Notre Dame defense back atop college football

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Notre Dame defense back atop college football

BOSTON -- A week after allowing a season-high 26 points to Pittsburgh, Notre Dame surrendered just a pair of field goals to Boston College on Saturday. And with that, the Irish moved into a scoring defense tie with Alabama, with opponents averaging 11.1 points per game.

Notre Dame is the only defense at the FBS level to allow fewer than 10 touchdowns this season -- opponents have only found the end zone nine times against the Irish defense, compared to 14 against Alabama, Florida and Rutgers. The Irish are allowing the eight-fewest yards per game (295.2), have the 10th-most sacks (30) and the 11th-most interceptions (14).

"I like where we are," coach Brian Kelly said. "I think you have to play great defense to be No. 1 in scoring defense in the country over the long haul, and against BC, that's the first time they hadn't scored a touchdown this year. We felt like (Chase) Rettig was an outstanding quarterback.

"I'm really pleased with what we're continuing to build on defensively, and again, I think there's some young players that are playing even better at this point. I think Bennett Jackson probably had his best game, and Prince Shembo was outstanding."

On paper, Notre Dame's defense won't be challenged much this weekend against Wake Forest -- the Deacs are 113th among FBS teams in total offense, averaging just 309.7 yards per game -- but their season finale against USC in Los Angeles will be tough, to say the least. While Matt Barkley hasn't looked much like a Heisman contender, wide receiver Marqise Lee has.

While Notre Dame has had much more success on the road than in South Bend, one would figure the Irish should beat a Wake Forest team that hasn't been competitive against most of the quality competition it has faced this year. So that'll leave USC as the big test for Notre Dame, and while the Trojans may finish the year with four or five losses, their offensive firepower is tough to question.

Notre Dame's calling card this year has been its defense, and while the Irish will still need help to reach the title game, perhaps shutting down USC will quiet the already-building (legitimate or not) cacophony from SEC country about how Alabama or Georgia deserve a BCS Championship bid over an undefeated Notre Dame.

"I think if you look at National Championship caliber football, you've got to look at a defense, and so that's why we feel strongly that our football team has put themselves in the discussion," Kelly said. "We'll let others decide, but I think we've played our way into the discussion."

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead, fall in OT at Lightning

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead, fall in OT at Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Yanni Gourde had a breakaway goal 4:25 into overtime and the Tampa Bay Lightning rallied from a three-goal deficit to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 on Monday night.

Victor Hedman set up the winner with his third assist of the game.

Tampa Bay, which trails Boston by a point for the second Eastern Conference wild card, got two goals from Jonathan Drouin. Ondrej Palat and Anton Stralman also scored, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who got pulled 14 minutes into the first after allowing three goals on eight shots, returned to start the second and finished with 25 saves.

Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, Tomas Jurco and Richard Panik scored for the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks, who were coming off a 7-0 loss Saturday night at Florida. Scott Darling stopped 25 shots.

After the Blackhawks went up 4-1 midway through the second on Panik's goal, Tampa Bay tied it at 4 on Drouin's goals and one by Stralman in a 4:39 span.

Chicago took a 3-1 lead after the first period on goals by Panarin, Kane and Jurco. Palat, playing in his 300th NHL game, had the Tampa Bay goal.

Palat and Drouin's second goal came on power plays after Chicago was penalized for delay of game after shooting the puck over the glass.

The Blackhawks have the 24th ranked short-handed unit in the NHL.

Nikita Kucherov had two assists to set a Tampa Bay record for points in a single month with 22. The right wing has four assists and 11 points during a five-game point streak.

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

MESA, Ariz. – After an impressive camp where he looked like the next homegrown Cubs hitter to roll off the assembly line, Ian Happ will go to Triple-A Iowa and get ready to make his big-league debut, or perhaps build his value for a trade-deadline deal.

Along with Happ, the Cubs assigned outfielder John Andreoli and catcher Taylor Davis to minor-league camp on Monday while optioning pitchers Eddie Butler and Rob Zastryzny to Iowa, cutting their roster to 31 as the Opening Night picture comes into focus.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – batted .417 with five homers, four doubles and 17 RBI in 24 Cactus League games.

"Offensively, what was there not to like?" general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I feel like he hit the ball hard every at-bat for six weeks. It's always fun to see a young guy like that come in and open a lot of eyes."

Happ, 22, is a switch-hitter who can play second base and the outfield, skills that could help him escape from Des Moines once the need arises on the major-league level.

[MORE CUBS: How Cubs came to fully believe in the legend of Kyle Schwarber]

Though there are questions about Happ's defense, Theo Epstein's front office and Joe Maddon's coaching staff clearly value versatility and trust young talent, moving Addison Russell to shortstop in 2015 and elevating rookie catcher Willson Contreras last season.

Stay tuned to see when/if the Cubs will have a spot at Wrigley Field, but Happ looks like he will be on a fast track.

"Whenever you're in Triple-A, you're always a call away," Hoyer said. "Sometimes it happens quicker than you think. We never expected Addie would be up in April of that year, and he was. I feel like with Willson last year, if you had asked me in spring training – would he be up in June? – I probably would have thought it would be more like a September call-up or something like that.

"You never know. Things happen. When you have good players in the minor leagues, sometimes it speeds up on you a little bit."