Chicago Cubs

For Notre Dame, the formula equals a trip to the BCS Championship

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For Notre Dame, the formula equals a trip to the BCS Championship

LOS ANGELES -- Braxston Cave let out a primal scream, pointing to the legions of delirious Notre Dame fans crowding the front rows of the stands at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Carlo Calabrese raced up and down the wall, high-fiving anyone with a free hand and a Notre Dame jersey. Manti Te'o and Brian Kelly, the emotional leader and coach, embraced in the tunnel leading away from the field where Notre Dame beat USC 22-13, securing an undefeated regular season and berth in the BCS Championship Jan. 7 in Miami.

"We set out this season to build our program and get it back in to the national discussion when you're talking about championship programs," Kelly said after the game. "And we're in that discussion."

Notre Dame isn't just in the discussion. They're at the center of it, with the winner of next week's SEC Championship between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia awaiting in South Beach.

The Irish got to that point by doing what they've done all year on Saturday. A stout defense effort was punctuated by another miraculous goal-line stand, with Notre Dame keeping USC out of the end zone on four tries from inside the one-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Theo Riddick shed countless tackles and gained 146 yards with a touchdown on 20 physical carries. And Everett Golson didn't put up a flashy stat line, but didn't turn the ball over.

That's exactly the formula that got Notre Dame to where they are today, and that's a spot in the BCS Championship.

"It was just football at its best, you know," safety Zeke Motta beamed.

But that formula hasn't been perfected yet, despite a perfect record. Kyle Brindza had to kick six field goals -- he hit five -- as Notre Dame consistently left points on the board, allowing USC to stay within striking distance until the dying embers of the game.

"We definitely have to improve," Riddick said. "We're not there yet, we don't feel like it. 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."

The on-field formula still needs work, as plenty will be quick to point out when the Irish open as underdogs to either Alabama or Georgia. But big-picture, Notre Dame's formula for success is clear. It's also one few predicted would work in today's college football landscape.

"What's so exciting for us is to be in this year that we're No. 1 in the nation in graduation success rate, to be ranked No. 1 in the BCS and go to the championship game. No one's ever done that before," athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. "And that's the proof of concept for us. That's always been what the goal was and what we were about. To be able to pull it off, this year, another important game to go -- but to get to this point, proving you can do it the way we do it is incredibly galvanizing and rewarding for us."

Few expected Notre Dame to be here, certainly not as soon as 2012. Even Swarbrick admitted he thought 2013 was going to be the year Kelly and the Irish finally broke through. But despite a greenhorn quarterback, a pair of injuries to starters in the secondary and plenty of near-misses at home, make no mistake: Notre Dame is back.

"I was just speechless, man," Riddick said of his thoughts when the clock hit zero. "I was just in shock. It was like a dream come true."

In a historical context, Notre Dame's win was probably shocking. The Irish haven't won a game this big in nearly a quarter of a century. But nothing went terribly wrong, like things did in 1993. There were no crippling turnovers, the likes of which stamped out any hopes of Notre Dame taking a step forward in 2011. This is 2012, and Notre Dame won in Notre Dame fashion. That's hardly surprising.

"This was another clear indication of how we got to 12-0," Kelly said. "Our guys have incredible resolve, regardless of the circumstances, of coming up and finding ways to win. That's all we talk about. We don't talk about style points, anything else, just find ways to win. And these guys continue to do that."

Jose Quintana’s ‘career-altering’ game has Cubs planning clinch party in St. Louis

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USA TODAY

Jose Quintana’s ‘career-altering’ game has Cubs planning clinch party in St. Louis

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs are going to destroy Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse. The rivalry has fundamentally shifted to the point where the St. Louis Cardinals are hanging around the National League’s wild-card race in a transition year and it would have been a massive failure if the defending World Series champs didn’t win this division. But there will be some symbolism to popping champagne bottles and spraying beer all over that room.

“We intend to clinch there,” Ben Zobrist said after Jose Quintana’s complete-game masterpiece in Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “And I think for a lot of the guys that have been around here for a long time, it’s going to be very satisfying.”

Quintana has only been a Cub since the Brewers failed to close a deal with the White Sox and team president Theo Epstein swooped in to make a signature trade during the All-Star break. Quintana hasn’t yet pitched in the playoffs, but this is close enough, the Cubs winning back-to-back 10-inning games against the Brewers and shaking off a walk-off loss before the lefty faced off against Chase Anderson in front of a sellout crowd of 42,212.

Quintana gave the Cubs more data points to consider as they prepare for a probable first-round series against the Washington Nationals. The magic number to eliminate both the Brewers and Cardinals is two, with Milwaukee off on Monday and the Cubs playing a rivalry game in St. Louis that night, meaning the party goggles won’t come out until Tuesday at the earliest.

“It’s the playoffs already for this team,” said Zobrist, who again looked like a World Series MVP in the seventh inning of a 1-0 game when he launched Anderson’s first-pitch fastball into the second deck in right field for a two-run, breathing-room homer. “We’re already thinking that way.

“We’re in postseason mode right now. And we intend to continue that for the next month.”

While there are valid concerns about Jon Lester’s nosedive in performance since coming off the disabled list and the state of Jake Arrieta’s right hamstring, the focus should also be on how Quintana (7-3, 3.50 ERA in 13 starts as a Cub) could be an October game-changer for this rotation.

“Once he got over here, he was really jacked up about having a chance to play in the playoffs,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s showing you that right now. Games like that, to me, could be kind of career-altering for a pitcher.

“When you pitch a complete-game shutout on the road under these circumstances, that definitely does something for your interior. It definitely fluffs it up a little bit.”

“It’s exciting to be here,” said Quintana, who allowed only three singles, piled up 10 strikeouts against one walk and hit 93 mph on his 116th and final pitch in the ninth inning. “I just try to help my team and it’s really special when you get that opportunity. It’s about winning and I have a huge opportunity here.”

In all phases of the game – dominant starting pitching, an offense that created different ways to score runs, multiple bullpen contributors and an airtight defense that committed zero errors in 39 innings – Maddon saw what he was looking for: “We reacted in a playoff manner for these four games. Our mental intensity could not be beat.”

That drifting, in-and-out focus had been part of the background when the Cubs shocked the baseball world with the Quintana trade in the middle of July. Concentration won’t be an issue at Busch Stadium. And this hangover will be real.

“It will be nice to do it there, I’ll just say that,” said Zobrist, who understands the Cubs-Cardinals dynamic as someone who grew up in downstate Illinois. “But we got to win the games.

“As John Lackey said it before (this) series: ‘This is not a small series, boys.’ We knew it was a big one here in Milwaukee. And it will be another big one in St. Louis.”

Bulls reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Bulls reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's Bulls career is set to end just over a year after it began.

According to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, the Bulls and Wade have reached an agreement on a buyout.

CSN Chicago's Vincent Goodwill confirmed the report.

Wade signed a two-year, $47.5 million deal with the Bulls last July and averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in 60 games with the Bulls. This summer, Wade exercised his player option for the second year of the contract, worth $23.8 million.

Wade picked up his option just two days before the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler on draft night and went into rebuild mode. According to Goodwill, Dwyane Wade is giving back $8.5 million.

The Bulls will go into next year without any of the 'Three Alphas' the team had last year Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo.

The news comes a day before Bulls Media Day, which will be live on CSN at 2:30 p.m., and on the same day the team agreed to a two-year deal with Nikolia Mirotic.

Wojnarowski also reported Cleveland, San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City are the contenders to sign Wade.