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Northwestern ready to break losing streak at Gator Bowl

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Northwestern ready to break losing streak at Gator Bowl

As bowl games now come regularly for Northwestern, its wins that remain elusive.

But the Wildcats werent preoccupied with a nine-game bowl losing streak as they opened Gator Bowl preparations Saturday at their indoor practice facility.

Its a clean slate, insisted Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. And if you look back at our performances over the last four (seasons) we could have won all four games. We didnt and thats frustrating and motivating, but at the same time it has nothing to do with this team and where were at.

The No. 21-ranked Wildcats (9-3) play in a New Years Day bowl for the third time in four years, meeting unranked Mississippi State (8-4) in the 2013 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

The guys are hungry, Fitzgerald said. Its a big game for our seniors and a huge game for our program.

Nine regular season wins were the most since 2008 as the Cats beat opponents from four different Bowl Championship Series conferences (Big East, SEC, ACC and the Big Ten) in the same season.

But Northwestern, which topped Cal 20-14 in the 1949 Rose Bowl, also carries a burden of an unwanted streak thats a collegiate record. Its shared with Notre Dame, which had its own run of bowl futility between 1995 and 2007.

Wildcat quarterback Kain Colter said its time to end the 64-year drought.

This is the best team weve had since Ive been here, Colter said. Were a real close group and we really want to get it for the seniors. Theyve meant a lot for this group and we want to send them out on a high note. Were building a legacy now and this is how we add to it.

One of those seniors is lineman Bo Cisek, originally a walk-on from Niles-Notre Dame who earned a football scholarship and appeared in 11 games this season.

This is our fifth straight bowl game and we seniors have lost four in a row, Cisek said. Weve come together very well and its shown because this is absolutely the best team environment weve had.

After the 1949 Rose Bowl win, the Wildcats wandered in the Big Ten wilderness through most of the next 45 seasons and didnt make another bowl appearance until 1995 as Big Ten champs under Gary Barnett.

The current losing streak also kicked off that year -- a 41-32 Rose Bowl setback to USC. Barnett took the Wildcats to another bowl the next year. His successor, Randy Walker, had three bowl appearances between 1999 and his untimely death in 2006.

Under Fitzgerald, the Wildcats are 0-for-4 in the post-season since 2008, including a 33-22 loss to Texas A&M in last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl. But theyve also had an enviable 39-25 overall record in that span.

On Saturday, Fitzgerald guided the Wildcats through a 90-minute indoor workout that drew several dozen visitors, including potential recruits and high school coaches who lined the sides of the 60-yard artificial turf field.

After training, Fitzgerald said that even with a lengthy break now under way, he hopes the momentum of three wins in the Cats final four games continues to resonate.

Weve been pretty successful as the season has gone along this year, weve played better and better, he said. Hopefully well play our best game of the year on the 1st.

Fitzgerald said Jan. 1 date is ideal for both personnel and preparation. Northwestern training will be light next week for final exams for students while coaches concentrate on recruiting.

Well get a chance to get a lot of work in and then send them home on the night of (Dec.) 20th and then we dont have to reconvene until the 26th, he said. That gives us a great opportunity to prepare and a better opportunity to spend time with family.

While the Northwestern and Mississippi State programs meet for the first time, their respective coaches know each other pretty well.

Fitzgerald and Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen first met while assistant coaches at Northwestern and Bowling Green, respectively. They often ran into each other while recruiting and still occasionally chat.

Dan Mullen and I are very good friends, weve known each other a long time, Fitzgerald said in a teleconference last week. He's one of the guys who's in my small circle of coaches who, if I've got a thought about doing this or that, I'll send Danny a text or give him a call and we've done that for a number of years.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Round 1 of the 2018 NHL Draft.

They discuss the pair of puck-carrying defensemen that the Blackhawks selected on Friday, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. When can we expect to see these first-round picks play in the NHL?

Boyle also goes 1-on-1 with Boqvist and Beaudin. The guys spoke with Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville on Friday.

The guys also share their biggest takeaways from those interviews, which includes your daily Corey Crawford update and Quenneville appeared excited that the team has plenty of cap space to spend in free agency.

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

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.