Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

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Notre Dame notes: Football at Fenway a tight squeeze

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is a Boston native and a lifelong Red Sox fan, someone who's fond of using baseball analogies to explain the workings of his football team. So naturally, the prospect of playing UConn at Fenway Park in a few years is enticing for the third-year Irish coach.

But he's also wary of size of the field, especially in light of the attempt to play football at Wrigley Field a few years back.

"You know me, I love Fenway Park. I just don't know if it's big enough," Kelly said. "We don't want to get into that NorthwesternIllinois game where the end zone is not big enough. As long as they do the due diligence, and I know (Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick) is looking for great venues -- and I don't think they played a game there in a long time. If it's on the schedule, we're going to play it. Being a Boston guy, baseball has not been very good there, so maybe we'll bring some football."

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, though, indicated nothing regarding Notre Dame's future schedule is set as the football program works five ACC opponents into their slate.

"Media reports today that we will play UConn in Fenway Park in 2014 are inaccurate," Swarbrick said in a statement.

That doesn't mean a contest absolutely will not be played there, but it's doused the flames for a bit -- at least until Notre Dame's ACC scheduling arrangement is figured out.

Fenway Park hasn't held a football game on its grounds since 1968, but the park did host a soccer match between Italian and English clubs AS Roma and Liverpool this summer. Generally, soccer pitches are about 110 meters long or 120 yards -- the exact length of an American football field.

While the pitch for AS Roma-Liverpool was shortened to about 107 yards, it was wider than what's required for American football. Still, the way Fenway's football field was tucked in back in the 1960's makes for a tight fit in two corners of the end zone. It's not like players will risk banging into a brick wall as they did at Wrigley Field.

However, at this point a Notre Dame game at Fenway appears to be a longshot. A neat idea, but a longshot.

Meanwhile, in South Florida...

While the viability of Fenway Park remains in question, the chances Notre Dame secures a tie-in with the Orange Bowl appear to be increasing. A report has the Orange Bowl closing in on a deal that would pit Notre Dame or a Big TenSEC team against the ACC champion beginning in 2014, when college football's playoff format begins.

College Football Talk's Ben Kercheval has the details, along with a good take on the agreement. He's exactly right -- with the way the college football landscape is shaping up after 2014, "either your team is part of the privileged group or it isn't." That group includes the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, Pac-12 and Notre Dame.

During the conference realignment cycles of 2010 and 2011, when the prospect of four 16-team superconferences was floated as college football's endgame, there was some consternation over whether Notre Dame's steadfast independence could leave them on the outside looking in. Taking a step back, that never was going to be the case -- while plenty of national columnists and talking heads have been eager to say Notre Dame is losing its relevancy, that never was the case.

Notre Dame football still packed a tremendous punch in terms of ratings and ticket sales, even during its lean years. The agreement with the ACC and, more importantly, the apparently impending one with the Orange Bowl only goes to prove that.

'Superior' Shoelace offers another challenge for Notre Dame

Before Saturday's game, I hopped on WSCR-670 AM with Connor McKnight and Nick Shepkowski to look ahead to Notre Dame's contest against Michigan State, and we kind of figured we'd learn a lot about where the Irish stood after their performance in East Lansing, especially with regard to Everett Golson and the secondary.

While Golson didn't have a great game statistically, he did enough (by not turning the ball over) to allow Notre Dame's defense to handle most of the heavy lifting in the team's 20-3 win. But the Irish secondary also showed up in a big way, helping limit Spartans QB Andrew Maxwell to 187 yards and a 51.1 completion percentage.

Denard Robinson and Maxwell are completely different, though, and the Michigan signal-caller's explosive playmaking ability on the ground and through the air present a massive challenge to a secondary that's still fairly inexperienced.

"If there was a secret out there, you know, we would have probably gotten it way before anybody else. We've got great alumni out there," Kelly joked Tuesday. "It's a difficult proposition, because you can't sell out on either one of those. You have to be balanced. You have to be able to manage it and you've got to keep him from making big plays.

"So there isn't an easy answer to that. He's a superior football player. He's not a great player, he's the best player on the field."

Making matters more difficult will be the absence of safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury during the Michigan State game. There's a chance Slaughter could be granted a sixth year of eligibility, although Kelly didn't sound too confident that'd be the case.

"Doesn't appear so," Kelly said. "He did have another injury that caused him to miss some time. We are still kind of vetting through all that right now. The early indication is we couldn't tell you one way or the other. We'll do some more work before we are ready to publicly comment on it."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.