Scoreboard watching: K-State vulnerable without Klein?


Scoreboard watching: K-State vulnerable without Klein?

BOSTON -- All Notre Dame can do at this point is win and hope. A 12-0 record for the Irish would only be good enough for a national title berth if two of Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State lose in the final weeks of the season.
After Saturday's game, Notre Dame players said they weren't interested in going home and closely watching Alabama, Oregon and K-State's matchups. They may not be paying attention to any of that, but since everyone else is, here's what those three teams ahead of the Irish in the BCS are facing this weekend:
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 15 Texas A&M (Alabama -13.5)
Johnny Manziel has taken the SEC by storm -- A&M is actually scoring more in the SEC this year than they did with Ryan Tannehill last year in the Big 12 -- but good enough to pull off an upset over Alabama? The Tide's secondary was exposed a little bit last week by LSU's Zac Mettenberger, who threw for 298 yards and a touchdown. Johnny Football's a better quarterback than Mettenberger, but against two top SEC defenses in Florida and LSU Manziel hasn't been great. Alabama's defense represents another stiff challenge for the redshirt freshman, and since this game is in Tuscaloosa, chances are the Tide will roll.
No. 2 Kansas State @ TCU (K-State -7.5)
If Notre Dame is hoping for an upset, this game might be the best bet -- that is, if K-State's Collin Klein isn't able to play. The leading Heisman Trophy candidate was pulled from K-State's win over Oklahoma State last week with concussion-like symptoms, and while venerable coach Bill Snyder thinks his quarterback will be okay, we won't know until Saturday. It's worth noting, though, that K-State's defense may be good enough to limit a TCU offense that's coming off a miraculous 39-38 win over West Virginia last week.
But any team that goes on the road without its best player is vulnerable, so keep a close eye on Saturday's proceedings in Fort Worth.
No. 3 Oregon @ California (Oregon -28.5)
Jeff Tedford's had a good run at Cal, but he's very much on the hot seat in Berkeley. A win over a heavily-favored Oregon would be a nice parting gift, but barring the eight misfortunes that befell Mr. Burns' softball team the Ducks should be able to manage yet another blowout.

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

The Chicago Bears are less than one month from the start of training camp, but the praise for general manager Ryan Pace's offseason continues to pour in.

Pace and the Bears received an A for their offseason -- the best grade in the NFC North -- from Sports Illustrated. A big part of the perfect score was the overhaul at wide receiver.

Chicago had one of the weakest receiving groups in the NFL last season—the team ranked dead last in passing yards per game (175.7)—so that position was clearly an area of focus this offseason for general manager Ryan Pace. The additions of Allen Robinson from Jacksonville, Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta and Anthony Miller via the draft will boost a stagnant group, assuming Robinson returns fully healthy from last September’s ACL tear. If 2015 first-round pick Kevin White can stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his ill-fated career, it’s an added bonus.

Much is expected from the revamped group of pass-catchers even though none of them have an overwhelming history of production. Robinson had a dominant season in 2015 (1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns), but his last two seasons involved mediocre production in 2016 and a torn ACL in Week 1 last year. Gabriel's never topped more than 621 yards in a season and tight end Trey Burton has been a backup his whole career. Miller has yet to play a snap in the NFL and White, now entering his fourth season, is still looking for his first touchdown catch.

Mitch Trubisky has a lot of work to do once training camp kicks off. Not only must he master coach Matt Nagy's offense, but he must do so while building chemistry with all of his new receivers. Growing pains will happen, but the upside and expectations for the Bears in 2018 are higher than they've been in many years, and it's all because of a great offseason had by the front office.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares


Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.