NIU, Northwestern crack BCS Standings

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NIU, Northwestern crack BCS Standings

Notre Dame is getting all the attention in the national media outlets, but two other Chicago-market teams have cracked the BCS Top 25 rankings.

Northern Illinois and Northwestern are among the country's best teams, coming in at No. 21 and No. 22, respectively.

NIU, owners of an 11-1 record, join conference rival Kent State as the only two members of the MAC. Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch leads the way for the Huskies and has emerged as an outside challenger for the Heisman trophy with 2,750 passing yards, 1,611 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns (23 passing, 16 rushing).

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has Northwestern at 9-3, joining Nebraska and Michigan as the only Big Ten teams in the Top 25. Junior running back Venric Mark (1,310 yards, 11 TDs) and junior quarterback Kain Colter (820 rushing yards, 12 TDs) lead one of the best rushing attacks in the NCAA, netting 230.9 yards per game, good for 14th in the nation.

In the AP poll, NIU finished 19th while Northwestern was again 22nd. Northern stretched as high as No. 18 in the USA Today Poll while the Wildcats came in at No. 20. In the ESPNU Fan Rankings, NIU received votes but Northwestern did not.

Joe Maddon hints Cubs could have spot starter soon

Joe Maddon hints Cubs could have spot starter soon

Joe Maddon hinted that the Cubs could have a spot starter soon to give his regular five some rest.

The Cubs manager said it's "possible" the player could start as early as Sunday in the Cubs' series finale against the Seattle Mariners.

Maddon would not confirm who the pitcher would be, but he said the move will happen within the organization and not via trade.

"As we’ve talked about all along, attempting to try to give our regular five a rest in a particular moment, so we’re considering doing something right now," said Maddon on Saturday. "We’re not ready to announce it yet just to be honest, but we are considering."

Prior to the All-Star break, Maddon gave Adam Warren — who has since been traded to the New York Yankees as part of the Aroldis Chapman trade — a spot start to give his starters an extra day's rest.

As the second half of the season slowly winds down, Maddon knows how important rest will be moving forward, especially with the Cubs bound to be playing in October.

"When you get the opportunities, take advantage of it," he said.

Cubs starters hold a 3.24 ERA on the season, which is tied with the Washington Nationals for the league's best.

Kyle Hendricks leads the team and also has the third-best ERA in the MLB with 2.39.

Cubs' Anthony Rizzo gets day off vs. Mariners

Cubs' Anthony Rizzo gets day off vs. Mariners

Anthony Rizzo isn't in the lineup on Saturday afternoon as the Cubs battle the Seattle Mariners.

The Cubs first baseman is getting the day off. 

"He’s really been needing a day, so it just turned out really well for today," said manager Joe Maddon. "Day game and then a night game tomorrow actually gives him more of an extended time to rest. We rely on him so heavily all the time. It was just the right thing to do today."

Willson Contreras will be his replacement for the day.

Saturday is the first regular-season day off for Rizzo since June 5 — and first since the All-Star break nearly three weeks ago. 

“I think it’s important to give them time off, I really do," Maddon said. "I think it’s really unrealistic to expect high-end performance by pushing someone to 162 games. ...A guy like Rizz, maybe he needs five or six plus for regular off days in a year to really be productive consistently."

Maddon also stressed the fact that he wants to keep his players healthy and not overwork them.

"I don’t want to wait til a guy who gets hurt to need a day off," Maddon said. "I’d rather be proactive with that. I put out the feelers yesterday to ask around who’s going to be needing a day. So I have other ideas coming up possibly, but for today it was absolutely the right thing to do for Rizz."

Rizzo is batting .214/.250/.464 in 14 games after the break. His 24 homers and 79 RBIs are among the league's best.

Rizzo has missed three games this season, two of which were due to back stiffness.

"I think it’s wise to be proactive, physically and mentally to give them their rest," Maddon said. "I think you’re going to get a sharper performance on a more consistent basis."

With Ted Larsen, Bears O-line doesn't yet need SOS call

With Ted Larsen, Bears O-line doesn't yet need SOS call

The story from about five years ago goes like this: Ted Larsen and his girlfriend were out on the water, deep sea fishing, when they heard a Coast Guard warning about three kayakers in distress. Realizing the location was relatively nearby, Larsen immediately headed to the area, found the trio, and pulled them aboard before any other help could get there.

The Bears offensive line isn't in nearly as much distress, but after the retirements of veterans Manny Ramirez and Nate Chandler before they would even play a game for them, along with Kyle Long going down on with a calf strain in Thursday's opening practice of training camp, the former Buccaneer and Cardinal may be an important lifeline on Dave Magazu's unit.

"We gotta get some depth there. We have very little depth," Larsen said earlier this week in Bourbonnais. "The guys we do have are good. I think it's just finding the five best guys we have and throw them out there. There's competition everywhere, obviously besides Kyle, so...I'm ready to play whatever position. I've started ten-plus games at every position inside. Wherever they need me to help the team out, I'm ready to go."

Which he wasn't back in June, missing the last half of OTAs and the entire three-day mandatory minicamp with a calf strain of his own. Long was on the sidelines Saturday watching practice without the boot he'd been wearing the previous two days in hopes of speeding the healing process. And while the team's encouraged it's not a long-term injury, flashbacks of Alshon Jeffery's struggles that began with a calf strain a year ago will force them to proceed cautiously.

[MORE: Bears sign Willie Young to two-year contract extension]

As a result, Larsen's stepped in for Long at right guard when the original plan was to have him compete with second-round pick Cody Whitehair and Hroniss Grasu (who have one season of NFL experience between them) at left guard and center, respectively. In his six-year career, Larsen's started 34 games at left guard, 13 at right guard, and ten at center.

"As the unit gets better, the whole team gets better. I'm not scared of any rookies or younger guys. I've played a lot of games, some playoff games. We all have experience in this league. Whoever's out there is out there, whether I'm playing center and helping Cody, or I'm helping Grasu, or whatever it is. You don't want guys to play worse, you want `em to play better, so when you're in there, you're playing at a high level."

The Bears struck on the opening day of free agency to sign Larsen's Arizona teammate from the last two seasons, Bobby Massie, to become their new right tackle. Two weeks later, Larsen followed.

"It's a program on the rise," the 29-year-old explained. "Bobby had signed here.  We played together and it was just another opportunity to come in on a one-year ($1.65 million) deal. It's kinda what I wanted. Play well, have a chance to start, and be on a competitive team."

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

The deal came a day after Ramirez originally signed and a month before Whitehair was drafted and Matt Slauson subsequently cut. Things have changed again since then, and for a team adapting to more of a zone-blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, cohesion and communication and comfort is crucial before the regular season starts.

Larsen originally played alongside Willie Young as a defensive lineman at North Carolina State before being switched to the other side of the line his junior season. Larsen was a sixth-round draft pick of New England in 2010, but was subsequently cut. Young was a seventh-rounder by Detroit that year. As Young earned a two-year contract extension Saturday, Larsen hopes to prove his worth to the Bears this season, as well. While avid fisherman Young reeled in a new deal, Larsen shares the same off-field passion, part of the reason he was around to help rescue those kayakers.

"We actually were on a flight to Fort Lauderdale this offseason, same day. He was actually going to fish somewhere else and I was going to the (Florida) Keys. It's definitely a mutual interest, same for Bobby Massie - he's another big fisherman."

Who's the best?

"I dunno," Larsen answers. "We just do it for fun."