Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

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Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is a Boston native and a lifelong Red Sox fan, someone who's fond of using baseball analogies to explain the workings of his football team. So naturally, the prospect of playing UConn at Fenway Park in a few years is enticing for the third-year Irish coach.

But he's also wary of size of the field, especially in light of the attempt to play football at Wrigley Field a few years back.

"You know me, I love Fenway Park. I just don't know if it's big enough," Kelly said. "We don't want to get into that NorthwesternIllinois game where the end zone is not big enough. As long as they do the due diligence, and I know (Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick) is looking for great venues -- and I don't think they played a game there in a long time. If it's on the schedule, we're going to play it. Being a Boston guy, baseball has not been very good there, so maybe we'll bring some football."

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, though, indicated nothing regarding Notre Dame's future schedule is set as the football program works five ACC opponents into their slate.

"Media reports today that we will play UConn in Fenway Park in 2014 are inaccurate," Swarbrick said in a statement.

That doesn't mean a contest absolutely will not be played there, but it's doused the flames for a bit -- at least until Notre Dame's ACC scheduling arrangement is figured out.

Fenway Park hasn't held a football game on its grounds since 1968, but the park did host a soccer match between Italian and English clubs AS Roma and Liverpool this summer. Generally, soccer pitches are about 110 meters long or 120 yards -- the exact length of an American football field.

While the pitch for AS Roma-Liverpool was shortened to about 107 yards, it was wider than what's required for American football. Still, the way Fenway's football field was tucked in back in the 1960's makes for a tight fit in two corners of the end zone. It's not like players will risk banging into a brick wall as they did at Wrigley Field.

However, at this point a Notre Dame game at Fenway appears to be a longshot. A neat idea, but a longshot.

Meanwhile, in South Florida...

While the viability of Fenway Park remains in question, the chances Notre Dame secures a tie-in with the Orange Bowl appear to be increasing. A report has the Orange Bowl closing in on a deal that would pit Notre Dame or a Big TenSEC team against the ACC champion beginning in 2014, when college football's playoff format begins.

College Football Talk's Ben Kercheval has the details, along with a good take on the agreement. He's exactly right -- with the way the college football landscape is shaping up after 2014, "either your team is part of the privileged group or it isn't." That group includes the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, Pac-12 and Notre Dame.

During the conference realignment cycles of 2010 and 2011, when the prospect of four 16-team superconferences was floated as college football's endgame, there was some consternation over whether Notre Dame's steadfast independence could leave them on the outside looking in. Taking a step back, that never was going to be the case -- while plenty of national columnists and talking heads have been eager to say Notre Dame is losing its relevancy, that never was the case.

Notre Dame football still packed a tremendous punch in terms of ratings and ticket sales, even during its lean years. The agreement with the ACC and, more importantly, the apparently impending one with the Orange Bowl only goes to prove that.

'Superior' Shoelace offers another challenge for Notre Dame

Before Saturday's game, I hopped on WSCR-670 AM with Connor McKnight and Nick Shepkowski to look ahead to Notre Dame's contest against Michigan State, and we kind of figured we'd learn a lot about where the Irish stood after their performance in East Lansing, especially with regard to Everett Golson and the secondary.

While Golson didn't have a great game statistically, he did enough (by not turning the ball over) to allow Notre Dame's defense to handle most of the heavy lifting in the team's 20-3 win. But the Irish secondary also showed up in a big way, helping limit Spartans QB Andrew Maxwell to 187 yards and a 51.1 completion percentage.

Denard Robinson and Maxwell are completely different, though, and the Michigan signal-caller's explosive playmaking ability on the ground and through the air present a massive challenge to a secondary that's still fairly inexperienced.

"If there was a secret out there, you know, we would have probably gotten it way before anybody else. We've got great alumni out there," Kelly joked Tuesday. "It's a difficult proposition, because you can't sell out on either one of those. You have to be balanced. You have to be able to manage it and you've got to keep him from making big plays.

"So there isn't an easy answer to that. He's a superior football player. He's not a great player, he's the best player on the field."

Making matters more difficult will be the absence of safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury during the Michigan State game. There's a chance Slaughter could be granted a sixth year of eligibility, although Kelly didn't sound too confident that'd be the case.

"Doesn't appear so," Kelly said. "He did have another injury that caused him to miss some time. We are still kind of vetting through all that right now. The early indication is we couldn't tell you one way or the other. We'll do some more work before we are ready to publicly comment on it."

Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

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Breaking down the Bears' 2016 draft class on 'Draft Central'

With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, the 2016 Bears are coming into focus.

Sunday night, CSN broke down the weekend that was — a busy one for the Bears, featuring not just the draft but also the addition of a backup quarterback and the subtraction of veterans Matt Slauson and Antrel Rolle.

So where do the Bears stand? Click on the links below to hear from Chris Boden, Jim Miller, Dave Wannstedt and Hub Arkush as they recap the draft and the rest of the Bears' offseason.

— Draft Central: Initial impressions of Bears' draft class

— Draft Central: Scouting first-round pick Leonard Floyd

— Draft Central: Bears move around in Round 2

— Draft Central: A look at the Bears' post-draft depth chart

— Draft Central: Bears release Matt Slauson, Antrel Rolle

— Draft Central: Bears add Brian Hoyer as Jay Cutler backup

Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

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Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

Addison Russell strolled out of the Cubs locker room wearing a baggy pinstriped suit with a smile plastered across his face.

