Cubs

Scoreboard watching 101: What Irish fans should look for this weekend

930981.png

Scoreboard watching 101: What Irish fans should look for this weekend

Notre Dame is 8-0 and No. 3 in the BCS, only a hair ahead of No. 4 Oregon. There stands a fairly decent chance the Irish would miss the BCS championship game even if they win out -- so for Notre Dame to make the title game, they'll need some help from the teams playing Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon.

Those three teams play ranked opponents this weekend, so you're forgiven if you wind up watching these following games with the same emotional investment as the one on NBC at 2:30 this Saturday.

No. 1 Alabama @ No. 5 LSU (Alabama -8)

The Tide are favored by over a touchdown heading into Baton Rouge, although Les Miles hasn't lost in Death Valley since falling to then-No. 1 Florida in 2009. A.J. McCarron is one of two FBS starting quarterbacks to not thrown an interception this year, as he's stayed upright behind what's likely the best offensive line in the country. On the flip side, LSU has one of the nation's better defensive lines -- if they can create pressure on McCarron, perhaps his perfect streak will end. LSU is far more battle-tested than Alabama, having beaten South Carolina and Texas A&M with a road loss at Florida.

This game is one of two fairly decent shots Alabama has to lose, with the other being the SEC championship (which they likely won't reach if they lose to LSU). Of course, if Alabama loses, it opens up the question of whether a one-loss SEC team should make the national championship over an undefeated Notre Dame, K-State or Oregon. At the least, expect plenty of scintillating opinions among the callers to Paul Finebaum's show if Alabama falls on Saturday.

No. 2 Kansas State vs. No. 24 Oklahoma State (K-State -9)

Oklahoma State is well-versed in championship hopes going down the drain, although they were on the receiving end that last year in a crushing loss to Iowa State in Ames. With freshman quarterback Wes Lunt back and healthy, Oklahoma State's offense stands a better chance against K-State than it would've in previous weeks. But the Wildcats' physical, fundamentally-sound style has a tendency to slowly wear down teams over the course of 60 minutes, leading to the second-half surges that have become a staple of K-State's 8-0 start. With the game played in Manhattan, don't expect the Cats to trip up.

No. 4 Oregon @ No. 17 USC (Oregon -8.5)

USC's loss to Arizona last weekend put a damper on what looked to be a pretty important Pact-12 showdown, but the takeaway from this game is that it's Oregon's first matchup against a top-20 opponent this year. The Ducks have scored no fewer than 42 points against all eight of their victims this year, and are coming off a merciless 70-14 drubbing of a hapless Colorado squad. Meanwhile, USC has hardly looked like the preseason national title favorite, losing to Stanford and failing to blow away teams like Syracuse, Utah and Washington.

But USC isn't completely out of the running for a BCS bid. They'll have to beat Oregon on Saturday and then Notre Dame on Nov. 24 to finish 10-2, which could land the Trojans in prime bowl game. A loss Saturday eliminates their BCS hopes, so needless to say, they should be playing with an increased sense of urgency. Whether that's good enough to stop Oregon's elite offense remains to be seen.

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

0720_cubs_lose.jpg
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

0720_aaron_rodgers.jpg
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.