Cubs

Which teams could help Notre Dame's championship chances?

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Which teams could help Notre Dame's championship chances?

Notre Dame's win over Oklahoma on Saturday vaulted the Irish to No. 3 in the BCS standings, narrowly beating out Oregon for that spot. Alabama and Kansas State are ahead of Notre Dame, and Oregon could leapfrog Notre Dame by staying undefeated against a fairly difficult schedule to close out the year.

Even if Notre Dame goes on the road and beats USC, they'll need help to reach the BCS championship game. Here's how the three others teams vying for a title game berth's schedules stack up, along with which teams could aid Notre Dame's chances:

No. 1 Alabama: @ LSU, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Western Carolina, vs. Auburn
Who could help Notre Dame: LSU, SEC East champion

Alabama's big test comes this weekend in Baton Rouge against an LSU team that's won close games against South Carolina and Texas A&M in the last three weeks. If LSU deals Alabama a loss, it would likely keep the Tide out of the SEC championship game -- although it could create a headache if LSU wins the SEC, as there would be a legitimate argument to be made that a one-loss LSU is better than an undefeated Notre Dame, K-State or Oregon.

The same thing can be said for Alabama if Nick Saban wins on Saturday but loses to Georgia in the SEC championship -- but chances are, the BCS would favor an undefeated team over a one-loss team, no matter how strong the conference.

Outside of LSU, a solid Texas A&M team probably won't challenge Alabama, and Western Carolina and Auburn might as well be on the same level at this point. Don't expect an Iron Bowl rally in what probably will be Gene Chizik's final game on the Auburn sidelines.

No. 2 Kansas State: vs. Oklahoma State, @TCU, @ Baylor, vs. Texas
Who could help: TCU, Baylor

While OSU and Texas are both ranked -- unlike TCU and Baylor -- OSU has struggled on the road (21-point loss to Arizona, six-point win over Kansas), while Texas hardly has looked like a top-25 team this year.

But weird things happen the road -- just ask Oklahoma State about its trip to Ames last year -- and TCU has a decent enough defense to cause some problems if they're amped up for their biggest game of the year. Baylor's offense, too, has the potential to put up 50 points on any given Saturday in Waco.

K-State, however, has already gone on the road to beat Oklahoma and West Virginia, and the fundamentally-sound Wildcats aren't prone to the kind of mistakes that usually cost teams away from home.

No. 4 Oregon: @ USC, @ California, vs. Stanford, @ Oregon State
Who could help: USC, Stanford, Oregon State, Pac-12 South champion

Oregon has the most to gain and lose in next month, with four key games awaiting looming. If they win all four, they could very well jump into the BCS title game, but a loss would doom the Ducks' chances.

Trips to USC and Oregon State look a little less daunting after both teams lost this past weekend, and drawing a physical Stanford team at home could give Oregon the edge. Oregon could get USC or Arizona in the Pac-12 title game, although that game would almost certainly be played in Eugene -- where the Ducks have only lost once under Chip Kelly.

Notre Dame will probably need two of these three teams to lose to slide into the national championship picture. There's still plenty of time for attrition, though, so expect plenty of scoreboard watching to fill your Saturdays from here on out.

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

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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

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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.