He paused for a second and looked back to see Kris Bryant in his American flag suit (complete with American flag shoes) and the rest of his teammates and coaches following suit.

Russell smiled wider and continued the march toward the team bus to the airport.

This was only hours after the sophomore shortstop committed the costly error that led to the worst team in baseball (Atlanta Braves) notching a series split with the best team in the game at Wrigley Field.

Forget the loss. Move on.

Yeah, the Cubs are feeling good about themselves right now.

As they should.

The Cubs ended April with the best record in baseball (17-5), living up to the hype they created after a wild offseason and throughout a wacky spring training.

Things would have been so much difficult if the Cubs had not gotten off to a hot start in a city that watched the Bulls crash and burn and miss the playoffs while the Blackhawks were knocked out in the first round.

Imagine how the city and its sports fans would have responded if the red-hot White Sox was the only baseball team looking like a contender 1/6 of the way through the season.

As the Cubs face their toughest test of the season to date with seven straight games against two of the best teams in the league (Pirates, Nationals), let's look back at the five biggest takeaways from the campaign to date:

1. Jake Arrieta has picked up right where he left off.

Everybody wanted to know what Arrieta would do as an encore to follow up his 2015 Cy Young season in which he put up the best second half the game has ever seen.

How about 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and a no-hitter? It's crazy to think Arrieta could be better than he was last season, but he's making it true with each outing. 

At the very least, Arrieta has picked up right where he left off and might well be the best pitcher in the game (though Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale would surely have something to say about that).

2. The pitching staff has carried the Cubs.

Even beyond Arrieta, the Cubs pitching staff as a whole has been fantastic. Only the Washington Nationals have a better team ERA entering play Monday. Cubs pitchers also have a batting average against of under .200, tops in the big leagues.

It helps when Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have combined to allow just 13 earned runs in 94 1/3 innings. John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks haven't been bad, either, as the rotation has recorded 18 quality starts in 23 tries.

The back end of the bullpen has been clicking, too, as Hector Rondon allowed his first run of the season Sunday, while Adam Warren still hasn't given up an earned run in eight innings and Pedro Strop is locked in (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 13 Ks in 9 1/3 innings).

The Cubs pitching staff has also gotten it done at the plate, driving in eight runs on 10 hits.

"This month was the pitcher," Bryant said. "They were unbelievable and they hit pretty good, too, so they kinda picked themselves up at times. ... The pitchers have carried us the whole month."

3. This team is much improved defensively.

Theo Epstein's front office identified the weaknesses of last year's team that ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series and one of the main issues was defense — particularly outfield defense.

Gold Glover Jason Heyward's defense has been as good as advertised, with the big free agent acquisition gunning down baserunners and diving all over the outfield.

Dexter Fowler has earned positive grades defensively, too, as the Cubs forced him to play a little deeper in center field.

Bryant has looked solid in left field and at third base, and Ben Zobrist's steady glove at second has been a welcome addition in an infield that already boasts elite defenders in Russell and Anthony Rizzo.

"Defensively, we've caught the ball," Joe Maddon said. "We've played catch well. Everybody's talking about the offense, but primarily, it's been pitching and the defense that's set this whole thing up."

4. This team doesn't wilt in the face of adversity.

The Cubs had remarkably good luck on the injury front in 2015, but it took until only the second inning of the third game in 2016 for the first major blow.

Kyle Schwarber is lost for the season, yet the Cubs had just one letdown game after that news before righting the ship and marching forward without "Fast Hulk" in the lineup.

If somebody predicted the Cubs would be 17-5 in the first month of the season without Schwarber even collecting a hit, they would've been laughed off the internet.

Maddon and his coaching staff have seen just about everything there is to see in this game, and they have a stable of veterans like David Ross, Lester, Lackey and Zobrist who know what it takes to rise above adversity and keep everybody pulling on the same rope.

5. The Cubs haven't reached their peak.

Everybody is talking about a Cubs offense that ended the weekend with the second-most runs scored in baseball.

But the reality is, this lineup really hasn't hit its groove yet, scoring most of their runs with timely hitting and an insanely patient approach that keeps the conga line moving on the basepaths.

Yet Zobrist, Rizzo, Russell, Heyward, Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler are all hitting .250 or below, and Schwarber notched just four at-bats before tragedy struck.

Imagine what this offense will do when everything gets clicking and the weather starts to warm up.

"A lot of us are just getting going," Bryant said. "It'll be fun to see when things are clicking when the pitching's going good and the hitting's going good."

That feeling is mutual around the clubhouse.

"We have some work to do in general," Heyward said. "We're not hitting on all cylinders right now. We're not clicking consistently."

So does that mean the Cubs are expecting months where they finish with a better record than April's 17-5?

"I'd love to just keep doing that every month," Maddon said. "I'd be happy with that. We've played pretty well this entire month. It's hard to knock our guys right now.

"Offensively, defensively, pitching — the baserunning's been really good. To be able to sustain all those components would be great. I think you're gonna see guys actually hit better. A lot of our offense has been just based on some really good at-bats, some timely hitting.

"But just to purely go out there and just literally knock the cover off the ball, we haven't done that yet. So I think there's an offensive push that we're capable of.

"You just look at the numbers in general, and there are guys that are capable of more, numerically speaking. You probably will see more come from the offense."

Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pirates on Monday night, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies live from Pittsburgh for first pitch at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (3-0, 0.75 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (2-2, 2.78 ERA)

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

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