Confidence not a problem for Lynch, Huskies


Confidence not a problem for Lynch, Huskies

By Dieter Kurtenbach contributor

The Northern Illinois Huskies' foray into the world of the BCS might be less than 48 hours old, but that time has been as eventful off the field as it has been beneficial on it.

The Huskies have practiced twice in preparation of the 2013 Orange Bowl, but they have also found time to unveil new uniforms, party, and generate a bit of legitimate, old-fashioned bulletin-board material for their opponent on New Year's Day.

The epicenter of the controversy is NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, who, before leaving DeKalb, told the Sporting News that FSU hasn't "seen anything like our offense."

Lynch continued: "They're just like us. They're human, too. If you cut them, they bleed... We plan on wearing them down. In the fourth quarter, we plan to have them on their knees, and then just keep pounding away.

The story published Thursday, and after the Huskies' afternoon practice, Lynch stood tall though he was still drowned in a sea of reporters refusing to back down from his comments.

"It's not cocky," Lynch said. "It's confidence."

Lynch's teammates and his new head coach had his back.

"What's he supposed to say?" NIU coach Rod Carey "'Hey, we're just hoping we get a first down, a yard or two?' I mean, come on. That's the confidence. These guys expect that. And we're doing everything we can to make that happen."

As for the practice itself, Carey said that it wasn't as sharp as the team's first in South Florida, which happened Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps the team played better after initially thawing out in the Miami sun. Perhaps that same sun drained the Huskies, leading to the second-day let-down.

"We did good, don't get me wrong," Carey said. "They know how to work, but focus was at times lacking today. I have high expectations for them."

Lynch's comments added some bile to the game, perhaps it was Wednesday night's unveiling of Adidas' specially-made uniforms for the Huskies that had the player's minds elsewhere.

The uniforms were a surprise and were introduced to the squad at its nightly meeting, eliciting cheers, hoots and hollers from the already-excited squad.

The Huskies will wear red pants for the first time, and the new white uniforms featured grey, beveled numbers and a red undershirt with the NIU logo and "Huskies" emblazoned on the sleeves.

That could have been in, or perhaps the Huskies had their minds on what was coming after practice Thursday.

Cheering erupted again at the team's beach party after practice Thursday afternoon. No doubt many of the players were comparing the weather in DeKalb to the bright, sunny, 76 degree day on South Beach.

The new jerseys, the beach parties, the ten-fold media attention it's all part of the BCS lifestyle, one the Huskies are hoping to savor, even if it is ultimately fleeting.

"We worked for this," Carey said. "We wanted this and we earned this."

For Lynch, who is being revered as the Mid American Conference's version of Johnny Football, the downsides of playing in a BCS bowl aren't outweighing the positives.

"Ever since getting off the plane, I felt it starting to kick in more and more," Lynch said. "It's pretty big time. It feels pretty special. It was surreal at first, but it's starting to kick in now and it feels pretty good."

While Carey is no doubt enjoying the "business trip" as well, it is his job to impart perspective, and while he might not be able to speak from much experience Carey was named the NIU head coach a few hours before the Orange Bowl announcement he did his best to reduce the hoopla to a base.

"It's a football game," Carey said. "We're here to win the football game? Otherwise, what would you be playing the game for?"

Class 8A-4A Under the radar games to watch

Class 8A-4A Under the radar games to watch

The opening round of the IHSA football playoffs is loaded with great opening week games. Here are some Chicagoland matchups, from 8A through 4A, that have the potential to be very good “under-the-radar” type of games to watch this weekend. 

Class 8A

No. 26 seed Maine South (6-3) at No. 7 seed West Aurora (9-0), Friday 7:00 p.m.

Many will look at this matchup and assume that perennial 8A power Maine South will just overpower West Aurora. But not so fast, my friends. The Blackhawks and head coach Nate Eimers feature a team loaded with talent and speed, including the Cross twins: senior RB/DB DaQuan Cross and senior RB/DB DaVion Cross. This game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair.

Class 7A

No. 25 St. Rita (5-4) at No. 8 Rockford Auburn (8-1) Friday 7:30 p.m.

This is easily one of the most intriguing matchups in the opening round of 7A. Why? Auburn and head coach Dan Appino’s Knights feature a huge offensive line and a strong running game. Also, the Knights never play outside of the NIC-10 conference until state playoff time. St. Rita had an up-and-down season, yet no one will ever accuse the Mustangs of not being battle-tested. They have Chicago Catholic Blue credentials and have non-conference wins over Rich Central and Marmion — two playoff teams.

[MORE PREPS: IHSA Football Playoffs First-Round Matchups]

Class 6A

No. 11 Lakes (6-3) at No. 6 Grayslake North (7-2) Friday 7:00 p.m.

Both hail from the Northern Lake County conference and despite Lakes’ 31-14 win over Grayslake North on Sept. 9, the Eagles are the lower seed/road team this week. Look for another terrific game here. It's always very difficult to beat the same team twice in the same season. 

Class 5A

No. 9 Rich Central (6-3) at No. 8 Woodstock North (6-3), Friday 7:00 p.m.

Rich Central might have one of the state's biggest offensive lines, which includes senior OL/DL Caylon May (6-foot-3, 290 pounds). Woodstock North looks to run the football behind senior RB Casey Dycus. Everybody in the Thunder program continues to be excited, stemming from last week's 23-22 win over Rock Falls. Woodstock North blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt in overtime to secure the win and a state playoff bid.

Class 4A

No. 12 Wheaton Academy (6-3) at No. 5 Aurora Central Catholic (8-1), Friday 7:00 p.m.

Wheaton Academy hit a rough patch in its Metro Suburban Blue slate and lost three straight games to playoff teams (IC Catholic Prep, Riverside-Brookfield and Glenbard South). The Warriors are undoubtedly battle tested. However, Aurora Central Catholic's only loss came to Ridgewood (7-2) who won the Metro Suburban Red. Expect a packed house in Aurora on Friday night for, likely, a back-and-forth game. 

He’s back: Kyle Schwarber takes center stage at World Series

He’s back: Kyle Schwarber takes center stage at World Series

CLEVELAND – Kyle Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story at the World Series. He didn’t have a hit all season – and hadn’t played for the Cubs in almost seven months – but there was his name in the No. 5 spot in the lineup against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians.

“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”

It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love Schwarber’s energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, from the time they saw his hard-charging style and football mentality at Indiana University. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted him fourth overall in 2014 – at a time when that almost looked like a reach for a designated hitter with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.

Instead of sending him to Arizona, the Cubs also allowed Schwarber to rehab in Chicago and remain a part of the team after undergoing major surgery on his left knee in the middle of April, making him untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled game-changing reliever Andrew Miller, who now looms as another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper – the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL – Schwarber went full speed ahead.

“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.

“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.” 

After playing in the Arizona Fall League in front of about 100 fans on Monday, Schwarber flew on a private plane from Mesa to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.

“It’s going to be a complete 180,” Schwarber said. “You know you’re going in front of a packed stadium here. It’s going to be awesome. That’s what we live for as baseball players. We live to feed off that, especially since we’re in such a hostile environment here in Cleveland.

“I love that. It’s going to be great for our team. We’re in for a really hard-fought battle.”