Looking ahead: Notre Dame's schedule tough, but less menacing?

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Looking ahead: Notre Dame's schedule tough, but less menacing?

Notre Dame has played the nation's 15th-toughest schedule, according to Jeff Sagarin's ratings, and is undefeated in those four games. While it's far too early to start thinking about what bowl game in which the Irish will play, there is a fairly clear path to the program's first BCS bid since the 2006 season.

That path involves winning one of three games against Stanford, Oklahoma and USC and not tripping up against the likes of Miami, BYU, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest. Notre Dame already has a signature road win -- at Michigan State -- and with a national fanbase that travels well, it's highly likely a BCS Bowl would jump at the chance to select a 10-2 Notre Dame team.

With that in mind, here's how Notre Dame's remaining schedule breaks down. (the Irish are ranked No. 10 in the AP poll and 8th in Football Outisders' F rankings)

Results are updated for Saturday's games; rankings are heading into this week:

Oct. 6 vs. Miami (4-1, APcoaches: NR, F: 45)

The 'Canes have had a problem keeping opponents off the scoreboard, allowing Boston College, Kansas State and Georgia Tech to rack up 120 points. Tech was a good win on the road, but if that blowout loss to K-State was more of an indication of where Miami is, Notre Dame will have no problem beating them in a week at Soldier Field.

Miami beat NC State 44-37 on Saturday, as QB Stephen Morris threw a 62-yard touchdown strike with 19 seconds left, upping his game totals to 556 yards and five touchdowns.

Oct. 13 vs. Stanford (3-1, AP: No. 8, F: No. 11)

Those rankings, of course, are prior to Stanford's 17-13 loss to Washington in Seattle Thursday night. The Cardinal were the last undefeated team left on Notre Dame's schedule before yesterday, but Washington corralled running back Stepfan Taylor and forced Josh Nunes to throw 37 times. Stanford's defense accounted for its only touchdown against Washington, and chances are their Oct. 13 contest against Notre Dame will be a defensive struggle. Having the game in South Bend could prove to be the tipping point.

Oct. 20 vs. BYU (3-2, AP: NR, F: No. 22)

Notre Dame's matchup with BYU looks like a classic trap game, sandwiched between games against Stanford and Oklahoma. Both of BYU's losses have been close (by a combined four points) on the road to Utah and Boise State, and the Cougars have a fearsome defense (No. 4 in Football Outsiders' S&P rankings). While beating BYU -- which beat Hawaii 47-0 Friday night -- won't have the national impact of a win over Stanford, Oklahoma or USC, it may be about as difficult a challenge for the Irish.

Oct. 27: @ Oklahoma (2-1, AP: No. 16, F: No. 10)

While Bob Stoops still owns a 78-4 record at home during his tenure in Norman, half of those losses have come in the last two years. Last year, OU lost to unranked Texas Tech, and last week Kansas State defeated Oklahoma 24-19.

It's worth noting that, since OU-Texas is played in Dallas and a scheduling anomaly that meant the Sooners' last two games against Oklahoma State came in Stillwater, Oklahoma hasn't played many top-10 opponents at Owen Field in the last few years. The last time they did was 2008, when Sam Bradford led a 65-21 pasting of No. 2 Texas Tech.

A few costly turnovers victimized Oklahoma in its loss to Kansas State. Landry Jones will represent a stiff challenge for Notre Dame's secondary, but if the Irish front seven can put pressure on the Sooners' QB, perhaps those turnover issues will pop up once again.

Nov. 3: vs. Pittsburgh (2-2, AP: NF, F: No. 44)

Pittsburgh's had one of the weirdest starts to the season of anyone in college football, losing by two touchdowns at home to FCS-level Youngstown State and coming back two weeks later to beat then-No. 13 Virginia Tech 35-17. We'll learn a little more about Pitt in the coming month with games at Syracuse and against Louisville, but they appear to be playing a little better after a rocky start under first-year coach Paul Chryst.

Nov. 10: @ Boston College (1-2, AP: NR, F: No. 58)

BC has shown a decent passing game run by quarterback Chase Rettig, but they're one of the worst rushing teams in the country and their defense is pretty middle of the pack without Luke Kuechly. This could be a trap game, just given it's on the road late in the season, but as things stand right now BC shouldn't give the Irish much trouble.

