Carey, NIU ready for Miami

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Carey, NIU ready for Miami

DEKALB -- George Rainey admitted sleep was a little hard to come by on Christmas night.

But the Northern Illinois defensive end was alert and smiling early Wednesday as Orange Bowl reality set in as the Huskies began a nearly 1,300-mile trip to Miami in pre-dawn darkness.

"I was so excited that I couldn't really sleep at all," said Rainey, a redshirt junior from Milwaukee as he boarded one of six buses carrying players and staff to Rockford Airport. "But I'm wide awake."

Fifteenth-ranked Northern Illinois (12-1) plays on the biggest stage in program history when it meets No. 12 Florida State (11-2) at Sun Life Stadium on New Year's Day.

"I'm expecting to have fun, expecting a new experience, something new for all of us," said Rainey, who recorded 24 tackles in 12 games, including 2 12 sacks. "(And) we'll be playing in warm weather."

Temperatures were predicted in the low 80s in Miami, a big contrast to DeKalb where it was windy and in the upper 20s early Wednesday.

Dawn was still two hours away as the Huskies gathered at a far west campus parking lot for the ride to Rockford and a charter flight to Florida.

Buses were already nearly filled at 5:10 a.m. and the final stragglers boarded over the next 20 minutes.

The nearby Convocation Center was bathed in orange lights as head coach Rod Carey briefly stepped out of his bus to check on arriving players.

"They're excited to be up this early and at 'em," said Carey, named NIU head coach nearly three weeks ago after Dave Doeren's departure for North Carolina State. "Everyone's looking forward to it. We'll have a little reception down there and go right to practice. There's a sense that they want to get this going."

Carey spent the last two years on Doeren's staff and served as offensive coordinator this season after Mike Dunbar stepped away to concentrate on a battle against cancer. Carey will continue to call offensive plays for the Orange Bowl.

The NIU caravan rolled out at 5:31 a.m. to catch a scheduled 7:45 a.m. flight. The Huskies were set to arrive in Miami around 11:30 a.m., then hold the first of five practice sessions at Barry University in Miami Shores.

But it won't be all work for Northern Illinois.

A Thursday beach party is planned at the Fontainebleau Beachfront in Miami Beach. Other days will feature dinner outings, a prayer breakfast, a hospital visit by players and a series of press conferences and receptions.

Winners of a school record 12 straight games, the Mid-American Conference champs bring the nation's No. 9 scoring offense (40.77 points per game) against the Seminoles' No. 6 scoring defense (15.08 points).

The Huskies will play in a postseason bowl for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, but never one so lofty. They are first MAC team to appear in a major Bowl Championship Series game and meet Florida State, the Atlantic Coast champ, for the first time.

NIU is 3-6 all-time against teams from the Sunshine State and 2-6 against current members of the ACC.

The Orange Bowl kicks off at 8 p.m. (Eastern) next Tuesday and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Carlos Rodon plays catch but timeline for return still uncertain

Carlos Rodon plays catch but timeline for return still uncertain

Carlos Rodon played catch in front of Don Cooper on Monday afternoon but only added to the intrigue surrounding his health when he declined to talk to the media.

On the 10-day disabled list with a biceps strain, the White Sox said Rodon continues to make progress in his rehab program. Cooper said the third-year pitcher felt and looked fine as he played catch in left field. But neither he nor manager Rick Renteria offered many more details on when Rodon may return or even when he could throw off a mound.

"He looked like he played catch good," Cooper said. "His throwing program is progressing. He felt fine. He threw the ball fine. That's kind of where we are at. He threw fine and move on to the next."

Rodon is in town for several days to be observed by the White Sox. On Friday, general manager Rick Hahn described the visit as a "routine follow-up visit." But other than making sure they're cautious with Rodon, the club hasn't been able to offer a specific timetable for their prized pitcher.

"I can't tell you in detail what the program is," Renteria said. "I know it involves throwing and making sure he's getting treatments and making sure it's taken care of, the issue he had with his biceps. We know it's getting better."

But the improvement hasn't made the situation any easier to deal with. When they started him on a delayed program this spring, the White Sox had Rodon pegged for 33 starts and 200 innings. As of now, there's no certainty when he'll make his first turn and the calendar is nearing May.

"He's frustrated," Cooper said. "He wants to get through this, through all of it. We are just there to try to make sure he's doing things right and there's progression.

"Well, I mean we've already taken a lot of caution. He's important to us now and in the future. We wouldn't rush with him or anybody."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Bulls bounce back against Celtics?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Bulls bounce back against Celtics?

In the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, CSN's David Kaplan is joined by the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh and the Chicago Sun-Times' Adam Jahns to discuss the Bulls falling to a 2-2 series tie with the Celtics.

The guys predict how the first-round playoff series will end and talk about how Isaiah Canaan will fare as the starting point guard in Game 5.

Then, the panel discusses whether Matt Davidson should be in the White Sox lineup more and who will still be playing on the South Side when the White Sox rebuild is done.

Finally, the panel discusses a couple of contract extensions for Pat Fitzgerald and Chris Collins at Northwestern.

Take a listen to the episode below: