No. 1 Notre Dame awaits heavily-favored SEC champ

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No. 1 Notre Dame awaits heavily-favored SEC champ

LOS ANGELES -- An SEC team has dispatched its opponent in the BCS Championship in each of the last six years, building a string of unprecedented dominance atop college football. While plenty may cry the conference is overrated or overexposed, it's tough to argue with the six titles won by Florida, LSU, Alabama and Auburn.
Notre Dame -- which opened Sunday as the unanimous No. 1 in the AP poll and received 56 of 59 first-place votes in the coaches poll -- has a chance to dethrone the SEC on Jan. 7 in Miami. The Irish will face the winner of Saturday's SEC championship game, played in Atlanta between No. 2 Alabama, which received two first-place votes in the coaches poll, and No. 3 Georgia, which received one.
No matter who the Irish play, they'll be underdogs.
Alabama has been pegged as a double-digit favorite over Notre Dame in recent weeks, while Georgia would likely be somewhere in the range of a five-point favorite.
But for all the SEC chest-beating, the national championship comes down to one game. And Houston Nutt, who coached at Ole Miss and Arkansas, doesn't see why an underdog Irish squad couldn't beat an SEC powerhouse.
"You got 30 days to get ready, I think you don't know. You just don't know," Nutt told CSNChicago earlier in November. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. You look at Boise State several years ago, one of the funnest games I've ever seen. Boise State got ready for Oklahoma and they beat them. Absolutely, it could happen."
Notre Dame still has plenty of things to work on despite an unblemished record, with the biggest area for improvement lying in the offense's ability to finish drives. Kyle Brindza attempted six field goals in Notre Dame's 22-13 win over USC, hitting five. But for Notre Dame's offense to hit its peak, those three points need to turn into seven more often.
"We definitely have to improve. We're not there yet, we don't feel like it," running back Theo Riddick said Saturday. "We're going to go back next week, look at the tape, figure out what we can get better at and do that during that week. We have time. Coach Kelly is going to set up some things to actually let us score touchdowns, because we have to. We have to get better at that being in the red zone. We're going to do that, and we're going to be okay."
Plenty of prognosticators have penciled Alabama in to face Notre Dame after beating a Georgia, a team that's best victory came in a sloppy game against Florida. But few expected Texas A&M to go into Bryant-Denny Stadium and win earlier this month, and with one of the SEC's best quarterbacks in Aaron Murray, Georgia shouldn't be counted out.
Alabama, though, looks like the favorite. And if they move on, Nick Saban will have a chance to win his third championship in four years, establishing a string of dominance not seen since Nebraska in the mid-90's.
"When Notre Dame watches the film and watches Alabama, they're going to see how physical, how fast and how very consistent they are," Nutt said. "They don't beat themselves. They win the turnover margin. They're a well-coached team. Alabama is used to winning, they expect to win. I'd be a heck of a battle."
A theme for Notre Dame this year has been to control what they can control. That meant trying not to concern themselves with how Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon played. Now, that means not worrying about who they'll face in the BCS Championship.
"We'll focus on us," coach Brian Kelly said. "It won't be, alright, it's this team or that team. We gotta figure out over the next six weeks how we get better as a football team. It'll be about us."

White Sox Talk Podcast: Jose Quintana trade rumors and SoxFest preview

White Sox Talk Podcast: Jose Quintana trade rumors and SoxFest preview

When will a possible Jose Quintana trade go from a watch to a warning?

Chuck Garfien, Dan Hayes, Ryan McGuffey and Chris Kamka break down the Quintana trade talks and what it will be like for him this weekend at SoxFest after months of trade rumors.

The guys also discuss what the White Sox roster might look like on Opening Day, and Hayes reveals his 2016 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Plus listen for a special White Sox Talk Podcast giveaway: two free passes to SoxFest and the chance to play bags with Garfien and Todd Frazier at SoxFest.

Check out the latest episode below:

For Tom Rees, coaching gig at Notre Dame always seemed like an inevitability

For Tom Rees, coaching gig at Notre Dame always seemed like an inevitability

The last time Tom Rees played a game for Notre Dame, he was still known as Tommy Rees — but his coach put forth an offer that didn't come as a surprise to anyone in the press room at Yankee Stadium. 

"I'm a Tommy Rees fan for life," Kelly said after Notre Dame's 2013 Pinstripe Bowl win over Rutgers. "… He'll keep trying to play the game as long as he can. But I told him, he's got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime."

Rees is joining Notre Dame as a full-time quarterbacks coach, not just as a coach-in-training graduate assistant role. The 24-year-old — whose father, Bill, has held a number of scouting roles in the NFL — only has two coaching stops on his resume, a graduate assistant role at Northwestern in 2015 and an offensive assistant job with the San Diego Chargers last year. But his lack of experience is more than made up for by the simple fact that, while at Notre Dame from 2010-2013, there was a well-established belief held by coaches and teammates that one day the Lake Bluff, Ill. native one day would coach in some capacity. 

"I'm very excited to have Tom join our staff," Kelly said in a statement Tuesday. "He possesses an understanding of the game, and most importantly the quarterback position, that's unique. He's a true student of the game and great communicator that will offer immediate dividends toward guiding our quarterback room.

"As a former quarterback at Notre Dame, Tom also has a rare ability to truly relate with the quarterbacks on our roster. He's literally sat in their seat, dealt with the ups and downs, faced the criticism, deflected the praise, and all that comes with playing the position at Notre Dame. He can genuinely mentor them — not only on the football field, but in the classroom and the community as well."

Rees effectively became a player/coach in 2012, when a July arrest for resisting law enforcement and illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor led to a one-game suspension that knocked him out of what was a four-person competition to be the team's starting quarterback. Everett Golson ultimately emerged from that fray, but Rees was a fixture as both a mentor to and a replacement for the redshirt freshman as the Irish rolled to the BCS Championship with an undefeated regular season record. 

Consider what Rees said about his relationship with Golson prior to the 2013 BCS Championship:

"There'd be a couple late night discussions," Rees said. "He'd ask me what I thought he needed to improve on, you know, don't hold anything back. And I told him the truth sometimes -- I told him the truth all the time, sometimes it wasn't what he wanted to hear. But any way I could help, and I've had a lot of fun working with him."

Rees' playing time that year was important, yet sporadic. So during the week and from the sidelines, he took more of a coach's point of view with the Irish offense, which teammates said was beneficial when he took over the starting job again in 2013 follow Golson's academic suspension. 

"Not being a stating quarterback, it's sort of pushed him to become more of a leader and more of a coach," former offensive lineman Chris Watt said before the 2013 season. "I think that helped him see the game a little bit differently than before." 

Rees will be primarily tasked with grooming redshirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush, a guy who some around the program thought was the most talented quarterback on Notre Dame's roster the last few years. Of course, Wimbush's offensive knowledge wasn't near the level possessed by Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer, but his throwing and running ability are both mouth-watering traits that Rees will have a chance to mold.

That Rees is getting his coaching start in his mid-20's isn't particularly surprising. In many ways, has always been on track for this role, and maybe more (think offensive coordinator).

"When I finished my playing career and graduated from Notre Dame, I wanted to do two things," Rees said Tuesday. "First, I wanted to coach, and second, at some point in my career I hoped to get an opportunity to return and do it at my alma mater. I didn't know when or if this opportunity might present itself, but I'm so grateful and honored that it did. I'm ready to get things rolling with this great staff and group of student-athletes."