Notre Dame's luck, ability to deal with it does a 180 from 2011

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Notre Dame's luck, ability to deal with it does a 180 from 2011

A year ago, Notre Dame seemingly couldn't catch a break. It started with Jonas Gray's fumble on the season's opening drive, and continued with plenty of bad bounces that swung the outcome of a few games.

That's not saying Notre Dame's 8-5 record last year was completely due to bad luck -- far from it. But that seemingly every bounce possible went against the Irish certainly played into it.

This year, though, Notre Dame's 9-0 start has fallen squarely in the "lucky" category. The Irish aren't undefeated by blind luck, but luck has definitely played a role in that start. Look no further than Kevin Harper's missed 33-yard field goal, and the missed penalty that came along with it.

Brian Kelly has experience with an undefeated team, with his 2009 Cincinnati team finishing the regular season 12-0 before he left and the Bearcats were crushed by Tim Tebow and Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

"I don't think I've ever had a lucky football team," Kelly said. "I think I've had a team that's gotten some breaks along the way, but generally those teams have earned them along the way."

That 2009 Cincinnati team needed some breaks along the way, most notably a failed two-point conversion attempt by Pittsburgh that set up a one-point win over the No. 14 Panthers in Kelly's final game with the Bearcats.

Last year, Notre Dame wasn't equipped to deal with bad luck, which only exacerbated the team's underlying flaws. This year, though, Notre Dame is equipped to deal with good luck thanks to an opportunistic team that's proven it can win close games.

"Most of the time you're making your luck, and you're playing through some rough spots," Kelly said. "I've never had a team that won because it was lucky. But I've had many teams that were fortunate because they were good football teams and they found a way to win."

Anthony Rizzo won’t get ‘Wally Pipped’ out of Cubs leadoff spot

Anthony Rizzo won’t get ‘Wally Pipped’ out of Cubs leadoff spot

MIAMI – The day after watching his .500-ish team get shut out again, and as the growing pains continued for his young hitters, Cubs manager Joe Maddon benched the self-proclaimed greatest leadoff guy of all-time.  

“I’m hoping Jon Jay goes 5-for-5 today,” Anthony Rizzo said Saturday at Marlins Park. “Wally Pipped out of that spot.”

In the middle of a stretch where the Cubs will play 17 days in a row, Maddon figured he would give Rizzo a break against a Miami lefty (Justin Nicolino) instead of Sunday’s right-handed starter (Edinson Volquez). An added bonus: The All-Star first baseman grew up in South Florida and has a home and family here and reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant feels comfortable in the other corner infield spot.

“Get him off his feet,” Maddon said. “He’s been going after it pretty hard being the leadoff hitter. I think he’s done a wonderful job, obviously, so I don’t want to beat him up. I don’t want to beat up our bullpen. I don’t want to beat up our players right now. We still have a long way to go.

“If you ride him too hard, man, the point of diminishing returns will set in. All factors considered, I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Rizzo put up a .700 on-base percentage leading off the last 10 games, homering three times to jumpstart the offense and enjoying the smack talk with his teammates. Maddon said Rizzo will be back at the top of the order on Sunday, and the manager doesn’t have many options after the failed Kyle Schwarber experiment and Ben Zobrist’s wrist injury forced him onto the disabled list.

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Do you expect to be back in the leadoff spot?

“I play first base for the Cubs,” Rizzo said. “I don’t make the lineup card.”

Are you still the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time?

“For the week I was,” Rizzo said with a smile. “I said that after the first day.”

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”