden Flashes the boost. The Huskies' lone loss of the year came to Iowa, a one-point game played at Soldier Field on the first weekend of the season.

"Nine teams lost that were ranked higher than us, so that really opened up some doors," Doeren said. "But none of them are worth their salt if we lose this weekend. We have to win. We put ourselves in a position to make it a real argument and now we need to finish what we started here."

Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch has accounted for most of NIU's offense, racking up 2,750 passing yards and 1,611 rushing yards to go with 39 TDs (23 passing, 16 rushing) and just 4 interceptions. The Huskies rank eighth in the FBS in rushing yards (2,940) and fourth in touchdowns (64).

With 147 rushing yards in the MAC Championship, Lynch would become the country's leading rusher, passing Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, who currently has 1,757 yards.

Senior receiver Martel Moore has provided a great go-to option for Lynch in the aerial game, catching 67 balls for 1,015 yards and 11 scores. Sophomore receiver Tommylee Lewis has added 40 catches for 474 yards and 5 TDs, and has a kickoff return touchdown to boot.

Kent State boasts the 10th-best rushing offense in the league, led by junior Dri Archer (1,337 yards, 14 TDs) and sophomore Trayion Durham (1,176 yards, 14 TDs). Archer is averaging an astonishing 9.7 yards per carry and is also the team's leading receiver with 30 catches for 458 yards and 4 TDs.

"It's not a BCS talk if you lose," Doeren said. "It's pretty simple -- if you lose this game, we don't talk about it next week. It's real easy to lock them into winning this one. The challenge to me was the week before this game and the week before Toledo. Those were the games that scared me more than these kinds of games.

"When you're playing your rival for a chance to go to the championship, and then you're playing the championship for a chance to maybe play in the BCS, there's not a lot you need to say. These guys are gonna be ready."

Carlos Zambrano gets four clean outs in Chicago Dogs debut

Carlos Zambrano gets four clean outs in Chicago Dogs debut

Carlos Zambrano hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012 (and the minors since 2013), but he is back pitching in Chicagoland.

The former Cubs ace made his debut with the Chicago Dogs of the American Association on Saturday. Zambrano didn't register any strikeouts, but retired all four batters he faced.

The 37-year-old got three groundouts and a flyout in 13 pitches.

The Dogs play at Impact Field in Rosemont and the day before Zambrano's debut they set a world record for the most wieners in one location. So this is a bit different than the major leagues.

The key to Lucas Giolito's success

The key to Lucas Giolito's success

Lucas Giolito has looked like a different pitcher this season, particularly over his last five starts, where he has posted a miniscule 1.67 ERA in 27 innings, striking out 32 and walking only 9. But even if you take his entire 2019 body of work into account, he has been so much better through eight starts than he was in 2018.

Of 109 pitchers who entered Sunday with at least 40 innings pitched, 24 of them are averaging 10 or more strikeouts per 9 innings, and Giolito is one of them, at 10.47. Giolito finished 2018 with 6.5 strikeouts per 9 innings, which is far from ideal. Going by strikeout percentage, he’s way up from 16.1 percent to 28.6 percent.

Comparing his first eight starts of the season in 2018 and 2019, the difference is staggering.

Lucas Giolito – first eight starts of season

  2018 2019
ERA 6.91 3.35
IP 41.2 43
Hits 37 32
K/BB 23/32 50/18
HR 4 3

Maybe the ERA stands out most to you, but to me, the strikeouts are much more critical.

But why? How is he doing it? The answer certainly seems to be the changeup.

Lucas Giolito first seven starts of 2018 and 2019.

Strikeouts by pitch type (pitch type data from Statcast)

  2018 2019
4-seam fastball 11 17
CHANGEUP 0 16
Curve 2 1
Slider 8 12

Giolito over his first seven starts of 2019 recorded 16 strikeouts on his changeup, whereas he didn’t record any strikeouts through seven starts last season. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you have watched him work this season. That pitch is nasty and hopefully it continues to be a weapon going forward.

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.