Despite top ranking, Irish still embrace underdog status

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Despite top ranking, Irish still embrace underdog status

While a favorite mantra of Brian Kelly has been to tune out the noise, Notre Dame players have relished their role as underdogs during the 2012 season. After beating Oklahoma, multiple players mentioned getting added motivation from the "haters" (one player specifically mentioned ESPN's Mark May by name) who picked the Irish to lose by double digits in Norman.

Even at No. 1, though, there are plenty who don't think Notre Dame will beat USC -- and even if they do, the Irish would be double-digit dogs to Alabama, if the Tide wind up winning the SEC to advance to the BCS Championship.

"There's still haters out there that say 'they don't deserve to be No. 1, they aren't that good, they've had so many close games, blah, blah, blah,'" senior wide receiver John Goodman said. "A win's a win. Right now we're 11-0 with a possible 12-0 season, and that's all that matters."

One person who doesn't think Notre Dame will win on Saturday is USC's quarterback, Max Wittek, who rankled some with comments on an ESPN Radio affiliate in Los Angeles guaranteeing his team would beat the Irish. But Notre Dame players weren't bothered by the comment, at least publicly.

"He said what he said, but at the end of the day he's not going to go out and say that they're going to lose," center Braxston Cave. "Any guy who's a competitor is going to try to motivate his team and do whatever he can to get his team ready to go, and he was given his opportunity to get a start and he's excited for that. He can say whatever he wants to say. We're going to come out and play our game Saturday night."

Cave's point is pertinent, since any player is going to say they're confident about winning, no matter who the upcoming opponent is. Wittek -- a redshirt freshman -- just wasn't politically correct in his comments, although his sentiment is hardly unique.

"We still have two practices left and a lot of traveling to do before we let that set in, but we're going to stay focused, we're going to stay poised, we're going to stay composed," Goodman said. "We need to be able to get our game plan in and get whatever we need to do in place before we get worked up about a comment."

But Notre Dame players may take a little added motivation from Wittek's comments, even if they won't admit it before the game. If Wittek didn't make those remarks, though, the location of the game may have been enough to cultivate that us-against-the-world mentality.

"Any time you go on the road, you're going to be considered the underdog, especially when you're playing your rival, and when you're the No. 1 team in the country everyone's out to get you," Cave said. "We know we're going to have to go out there and play our best game."

Will Cubs add another ace? Report says North Siders interested in Yu Darvish

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USA TODAY

Will Cubs add another ace? Report says North Siders interested in Yu Darvish

It's been a little more than a week since the Cubs altered the state of their pitching staff for years to come with that blockbuster crosstown swap that brought Jose Quintana to the North Side.

But are the Cubs looking to make another massive upgrade to their starting rotation before the trade deadline?

According to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, the Cubs are interested in Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish.

Now it might not make too much sense at first blush for the Cubs, who dealt away their top two minor leaguers in the trade for Quintana, to acquire another frontline starting pitcher, especially one who unlike Quintana will become a free agent at the end of the season. After all, if the Cubs do want Darvish in the long term, they can wait a few months and go after him in free agency, losing no assets but money in the process.

The Cubs' rotation, once Kyle Hendricks returns from the disabled list, also looks pretty set with Jon Lester, Quintana, Jake Arrieta, Hendricks and John Lackey the presumed quintet for the remainder of the regular season, barring any other injuries of course.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

But Morosi makes some points, even if they might be speculative ones, that make a trade for Darvish seem not so ridiculous. After all, the Cubs did so much for their future in acquiring Quintana that a rental like Darvish to power a second straight run to the World Series might not seem so risky.

And while the Cubs' rotation is looking good right now with the team winners of six straight since the All-Star break, it was perhaps the team's biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half. Arrieta and Hendricks both failed to replicate the consistency that made them two of baseball's best last season. And Lackey has struggled mightily, still the owner of 5.04 ERA and a guy who's given up the 25 homers, the second most in baseball.

If the National League Central race remains as tight as it is entering play today, with four teams within four and a half games of each other, perhaps adding an extra dominant starter would assure the top spot in the division, which could be the team's only path to the playoffs. Even after a six-game winning streak to start the second half, the Cubs are five and a half games back of the Colorado Rockies for the NL's second wild card spot.

There's no doubt Darvish has been very good this season for the Rangers, with a 3.45 ERA in 20 starts and 131 strikeouts in 125.1 innings pitched. He's a four-time All Star in his five-year major league career. Adding that to Lester and Quintana at the front of the rotation would make the Cubs a terrifying force for opposing teams.

But at the same time, what would it take to get him? Giving up zero major league talent was part of what made the Quintana trade so terrific for the Cubs. Losing a major league player would perhaps hurt the team's chances at a World Series win this season, which would be the whole point of acquiring Darvish in the first place.

It's trade season, so let the rumors keep flying.

35 Days to Kickoff: Grayslake North

35 Days to Kickoff: Grayslake North

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: Grayslake North

Head coach: Sam Baker

Assistant Coaches:  Andy Strahan, Jim West, Collin McKillip, Brian Johnson, Brian Horn, Scott Kapchinksi, Karl Jennrich, Jon Sawyer, Greg Geiger, Tim LaBrie

How they fared in 2016: 8-3 (5-2 Northern Lake County Conference), made the Class 6A state playoffs and defeated Lakes then lost to Cary-Grove in second round action.

2017 Regular Season Schedule:

August 25th @ Willowbrook

September 1st vs Sycamore

September 8th vs Lakes

September 15th @ North Chicago

September 22nd vs Round Lake

September 29th @ Wauconda

October 6th vs Grant

October 13th at Grayslake Central

October 20th vs Antioch

Biggest storyline: Can the Knights make a return visit to the IHSA state playoff field?

Names to watch this season:  Senior QB Austin Martineau Senior WR/DB Bret Lila

Biggest holes to fill: The Knights will need to reload on the offensive line with just one starter back in senior OL/DL Ryan Bernstein.

EDGY's Early Take: Grayslake North had a strong year in 2016 and with 14 starters returning (6 offense 8 defense) look to be right back in the hunt both in the Northern Lake County conference and in Class 6A.The Knights however will have plenty of challenges since the Northern Lake County conference is shaping up to be strong again this fall.