NIU's amazing season could end with BCS Bowl bid

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NIU's amazing season could end with BCS Bowl bid

Notre Dame may not be the only Chicagoland team to play in a BCS Bowl game.

Northern Illinois has steadily emerged as one of the country's top teams, cracking the BCS Standings at No. 21 Sunday.

The Huskies take on No. 17 Kent State in the MAC Championship Friday night, with tipoff scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPN2. The winner may have a chance at earning a bid to a BCS bowl game, which would be the first time a MAC team has earned such an honor.

"We've definitely earned national respect as a conference," NIU head coach Dave Doeren said in his press conference Monday. "And it's not like only one team had a great year. There's multitude of teams that have had big wins this year in our league over BCS teams.

"If you can win this league, that says a lot about who you are. It's a very balanced league with a lot of good football teams in it and very good coaches. It'd be deserving for the best team to get the opportunity to play or whatever BCS game they put us in."

Both NIU and Kent State are 11-1 overall and 8-0 in conference play, but it was Kent State's victory over nationally-ranked Rutgers Oct. 27 that gave the Golden Flashes the boost. The Huskies' lone loss of the year came to Iowa, a one-point game played at Soldier Field on the first weekend of the season.

"Nine teams lost that were ranked higher than us, so that really opened up some doors," Doeren said. "But none of them are worth their salt if we lose this weekend. We have to win. We put ourselves in a position to make it a real argument and now we need to finish what we started here."

Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch has accounted for most of NIU's offense, racking up 2,750 passing yards and 1,611 rushing yards to go with 39 TDs (23 passing, 16 rushing) and just 4 interceptions. The Huskies rank eighth in the FBS in rushing yards (2,940) and fourth in touchdowns (64).

With 147 rushing yards in the MAC Championship, Lynch would become the country's leading rusher, passing Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, who currently has 1,757 yards.

Senior receiver Martel Moore has provided a great go-to option for Lynch in the aerial game, catching 67 balls for 1,015 yards and 11 scores. Sophomore receiver Tommylee Lewis has added 40 catches for 474 yards and 5 TDs, and has a kickoff return touchdown to boot.

Kent State boasts the 10th-best rushing offense in the league, led by junior Dri Archer (1,337 yards, 14 TDs) and sophomore Trayion Durham (1,176 yards, 14 TDs). Archer is averaging an astonishing 9.7 yards per carry and is also the team's leading receiver with 30 catches for 458 yards and 4 TDs.

"It's not a BCS talk if you lose," Doeren said. "It's pretty simple -- if you lose this game, we don't talk about it next week. It's real easy to lock them into winning this one. The challenge to me was the week before this game and the week before Toledo. Those were the games that scared me more than these kinds of games.

"When you're playing your rival for a chance to go to the championship, and then you're playing the championship for a chance to maybe play in the BCS, there's not a lot you need to say. These guys are gonna be ready."

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”