Poll watch: Notre Dame earns No. 1 spot in BCS

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Poll watch: Notre Dame earns No. 1 spot in BCS

Brian Kelly was alone in voting Notre Dame No. 1 a week ago. He has plenty of company this week.

For the first time since 1993, Notre Dame occupies the top spot in the AP and coaches polls released Sunday morning, with the 11-0 Irish needing a win over USC -- which fell out of the top 25 in both polls -- to advance to the BCS Championship. Notre Dame received 56 of 59 first-place votes in the coaches poll, with Alabama garnering two and Georgia one. The AP poll saw Notre Dame garner all 60 first-place votes.

More importantly, Notre Dame sits atop the BCS standings released Sunday night, the first time the Irish have been No. 1 in the BCS' 15-year history. If Notre Dame beats USC, they'll face an SEC team in the BCS Championship, as Alabama and Georgia are Nos. 2 and 3 in the poll. Those two teams will meet in the SEC title game Dec. 1 in Atlanta to decide who moves on to Miami.

At No. 1, if the Irish beat USC they won't be jumped by a one-loss SEC team. That would've been more a concern had either, not both, Oregon or Kansas State lost on Saturday. But with the nation's Nos. 1 and 2 teams falling on the same day for the first time since 2007, Notre Dame's shot at the BCS title is as secure as it gets -- so long as the Irish beat USC.

This may not be the best time to talk contingency plans, but Stanford's win over Oregon did push Notre Dame back into the Fiesta Bowl discussion if they can't beat USC on Saturday. Barring something unforseen, if Notre Dame loses to USC the BCS Championship will be an all-SEC final, with No. 4 Florida -- ugly offense and all -- facing the winner of AlabamaGeorgia. Given Palm's projected BCS standings, Oregon won't jump Florida -- although the Ducks do sit at No. 4, two spots ahead of Florida, in the coaches poll.

That scenario, though, plays out if everybody but Notre Dame (and the loser of the SEC championship) win out. But Florida plays at Florida State on Nov. 24, and if the Gators lose Oregon would jump back in to the BCS Championship picture, even if they beat Oregon State and don't go to the Pac 12 championship.

What that means for Notre Dame is the Rose Bowl is still an option, albeit one that needs a more than a few things to happen. If Oregon doesn't go to the championship, the Irish would probably wind up in the Fiesta Bowl, where Kansas State will land if the Wildcats rebound with a win over Texas on Saturday. But if K-State loses and Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State and TCU to win the Big 12, the Fiesta Bowl may balk at a Notre Dame-OU rematch.

From there, the Sugar Bowl would be the most likely option given it won't have an SEC team to fill a spot. If chaos reigns and Florida State squeaks in to the BCS Championship picture -- not a totally far-fetched idea -- the Orange Bowl could open up as an option, too.

But that's all a contingency plan, and one Notre Dame fans, players, etc. don't want to think about. If Notre Dame beats USC, the destination is clear.

Brian Matusz will be spot starter in Cubs' series finale vs. Mariners

Brian Matusz will be spot starter in Cubs' series finale vs. Mariners

Joe Maddon is giving his five starting pitchers an extra day's rest.

Brian Matusz will be a spot starter in the Cubs' series finale against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday night at Wrigley Field. The Cubs optioned reliever Justin Grimm to Triple-A as a corresponding move.

"We'll use that day however we need to to the best of our abilities," said Jake Arrieta. "We'll find a way to use that day to get some work done and get better and move forward. At this time of year, every one of us might need to refine something.

"It actally might not be a bad idea. Hopefully Matusz is ready to come out and compete and be effective, and we'll move on."

Prior to Saturday's game, Maddon indicated that the club is looking to give his starters more days off.

"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," Maddon said. "We’re not ready to announce it yet just to be honest, but we are considering."

Matusz signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs last month.

The 29-year-old southpaw has spent the majority of his career with the Baltimore Orioles. In eight MLB seasons, he is 27-41 with a 4.85 ERA and 460 strikeouts.

As Matusz makes his Cubs debut Sunday, having a familiar face in the clubhouse might help ease any nerves.

"Matusz and I played together for quite a while," said Arrieta, who spent time with Matusz in Baltimore. "I've seen him pitch extremely well his rookie year. He can pitch, he's a smart guy. He's got some really good pitches that he knows how to use effectively. I look forward to watching him pitch and catching up with him."

 

Cubs offense mostly quiet as bullpen blows late lead

Cubs offense mostly quiet as bullpen blows late lead

The Cubs offense had a quiet Saturday afternoon just 24 hours after putting 12 runs on the board against the Seattle Mariners in Game 1.

The Cubs only recorded three hits in their 4-1 loss to the Mariners on Saturday at Wrigley Field. 

The story for most of the game was Mariners pitcher Wade Miley, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before it was broken up by Kris Bryant.

“He was painting that outside edge pretty well," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "Honestly from the first batter when Dexter (Fowler) takes two fastballs for a strike and then swings at a slider, something’s going on for me. That told me the guy was on. He was.”

