Notre Dame-USC: A low point in 2011, high point in 2012

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Notre Dame-USC: A low point in 2011, high point in 2012

If Notre Dame's loss to USC a year ago served as the low point of 2011, Brian Kelly's comments the week after were the exclamation point of that nadir. But Notre Dame's win over USC in 2012 brought them to a high point, only 13 months after some very public splintering.

"You can see the players that I recruited here," Kelly said in late October of last year. "You know who they are. We've had one class that I've had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along. But it's a process. It can't happen overnight. They're getting there. We're making good progress."

Notre Dame's upperclassmen -- who were recruited to the school by Charlie Weis -- took exception to the remarks, with Manti Te'o tweeting "playin for my bros and that's it!!!" A day after Kelly's comments, he cleared the air with his players from the previous regime, and all parties involved moved on.

And after Notre Dame's latest game against USC, the tone of the team was decidedly different.

"It was bumpy at first, but now it's great," Te'o said of his relationship with Kelly. "I'm happy to have him as my coach. He's the best coach in college football."

"I was just speechless, man," running back Theo Riddick, another Weis recruit, added. "I was just in shock. It was like a dream come true."

Thanks to efforts from both sides, Notre Dame players have bought into Kelly's system. For Kelly, he began the season by being more accessible to players.

"As you develop closer relationships with your players they starting to go, oh, I now know what you were talking about," Kelly said earlier in November. "I think we're at that point now."

Those bonds helped breed confidence within the program, which hadn't sniffed a somewhat realistic championship bid in a decade.

"I believed it was possible when we were working out in the offseason," senior safety Zeke Motta said after Saturday's win over USC. "I believed it then based off the way we competed every day and visualized our goal. And from then until now, it was always in our mind."

Perhaps the third-year-at-Notre-Dame trend isn't so random. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won national championships in their third season in South Bend, and Kelly has a chance to join that group in early January. Implementing a system doesn't happen overnight, especially when so many key players weren't brought in by the new coaching staff.

Those bumps in the road are in the past. All that matters is what's in the future, and that's a date with Alabama or Georgia in the BCS Championship Jan. 7 in Miami.

"We believe in each other, our coaches believe in us and we believe in our coaches," Te'o said. "It's showed the type of camaraderie we have on our team. That's what's helped us be successful."

Programming note

On Saturday, Dec. 22, NBC will air "Undefeated: 2012 Notre Dame football season in review" at 1 p.m. CST, a behind-the-scenes look back at the program's first undefeated season in 24 years. It'll feature interviews with Kelly and Te'o and comes on the heels of the most-watched season of Notre Dame football on NBC since 2005.

What’s next for Cubs and Jason Hammel?

What’s next for Cubs and Jason Hammel?

PITTSBURGH – Making a risk-reward decision, the Cubs will shut down Jason Hammel and not start him Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds, leaving his playoff status and future in the organization uncertain.

Hammel said he’s been feeling tightness in his right elbow for weeks, which may have dulled the sharpness to his slider and explained some of his second-half struggles, which have put him on the postseason-roster bubble, if not on the outside looking in. 

After Friday’s TBD, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are still scheduled to start the season’s final two games at Great American Ball Park, putting them at the front of a playoff rotation that didn’t figure to include Hammel anyway.

“That decision lays in their hands,” said Hammel, who has been playing catch and throwing off flat ground during this week's spring-training-like series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “Health-wise, I’m not stressing about it. Collectively, we talked about it. And for being available through October, is it really worth something right now happening in a game that – more or less – doesn’t really matter?”

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The Hammel 2.0 reboot still has to be considered a success, with another All-Star-caliber first half, a career-high 15 wins, a 3.83 ERA and an overall resume that would look dramatically different if he didn’t have three starts allowing nine or 10 runs. 

The Cubs hold a $12 million option – with a $2 million buyout – for next season that could make Hammel an attractive trade chip given this winter’s shallow pool of free agents.   

“Obviously, not happy with the way things ended,” Hammel said. “But I would say for 9/10ths of the season, I was very good. I’ll take that into the offseason and add onto what I added (last) offseason.

“Some crazy freak incident like this can derail it, but overall my body feels good. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, which was to make 30-plus starts and be competitive, save for five, six starts. Out of 30, I’d say that’s pretty good.”   

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Could Jay Cutler lose his starting job as Bears QB?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Could Jay Cutler lose his starting job as Bears QB?

Tonight's panel include Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun Times, Hub Arkush from Pro Football Weekly, and NFL Analyst Dan Pompei. The guys discuss whether Jay Cutler could lose his starting job to Brian Hoyer, question if Joe Maddon is managing his starting rotation properly heading into the postseason, and talk about whether Robin Ventura will return to manage the White Sox next season.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: