'All hands on deck' for lagging Irish special teams

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'All hands on deck' for lagging Irish special teams

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame's special teams have been iffy at best in 2012, and represent the only area in which Alabama has a clear, significant advantage over the Irish in next week's BCS Championship. But with nothing to lose, coach Brian Kelly isn't going to hold anything back Jan. 7 in an effort to improve his team's kick and punt returning success.

"We're going to put all guys on deck in terms of trying to get the best players on the field, since it's a one-shot deal," Kelly said. "I don't have to worry about the next week or the week after, or them getting too many reps, including S-T."

Freshman Davonte Neal has handled Notre Dame's punt returns, gaining 44 yards on 18 chances, averaging 3.7 yards per game (sixth-worst among FBS teams). Contrast that with Alabama's punt returners, who average 25.8 punt return yards per game (16th-best), and that's a decent advantage for the Tide.

Kickoff returns have been a little better for the Irish, but the team's average of 20.04 yards per kickoff return is good for 85th-best nationally. Alabama's 24.84 yards per return average is 13th nationally, despite a difference of about four yards from Notre Dame.

On punts and field goals, Alabama holds an advantage that's much slighter. The real issue here is Notre Dame's punt and kick returners have rarely been able to do much to improve the team's field position, while Alabama's players in those roles have been able to do just that.

This isn't to say Notre Dame's special teams have been abysmal, though -- there are plenty of teams worse than the Irish in these categories across college football. But Alabama has been better to the point where there's no argument about their advantage, unlike on offense and defense.

Kelly wouldn't reveal which players could see time on returns against Alabama, although Cierre Wood -- who worked with Notre Dame's punt returners during fall camp and averaged 9 carries over his last five games -- would be a likely option.

"We have not been spectacular, but we hadn't stunk the joint up either," Kelly said. "We just need to continue to hold serve in S-T and maybe we can catch lightning in a bottle on a return, or get a block, something to that effect. But our concern is making sure we just take great care of the football and flip the field when we need to flip the field."

DePaul basketball program on the rise after landing 5-star recruit Tyger Campbell

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AP

DePaul basketball program on the rise after landing 5-star recruit Tyger Campbell

DePaul hoops received a huge boost this week as five-star recruit Tyger Campbell committed to the university.

The elite point guard recruit out of La Lumiere, will join the Class of 2018, choosing DePaul over schools like Michigan State, Illinois and Memphis.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told Scout.com. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy.

"Mainly what I like about the school is I want to help bring it back. I love Chicago; it's a great city. I want to bring the city a college back to cheer for."

Campbell also said the Blue Demons' new Wintrust Arena at McCormick Place Event Center, which is slated to open this fall, is a big draw for him.

The Blue Demons are a combined 18-45 the last two seasons and hasven't had a winning season since 2006-07 when they went 20-14 and made the NIT Quarterfinals.

The program last made the NCAA Tournament in 2003-04 during Leitao's first stint as the team's head coach.

Northern Illinois adds running back Fotis Kokosioulis

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USA TODAY

Northern Illinois adds running back Fotis Kokosioulis

Northern Illinois University added it's fourth known verbal commitment today in its growing Class of 2018.

Maine South junior running back Fotis Kokosioulis (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) added an offer from the Huskies on Tuesday after making a spring practice visit, and today he gave head coach Rod Carey his verbal commitment.

"I chose NIU because it's been a school that I've liked for awhile now," Kokosioulis said moments ago. "I like the facilities at NIU, the stadium and everything else they have to offer. I also really like all the coaches at NIU. I felt that even if I got more offers I would've still chose NIU over other schools. I know that there are bigger school and programs but I feel that I just fit in well at NIU, so I committed."

Kokosioulis, who was an All-State performer for the Class 8A state champion Maine South Hawks in 2016, is now the fourth known in-state verbal commitment for Rod Carey and the Huskies and the fifth known commitment overall. Kokosioulis joins Andrew defensive end Mike DeHaan, Plainfield East defensive end Jack Sullivan and Danville tight end Julian Pearl in the NIU Huskies in-state Class of 2018.