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Notre Dame, Michigan series to end in 2014

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Notre Dame, Michigan series to end in 2014

Notre Dame's schedule has its first casualty stemming from its ACC agreement, and it's the team the Irish just beat 13-6 last weekend.

According to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, Notre Dame decided to cancel its series with the Wolverines from 2015-2017, meaning the last scheduled meeting between the two schools will be at Notre Dame Stadium in 2014.

While the rivalry doesn't have a long history -- the two teams have only met 39 times -- the success of each program has fostered one of Notre Dame's more heated rivalries. But while that success has contributed to the rivalry, it also led to its downfall.

With five ACC opponents on Notre Dame's future schedules, along with the desire to keep contests against Stanford, USC and Navy, the Irish will likely have one of the nation's toughest schedules year in and year out. And that's not even considering the four-year agreement Notre Dame has to play Texas, with contests scheduled for 2015 and 2020 in South Bend and 2016 and 2019 in Austin.

Perhaps Michigan will return on Notre Dame's schedule at some point, but for now it appears another one of college football's heated rivalries has been lost thanks to its shifting conference landscape.

UPDATE: Notre Dame Spokesman John Heisler offered an explanation of the progam's decision:

"Our contract with Michigan has an automatic rollover provision with a year being added each time a game is played. We needed to avoid the automatic addition of additional games until we can get a better understanding of our available inventory in those years an understanding that will develop as we implement our five-game scheduling commitment to the Atlantic Coast Conference."

Notre Dame also announced Saturday's game against Michigan on NBC drew 6.4 million viewers, its largest TV audience in two years -- which was 2010's Notre Dame-Michigan game.

Growth under Matt Nagy shines as Bears take stranglehold on NFC North

Growth under Matt Nagy shines as Bears take stranglehold on NFC North

The Bears have grown plenty since blowing a 20-point lead against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 and brutally losing to the Miami Dolphins in Week 6. But in Sunday night’s 25-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears showed that growth in how they finished — and it wasn’t just one unit putting the team on its back. Offense, defense and special teams came through to earn the 7-3 Bears a 1 1/2-game lead in the NFC North. 

This wasn’t an easy game for the Bears to finish, not after a Mitch Trubisky interception and Tarik Cohen fumble suddenly gave the Vikings life midway through the second half. Those two turnovers resulted in field goals — a testament to the play of the Bears’ defense — but still brought the Vikings within eight points.

Eddie Jackson’s pick six with eight and a half minutes left, though, seemed to seal the game (at the least, it probably sealed the safety’s place in the Pro Bowl). But the Vikings were able to muster an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive after it to again move within one score. 

Facing a third-and-eight, and the uncertain prospect of giving the ball back to a team that pulled off the Minneapolis Miracle in January, Trubisky delivered his biggest throw of the day: A 17-yard strike to Allen Robinson, which converted the first down. Aided by a Harrison Smith penalty that tacked 15 yards onto a five-yard Trubisky scramble, the Bears moved into field goal range. 

And then Cody Parkey — the guy who kicked in front of an empty Soldier Field and two news helicopters during the week — put the game out of reach with a 48-yard field goal. Nearly the entire Bears team bounded off its sideline to greet Parkey, displaying the kind of spirit instilled in this group by Matt Nagy and its leaders since they first got together in April. 

The Bears needed that kick, too, as Kirk Cousins found Stefon Diggs for a touchdown with 48 seconds left that brought Minnesota back within a score. Benny Cunningham recovered an onside kick — something the Bears failed to do last week against the Detroit Lions — sealing the win. 

This was a game the Bears might not have won in September. They might not have won it in October, either. But a young team coalescing around its first-year head coach, a dominant defense and a more than good enough offense won it in November against a good team. And in doing so, they proved they can do it in December. 

And January, too. 

Four takeaways: Corey Crawford heating up as Blackhawks extend point streak to four

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USA TODAY

Four takeaways: Corey Crawford heating up as Blackhawks extend point streak to four

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks fly out of the gates

The Blackhawks couldn't have started any better against the Wild, who were on the second of a back-to-back. It was important for the Blackhawks to take advantage of that and they did.

Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks on the board 1-0 at 8:26 of the first period after burying a pass from Patrick Kane on the power play and Brandon Saad made it 2-0 with 2:31 left after scoring on a breakaway.

"It’s nice to get a lead and I think we’ve found good ways to give up one- or two-goal leads in second periods this season, and that usually feels like a kick to the midsection," Toews said. "We did a good job of limiting the bleeding in that second period and making sure we came back hard in the third and not giving up too much."

2. Special teams battle

This will be a work in progress all season long, but the Blackhawks are slowly making strides in the special teams department. Often times it could be the deciding factor of a game, whether it's a power play goal or a penalty kill at a key time.

The Blackhawks got two power-play opportunities in the first period and capitalized on the first one. They were able to create chances and have sustained offensive zone time, registering a combined five shots on goal.

"We want to dictate when we're going to try and make our plays," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought we were aggressive at the right time, we were patient at other times. We had some interchange, put them in some mismatch situations and then it's up to us to execute and I thought the guys did a great job in all three. ... We're getting better, we just got to be patient with it. It's not going to be perfect, but I see progression."

But the Wild also had their fair share of opportunities and got on the board when Zach Parise buried a Mikko Koivu pass on the power play to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 at 7:56 of the second period, which looked similar to the Blackhawks' goal.

Most importantly, the Blackhawks killed off Brent Seabrook's penalty with 5:09 remaining in regulation.

"It was tough," Colliton said. "I thought we played quite a solid third and then all of a sudden you've got to go down five minutes to go and they also scored once against us. We did a good job, got us a couple saves, got a couple clears at the right time, so it was big. We needed the two points, obviously, and they got zero."

3. Corey Crawford heating up

The Blackhawks are starting to see the results of their progression, going 2-0-2 in their last four games. And arguably their most important player is, too.

Crawford made a season-high 39 saves in the victory and has stopped 98 of 100 shots in his last three starts for a save percentage of .980. His save percentage was .902 in his first nine starts. Even though there was never a concern about his numbers being down, the Blackhawks are encouraged to see him getting rewarded.

"It's no secret that he's great," Colliton said. "He makes those saves that can keep you in a game or if things are going against you, he holds the fort. We got some old guys, but we got some young guys too, and they need that. They need that security blanket. It's great to see. Obviously he had a great reputation coming in. He's been everything I expected."

4. Eddie Olczyk takes "One More Shift"

On "Hockey Fights Cancer" Night, it was only fitting that the Blackhawks honored one of their own. Before calling the game in the booth, Olczyk hosted a Purple Carpet event in the atrium, honoring fans who are currently battling cancer, have lost a loved one to cancer and those who are in remission and then took the ice for "One More Shift" with the Blackhawks and lined up for the ceremonial puck drop.

Olczyk overcame stage three colon cancer last season and has been an inspiration to many, both on and off the ice.

“I do believe and we do believe as a family that our purpose in life now is to share my story, to help inspire one person that’s either in the battle, going through the battle or helping support somebody,” Olczyk said. “Maybe down the road, somebody will say my biggest impact on our community was off the ice and away from the rink, and you know what, that’s OK.

“There’s nothing like knowing people feel good and that is all a part of going through what I did, getting incredible support and couldn’t have done it by myself. Now it’s my job and my family’s job to inspire people. Even if it’s just for a day or a month. It’s always with you, whether you’re in the battle or you’re outside the chemo or you’re cancer free. That cancer will always be with you. You got to take it head on.”