Where does Notre Dame's turnround rank in BCS era?

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Where does Notre Dame's turnround rank in BCS era?

A year ago, Notre Dame was only a few days away from taking on Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl -- a far cry from where the Irish are today, breaking for Christmas as they prepare for the BCS Championship Jan. 7. Notre Dame finished 2011 with eight wins, unranked in all postseason polls.

If Notre Dame beats Alabama to win the BCS Championship, they'll have won five more games than they did last year. That's a major improvement, but not the biggest jump of previous BCS champions:

2002 Ohio State: 7 wins

While Ohio State didn't have the bump of a conference championship, Jim Tressel's Buckeyes took advantage of the NCAA allowing teams to schedule 12 regular season games in addition to playing in the now-defunct Pigskin Classic, meaning Ohio State had 13 regular season games on its schedule. Maurice Clarett's emergence helped push Ohio State from seven to 14 wins, including an upset over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to claim a national title in Tressel's second year at the helm.

2000 Oklahoma: 6 wins

Oklahoma hadn't finished in the AP top 25 since 1993, but Bob Stoops led the Sooners to a championship in just his second year in Norman. Whereas most of Stoops' teams after 2000 were successful behind a powerful offense, this team won thanks to a stingy defense that only allowed an average of 278.9 yards per game. It's fitting, then, that OU beat Florida State 13-2 in the Orange Bowl to claim its first championship since 1985.

2010 Auburn: 6 wins

A common thread: The three largest win increases of BCS champions came in each coach's second year. Following an 8-5 start to his Auburn career, Gene Chizik -- and, more importantly, Cam Newton -- led the Tigers to a perfect 14-0 record, complete with nail-biting wins over Alabama in the Iron Bowl and Oregon in the BCS Championship. But unlike Ohio State, Auburn didn't survive after the departure of its transcendent championship talent, as Chizik was fired after a 3-9 2012 season.

2003 LSU: 5 wins

Here's the team Notre Dame would equal in the BCS era. Nick Saban's Tigers split a national championship with USC (the AP No. 1; LSU was the BCS No. 1). 2003 was Saban's fourth year in Baton Rouge, and was keyed by freshman running back Justin Vincent and quarterback Matt Mauck stepping in to a full-time starting role. And, of course, defensively this LSU team was outstanding, allowing only 252 yards per game.

2012 Notre Dame: 5 wins?

Most of these other teams had a breakout performer or two on the national stage, helping push a quick turnaround. Most of Notre Dame's returning players were known entities, and while Everett Golson was good enough, his first year isn't in the same vicinity as Clarett or Newton. But Notre Dame's pulled off this improvement on the backs of its defense, with an offense that generally won't put the Irish in a position to lose. To this point, that formula has been good enough for a 12-0 record. A 13-0 record would represent a massive turnaround, even if it's not the biggest in the BCS era.

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, also 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 the 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.

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."