What we learned: Underdog status already motivates Irish


What we learned: Underdog status already motivates Irish

Out of Saturday's heart-stopping SEC Championship emerged Alabama, and Notre Dame's opponent in next month's BCS Championship is set.

The betting lines, which had pegged Alabama as a 10-point favorite over Notre Dame in the BCS Championship, are soon to follow with the Irish remaining heavy underdogs. That may rankle some, but fact is, the SEC has earned the right to be favored every time they have a participating team in the BCS Championship. Winning six in a row has earned that trust.

Notre Dame players, though, aren't interested in poking holes in the SEC's dominance. While most took to twitter to tweet things like "Bama it is" or "time to get to work," Robby Toma got a head start on drawing motivation from those who think the Tide will roll on Jan. 7:

Just keep doubting us...we love it

Robby Toma (@RobJob293) December 2, 2012
Notre Dame has played a team as physical as Alabama this year, that being Stanford. They haven't played anyone who combines that physicality with the kind of across-the-board speed Alabama possesses, not to mention a coach with the tactical intelligence of Nick Saban.

Alabama had considerable success on the ground against Georgia, with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon both rushing for more than 150 yards and accounting for three touchdowns. But that was against a rushing defense that entered the game ranked 69th in among FBS teams. Notre Dame ranks fifth.

A.J. McCarron threw the game-winning touchdown to Amari Cooper, a freshman who caught eight passes for 127 yards. But Alabama's passing game was pretty much Cooper and no one else, with McCarron completing only five passes to other receivers. If you're looking ahead to matchups, Bennett Jackson's ability to mute Cooper's production could be key in silencing Alabama's passing game.

Defensively, Alabama had a tough time stopping Georgia running back Todd Gurley -- although the way he ran Saturday, few defenses could've had success. Aaron Murray completed 18 of 33 passes for 267 yards and exposed Alabama's secondary on a few occasions, but was hardly spectacular.

It's hard to draw too many conclusions from one game, though, given there's more than five full weeks until kickoff in Florida. That's plenty of time for tweaks, adjustments and additions to a game plan.

That's also plenty of time for Notre Dame-Alabama to be dissected in every way possible, and plenty of time for those analyses to conclude that the Irish don't have a chance. But once the first second ticks off the clock on Jan. 7, none of that will matter.

"Were all going to strap up our pads the same way, were all going to strap our chinstraps the same way," Manti Te'o said this week. "We understand how dominant the SEC has been in the past. But its definitely and opportunity that were looking forward to, and were going to prepare the same way that weve been preparing all week and all year."

Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin will pitch World Series Game 3 against Cubs with ailing father in stands

Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin will pitch World Series Game 3 against Cubs with ailing father in stands

If you don’t think this World Series has it all then you haven’t heard about Cleveland Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin and his father.

As if a matchup between the teams with the longest championship droughts in Major League Baseball wasn’t compelling enough, Tomlin will start the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years on Friday night in front of his father, Jerry, who only two months ago was paralyzed from the chest down. Game 3 of the series between the Cubs and Indians gets underway at 7:08 p.m. CST. 

Temporarily removed from the Indians rotation in August after he understandably struggled, Tomlin has rediscovered the form that made him one of his team’s most effective starters through July. On Friday, Tomlin will pitch with his father in attendance only nine days after he was released from a Texas rehabilitation center.

“Oh, it means a lot,” Tomlin said. “He hasn't been to a game in quite a while, and it wasn't looking like he was going to get to come to a game at all. So to have him here and just to be able to see him is the thing I'm most looking forward to.”

Tomlin said his family was set to arrive in Chicago late Thursday after traveling from his hometown of Whitehouse, Texas. He had to plans to see his parents for the first time since he went home in mid-August when Jerry Tomlin required surgery after suffering arteriovenous malformation, a tangle of blood vessels on his spinal cord, according to Cleveland.com.

The right-hander had already been struggling at the time his father fell ill and couldn’t shake it after he rejoined the team. Tomlin made six starts in August and had an 11.48 ERA in 26 2/3 innings.

Once September rolled around and rosters were expanded, the Indians gave Tomlin what pitching coach Mickey Callaway described as a “breather” designed to help the 32-year-old get centered once again. He didn’t make a start from Sept. 1-13 with only one inning pitched in relief on Sept. 5.

Baseball is a sport that is difficult enough without any distractions. The way the Indians saw it, Tomlin, who had a 3.43 ERA through his first 120 2/3 innings, needed to refocus and they had enough flexibility to offer him a break.

“He’s probably the best we have that would probably be able to separate something like that to the best of their ability,” Callaway said. “When it’s something that major, and it’s your dad, it’s going to take its toll and you can’t expect it not to. If you’re the person or the coach or anybody, you have to support him, be with him and let him know that you can and that’s what we did.

“We had the ability to give him a little bit of a breather and we took that avenue and it’s paying off.”

The biggest difference in Tomlin’s game since he returned to action has been his success with the four-seam fastball. From Opening Day through the end of July, batters hit just .184 against Tomlin’s heater.

The pitch is the primary reason Tomlin posted a 3.28 ERA over 29 starts from August 2015 through July. When he struggled in August, batters hit .590 against Tomlin’s fastball. Callaway said Tomlin began to turn more often to his cut-fastball, which hitters pounced upon, batting .850.

“The execution of my pitches wasn't where it needed to be,” Tomlin said. “I was leaving balls over the middle of the plate, and guys were taking advantage.”

They haven’t been of late. Since Tomlin returned to action on Sept. 14 his fastball has been effective again as opponents are hitting .219 against.

“He had a hiccup in August, but since then he's been pretty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Kind of top of the league. I mean, since last August … you take out this August, he's been one of the better pitchers in baseball.”

Once he returned, Tomlin made four starts during the Indians’ division-clinching run and went 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 25 2/3 innings. In two postseason starts, Tomlin is 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 10 2/3 innings.

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Over that stretch, Tomlin has surrendered only one homer after he yielded 10 in August.

“Everybody has their ups and downs for different reasons whatever they may be,” Callaway said. “And he had his and now he’s bounced back really good from it.”

It’ll get even better for Tomlin this weekend.

According to Cleveland.com, Jerry was released from the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation on the pitcher’s birthday, which also coincided with the Indians winning the pennant. And on Friday, his parents will be in the stands when Tomlin pitches in the Fall Classic for the first time.

“The fact that we get to experience the World Series together is pretty neat,” Tomlin said.

WATCH: Cubs imitate Kyle Schwarber's dance moves in high school choir performance

WATCH: Cubs imitate Kyle Schwarber's dance moves in high school choir performance

Kyle Schwarber may not be able to play in the outfield in Games 3-5 of the World Series at Wrigley Field, but he can move well enough to bust out a few moves on the dance floor — and take the heat from his fellow teammates.

The Cubs posted a hilarious video on Twitter of players, including Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, imitating Schwarber's dance moves from his high school choir performance, who then shows them how it's done in the end.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Check it out:

Is anybody having more fun than the Cubs right now?