Can Isaac repeat in 2012?

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Can Isaac repeat in 2012?

Ty Isaac's statistics for 2011 were mind-boggling: 2,114 yards rushing, 11.9 yards per carry, 45 touchdowns, 515 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries in the Class 5A championship game, Player of the Year.

What can the Joliet Catholic senior do for an encore?

"He is the best I've seen," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who ranks Isaac as the best running back and the No. 8 player in the class of 2013.

"He looks like Eric Dickerson. He is the best running back to come out of the Chicago area since Rashard Mendenhall."

"He is the best player I have coached, one of the greatest ever to play in Illinois," said Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp.

"He has size, speed, tremendous footwork and the ability to break sharply, like Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson. He has an extra gear that you don't expect with someone his size. He was made to be a running back, like Secretariat was made to be a thoroughbred."

After playing second fiddle to Josh Ferguson as a freshman and running in the same backfield with Malin Jones as a sophomore and junior, the 6-foot-2, 217-pounder is prepared to carry on a tradition of great running backs at Joliet Catholic and eager to accept the challenge.

"Finally, this is my team," Isaac said. "I feel I have been around here forever. It is the last opportunity we have to win a state championship. I have put in a lot of work for four years. I am stronger and faster (4.5) than last year at the same time. Now I will find out if it pays off.

"I'm just as versatile but I'm more equipped to carry the load. Mentally and physically, I'm ready to go. I was a glide-type of runner last year. But I was never set up to run in any way. How do I run? I never categorized my style, smooth or glide, as long as it is effective. It doesn't matter what they call it. I'm more confident going into this year. I have never been this excited about a season before."

Isaac insists he isn't concerned about repeating as Player of Year. "It isn't necessarily my goal. If you want to be Player of the Year, you don't have to think about it. My goal is to do what I can to help my team win. As far as Player of the Year, it comes down to who thinks is the best," he said.

This year, the leading candidates almost certainly are Isaac, Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey, Crete-Monee wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell and Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti.

Joliet Catholic, which will open against Providence in a nationally televised game on ESPNU on Aug. 24 in New Lenox, returns plenty of offensive punch with Isaac, quarterback Craig Slowik and wingback Tyler Reitz, who has been moved from fullback to Jones' spot. Tackle J.B. Butler will anchor the line.

Isaac has worked tirelessly during the spring and summer to prepare for his final season...one to two-hour workouts six days a week, no vacation, lifting weights three or four days a week, running, cardio-vascular work, footwork drills, body control, balance.

He didn't dwell too long on last year's 70-45 loss to Montini in the Class 5A championship game. Oh, he admits it took a month to get it out of his mind completely. But he had other things on his mind, like recruiting and making sure the Montini experience doesn't happen again.

"There is nothing I can do about it so I was determined to get ready for next season so it doesn't happen again," he said. "My goal is to do better than last year. I had pretty big numbers last year but I can look at games where I left some things on the table. I can go get them this year. For example, in a few games, I can go back and say I missed out on 50 to 60 more yards or I didn't make a cut or I wasn't focused enough. It will be great to
have better numbers as long as we're winning."

His trip down the recruiting trail ended on May 15 when he chose Southern California over Michigan following his second visit to the Los Angeles campus. He was impressed by USC's history of great running backs and Heisman Trophy winners. But it wasn't the only reason for his decision.

"At spring practice, I saw the way they played with each other, how loose they were. It reminded me of myself. I wanted to play with guys like that," Isaac said. "I got a whole vibe of how they do things.

"Before I went there, I thought it was a flashy place and I wasn't sure how I'd like it. But I felt at home right away, the way they had everything set up, the tradition, how they want to carry it on. It reminded me of Joliet Catholic.

"Sure, the Heisman Trophies are the biggest thing behind the national championships. That is impressive but it isn't necessarily what you are looking for in a college program. I respect what they did. It was awesome that they were the best players at that time. But I couldn't relate to them. I want to put my own trophy there. As long as we win games, personal accolades will take care of themselves."

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

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Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."