Nov. 17: vs. Wake Forest (3-2, AP: NR, F: No. 86)

Wake currently is the weakest team on Notre Dame's schedule, and while things can change in the next two months this figures to be a softball heading into USC. The Deacons lost to Duke 34-27 on Saturday, but also lost star wide receiver Mike Campanaro to a broke hand in the second quarter.

Nov. 24: @ USC (3-1, AP: No. 13, F: No. 16)

Matt Barkley and the Trojans haven't looked invincible, as some predicted prior to the season, dropping a contest to Stanford in Palo Alto and skating by Syracuse in New Jersey. That being said, Barkley has thrown for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns through four games, and if USC can beat Oregon Nov. 3 in Los Angeles there's still a chance they're playing for a national championship berth against the Irish.

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

Here are some of the top stories from Sunday in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls back in action against Trail Blazers

Tune in tonight for Chicago Bulls Charities Night

Blackhawks score late but can't get past Jets

Bears offense finds groove in win over 49ers

Winter meetings preview: Why teams will find trying to copy a ‘Cubs Way’ rebuild is easier said than done

White Sox revamp would mean fewer 'stopgaps' and 'half-measures'

Significance of Bears win over 49ers lies beyond records and score

Five Things from Blackhawks-Jets: Offense still anemic

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Lars Johansson excited for Blackhawks call-up

Bulls pass out Christmas gifts to Chicago youth on Sunday

Bulls pass out Christmas gifts to Chicago youth on Sunday

It was hard to tell who was more excited Sunday afternoon: the Bulls players or the 400 kids who stopped by the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry as the team passed out Christmas gifts for kids who reside in the Chicago family housing development.

Robin Lopez was carrying about Benny the Bull, much to the surprise and delight of many kids who were in attendance, while Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo took photos and passed out gifts to every child.

Rondo established roots in Chicago long before becoming a Bull, but has become entrenched in the months since signing with the franchise, being a part of the 17th annual holiday party.

“It’s definitely an honor. An honor to be a Bull,” Rondo said. “Since Day 1 when I got here I thought they were the best organization as far as giving back to the community, and it shows. They do it without hesitation.

“Very welcoming. The people have been great. The kids have been here since Day 1 supporting us as well. It’s very exciting.”

Bulls volunteers served lunch provided by Papa John’s, Coca-Cola and Edy’s Ice Cream, as the holiday party is one of the 30 events the Bulls are organizing as part of the team and NBA Cares’ “Season of Giving.”

“It’s no problem for any of us,” Lopez said. “Look at Raj, look at Jimmy, they’re having a blast out there. They’re having as good of a time as the kids out there.”

Being a California native, the newfound snowfall added to the atmosphere for Lopez.

“This really feels like Christmas,” Lopez said. “I can feel the spirit inside with the kids and the looks on their faces when they walk in and see the toys, they see Jimmy Butler and they’re so excited to be a part of it.”

Whether it was Barbie Dreamhouses, or Nerf basketball rims, the kids were ecstatic to see the Bulls and to pick out the toys being distributed by the Bulls’ stars.

“Very humbling. Over 400 kids. And every kid comes through all smiling and excited,” Rondo said. “Some of them don’t get toys all year and this time of year is about giving. I’m very humbled.”

Butler has been around Bulls Charities since being drafted in 2011, so although this is old hat, he hasn’t lost any of the spirit that comes with doing events like this year after year.

He posed with kids for photos and cracked jokes to the younger basketball fans.

“Feels good. I just like being here. It’s what this time of year is all about, seeing these kids smile,” Butler said. “I love kids, I love this city, I want everybody to be happy all the time. However I can make that happen, especially around Christmas and the holidays, I’ll do.”

Lopez is quiet to many who see him on the floor, but his eyes lit up around the kids and made Benny the Bull his personal prop by picking him up and carrying him through the museum.

“Every time I see it, it’s a wonderful feeling. To think I’m a small part of it, I can’t begin to describe it,” Lopez said. “Any opportunity I get to work with kids, that’s always easy yes in my book. I’m a big kid at heart. Any time I can go play, I’m in.

“It’s indescribable. I got so many great gifts as a kid, and blessed in so many ways. Just to be able to give back in any facet, that’s an easy yes.”

Sunday's event leads up to Monday's Chicago Bulls Charities Night at the United Center. The Bulls host the Portland Trailblazers at 7 p.m. on CSN.