Bryant added, "He was throwing right where he wanted to I thought. He was just hitting the catcher’s glove. Working quick, that kind of goes unnoticed sometimes, but as hitters, it kind of keeps you out of your rhythm.”

It was the second time this week the Cubs allowed a no-hitter through at least five innings.

White Sox pitcher Anthony Ranaudo took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Wednesday before the Cubs poured it on and finished the game with eight runs.

Lost in the no-hitter was Arrieta, who had one of the best outings of the season. But the Cubs had nothing to show for it, losing their fifth straight game when the NL Cy Young Award winner takes the mound.

Arrieta finished the game allowing two runs on two hits and three walks, striking out four in seven innings.

After a scoreless six innings of play, the Cubs drew first blood in the seventh. Fowler opened with a leadoff walk. Bryant broke up the no-hitter with a single. Following a Ben Zobrist bunt that advanced the runners, Javier Baez hit a grounder to third. Fowler tried to score and was thrown out at the plate. But after a second look, Joe Maddon challenged the call and it was reversed, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead.

A couple batters later, Miley attempted to pick off Baez — who reached on a fielder’s choice — but Bryant stole home in the process. First baseman Adam Lind quickly relayed the throw over to catcher Mike Zunino, and Bryant appeared to slide under the tag. After being ruled safe, the Mariners won a challenge of their own and the call was overturned.

"That stunk," Bryant said. "I thought I had a good slide in there. Obviously looking back on it, I could have slid head first but that's one way to really get hurt. I thought I had my foot in there, but obviously (after) the replay, they overturned it."

In the eighth, the Mariners responded. Arrieta walked the first two batters and was relieved by Hector Rondon, who retired both batters he faced. Aroldis Chapman entered the game to try to get the final out of the inning. That happened, but not before the Mariners added three runs. A double by Leonys Martin scored two. Martin later stole third and scored on a wild pitch, making it 3-1.

"Didn’t see that one coming," Maddon said of Seattle's three-run eighth. "Just didn’t see that one coming."

The Mariners added another run in the ninth.

Slugger Anthony Rizzo didn't start, getting a day off to rest, but he came in to pinch hit for Chapman in the eighth, striking out. Willson Contreras started at first in Rizzo's place.

For Willie Young, Bears contract extension more than just a simple business transaction

For Willie Young, Bears contract extension more than just a simple business transaction

BOURBONNAIS — Sometimes football is just a business. Sometimes it’s that and a lot more.

For Willie Young, the business side was taken care of late Friday night when the Bears added two years to his contract, projecting him as a Bear through the 2018 season.

The emotional side was still being taken care of on Saturday, when a former seventh-round draft choice was able to step back and realize what effectively a third NFL contract means to someone who was passed over time after time in the draft and never expected to be much.

“I’m slightly speechless right now but excited,” said Young, someone rarely at a loss for words.

“It means a lot,” Young said after a long pause, reflecting on how seventh-round picks rarely even make teams. “All the teams that passed me over ... My big thing is who I am and what the name on my back stands for.”

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

Young was able to call his family and give them the news, “We’re going to be in Chicago a little while longer.”

Just as his entry into the league was shaky, his tenure in Chicago was seldom secure before this weekend.

When Young signed with the Bears in the 2014 offseason, leaving the Detroit Lions, he did so assuming that he was coming in as a starting defensive end. That changed when the Bears landed Jared Allen to position opposite Lamarr Houston. That season ended nevertheless with Young leading the Bears in sacks (10) before suffering a torn Achilles late in the season.

Allen was traded away last season, giving Young a job opportunity as he was coming back from Achilles surgery. Trouble was, the defense Young was returning to had changed completely, and Young was now a linebacker, now with coverage responsibilities and playing in situations.

Despite that second major change from what he’d expected, Young still managed 6.5 sacks, second on the Bears. That, combined with his work through the offseason to date, convinced the Bears that he was more of a fit than even he perhaps thought once upon a time.

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

The result was a two-year contract extension agreed to late Friday night and added to the final year (2016) Young had from his initial Bears contract which locked him up only through the end of this season.

“It feels good to reward somebody that’s worked as hard as he’s worked and overcome the injury last year, and the leader that he is out there mentoring our younger players,” said GM Ryan Pace. “I feel really good about it. It’s good for our locker room, it’s good for our team.”

Where he once struggled to fit in – and was not reluctant to say so – Young now is securely ensconced as one of the starting outside linebackers in the Bears’ 3-4 scheme. When the Bears go to a 4-3 in nickel situations, Young lines up as the defensive end he had been for his career.

“There’s not a big difference [between 3-4 linebacker and 4-3 end],” said coach John Fox. “I think that [‘don’t call me a linebacker!’] was a little tongue-in-cheek. Some guys up to a point have had their hand on the ground, it’s a little bit of an adjustment. But there’s way more carryover They are involved in coverage a little bit more but I think he’s adapted to it quite nicely actually.”