Could Notre Dame compete in the SEC?

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Could Notre Dame compete in the SEC?

BOSTON -- No, this question may not matter. Notre Dame's joining the ACC on a limited basis, not the SEC. At most, they'll face one SEC team every few years, with that game coming during bowl season.

But as Notre Dame is grouped among the best teams in college football, it begs the question: could the Irish compete in the best conference in college football?

One former SEC coach thinks the answer is yes.

"I think they could," Houston Nutt, who coached at Arkansas and Ole Miss, said. "The thing that would be different for them, the thing that you still don't know is when they play Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia back-to-back-to-back, it's that grind.

"And if you just look at their team, I feel like they've got a very good defensive team, a very good offensive team, special teams they don't beat themselves, they're physical -- all those things."

That grind Nutt mentioned separates the top tier of the SEC from the rest of the conference -- just look at South Carolina, a team that crushed Georgia only to lose back-to-back games to LSU and Florida to fall out of the national title discussion. Notre Dame's schedule isn't easy by any means, and players would tell you it's certainly a grind, but no matter how hard Pittsburgh and other opponents play, nothing measures up to back-to-back games in Death Valley and the Swamp.

Notre Dame certainly has the stereotypical profile of an SEC team: Great defense, plenty of size and athleticism on the interior and a stable of athletic running backs who lead a good-not-great offense. It doesn't hurt, either, that some of Notre Dame's stars are from SEC country. T.J. Jones and Stephon Tuitt are from Georgia, while Zeke Motta and Louis Nix hail from Florida (Jamoris Slaughter and Lo Wood are from Georgia and Florida, respectively, but are out for the 2012 season).

It's not just the guys from the South, too -- Notre Dame has plenty of speed on its defense, and it features arguably the best defensive player in the nation in Manti Te'o. On offense, there's plenty of speed, too, namely with the game-breaking abilities of Cierre Wood and George Atkinson.

But even with all that talent, Notre Dame would be a two-touchdown underdog to Alabama if the two teams were to meet this weekend. Most around the SEC would tell you Alabama would roll Notre Dame, and they're well within their rights to say that -- the conference winning six straight national titles certainly breeds that confidence.

"When Notre Dame watches the film and watches Alabama, they're going to see how physical, how fast and how very consistent they are," Nutt, now an analyst for CBS College Sports, said. "They don't beat themselves. They win the turnover margin. They're a well-coached team. Alabama is used to winning, they expect to win. It'd be a heck of a battle."

The talent gulf isn't so wide, though, that Notre Dame couldn't come out and beat Alabama if the two were matched up in the National Championship. With a month to prepare, anything could happen.

"You got 30 days to get ready, I think you don't know. You just don't know," Nutt explained. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. You look at Boise State several years ago, one of the funnest games I've ever seen. Boise State got ready for Oklahoma and they beat them. Absolutely, it could happen."

As for Notre Dame competing in the SEC, it's worth noting that the conference's gauntlet may not be far more difficult than Notre Dame's schedule. Among the Top 25 by Football Outsiders' F rankings are five SEC teams (Alabama, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia) and five of Notre Dame's opponents (Oklahoma, Michigan State, USC, Stanford, BYU), although four of the SEC teams are in the top 10, while four of Notre Dame's opponents are outside the top 10.

Chances are, Notre Dame wouldn't run the table in SEC play -- but if they did, they wouldn't need any sort of attrition to reach the BCS title game. That's just an interesting hypothetical, nothing more.

What does matter, though, is Notre Dame has the ability to compete with Alabama if they reach the National Championship. After all, the Irish resemble an SEC team more than anyone else outside the nation's best conference.

Preview: Cubs-Giants Thursday on CSN+

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Preview: Cubs-Giants Thursday on CSN+

The Cubs take on the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Thursday’s starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery vs. Jeff Samardzija

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ headline Cubs prospects ticketed for Arizona Fall League

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ headline Cubs prospects ticketed for Arizona Fall League

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ will headline the group of seven Cubs prospects ticketed for the Arizona Fall League.

As the Cubs project their next wave of talent, Jimenez is thought to be close to untouchable after a breakout performance at the All-Star Futures Game and a Midwest League MVP season at Class-A South Bend.

Jimenez – who originally signed out of the Dominican Republic and got a $2.8 million bonus in the summer of 2013 – is hitting .331 with 14 homers and 81 RBI through 111 games with the South Bend Cubs. At the age of 19, the dynamic outfielder reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman year at the University of San Diego with that 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and powerful right-handed swing.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – is a switch-hitter (.717 OPS at Double-A Tennessee) who has tried to increase his versatility by moving between second base and the outfield and become a Joe Maddon-type player.

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The Mesa Solar Sox roster unveiled Wednesday also includes Victor Caratini, an advanced defensive catcher who drew interest around the trade deadline and could be packaged in a bigger deal for pitching if Willson Contreras continues to develop behind the plate and Kyle Schwarber comes back healthy next season.

Cubs officials trying to build a pitching pipeline for Wrigley Field will also get a look at right-handers James Farris, Ryan McNeil, Stephen Perakslis and Duane Underwood Jr. in the showcase league.

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates and surge into September

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates and surge into September

Another quick hook left Jason Hammel seething over the weekend at Dodger Stadium, bringing back uncomfortable questions about how much manager Joe Maddon trusts him, and whether or not the Cubs would find a spot for him on a playoff roster.

Four days later, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system as Hammel warmed up before facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, with no guarantees about October or next season.

Hammel responded with another strong start during Wednesday’s 6-5 victory, completing a three-game sweep that left the Pirates staggering in the wild-card race and helped the Cubs cut their magic number to win the division down to 16.

Outside of a few extreme lows that distorted the perception of his superb overall season – 10-run outings against the New York Mets and at Coors Field and the 39 pitches he dismissively called a side day in Los Angeles – Hammel has been an integral part of the elite rotation that pushed the Cubs to such a huge lead in the National League Central.

Now up 15 games on the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs surged into September with an 85-47 record, an expectation their pitching staff will get healthy and become whole again and a sense of harmony within their clubhouse.

“That’s rearview mirror now,” Hammel said, wearing a Pearl Jam shirt during his postgame press conference. “Joe and I talked it out. There’s no room for off-the-field BS or disagreements or to hold a grudge. 

“I told him how I felt. He told me how he felt and the reasoning for everything. We’re grown men. We solved it and have to respect each other’s views and opinions. To carry something like that would really mess up something special we got going on right now.”

Hammel (14-7, 3.14 ERA) shut down the Pirates for six innings, allowing only one run, scattering three hits and showing the confidence that made him an All-Star-level performer in the first half. 

Hammel regained control of his fastball, spun some curveballs and incorporated a changeup to create doubt in hitters’ minds and add a different wrinkle to opposing scouting reports. He limited the damage to one run in the fifth inning, working around three walks and screaming and flexing his muscles after striking out Andrew McCutchen swinging at a 93-mph fastball to end the threat.

“Yeah, I wanted to get back out there,” Hammel said. “The last one just didn’t sit well with me. So far, so good.”

On a night when the crowd chanted “MVP,” Kris Bryant backed Hammel by launching his 36th homer and playing Gold Glove-level defense at third base. Bryant saved a run by diving to his left to catch a Sean Rodriguez line drive and end the second inning. Bryant began the fourth inning with his answer to Anthony Rizzo’s tarp catch, leaning over the wall and into the stands to catch a Josh Bell pop-up.

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But the defensive play of the night belonged to Addison Russell, who with the bases loaded and the Cubs trying to protect a 5-2 lead, raced over from shortstop and made a sliding catch near the left-field line to end the seventh inning.

“This team’s going to be really good for a long time,” said Hammel, who had been packaged with Jeff Samardzija – Thursday’s starter for the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field – in the Russell trade with the Oakland A’s in 2014. “These kids – I say kids now, because I can, because I’m old – they’re impressive and they continue to dazzle.

“You can’t really say surprised, because we’ve come to expect all these great plays and the big knocks that they’re driving in. We’re witnessing greatness.”

After getting 22 wins in a month for the first time since September 1945, this could become the next awkward conversation: If John Lackey (shoulder) returns to full strength – and the rest of the rotation doesn’t experience any setbacks down the stretch – what are the chances of Hammel making a playoff start?

“Stay healthy and we’ll see what happens,” Maddon said. “I don’t bet on the come. Let’s get to the playoffs first, make sure everybody’s well, and at that point then you look at the group you have. And then maybe at that point you look at the group you may be playing. And then you try to formulate the best plan of attack from your personnel versus their personnel. 

“I’ve not even thought about a playoff moment once.”

The Cubs will now have all of September to think about October.