For Notre Dame, USC, the preseason script is flipped


For Notre Dame, USC, the preseason script is flipped

LOS ANGELES -- Three months ago, Notre Dame was on the outside looking in. Nobody projected them to make a BCS bowl, let alone challenge for a national championship. The idea of having a Heisman candidate was just as far-fetched, and many wondered if another mediocre season would put coach Brian Kelly squarely on the hot seat.
USC, on the other hand, topped plenty of preseason polls, with Matt Barkley tabbed to lead the Trojans to the BCS Championship about a month after garnering the Heisman Trophy. It was supposed to be Lane Kiffin's signature year, one that returned USC to the level set by Pete Carroll over the previous decade.
Notre Dame-USC has championship implications, features a Heisman candidate and a coach that, despite a reassurance from his athletic director, could be on the hot seat -- just as everyone predicted. Except the teams are flipped.
"It's a long season, it's college football, it's 18 to 21 year olds," coach Brian Kelly said. "There are so many factors go into this."
If Notre Dame beats USC, they'll move on to play for a national championship, which would be the program's first in 24 years. Manti Te'o is the legitimate Heisman candidate, and is likely to wind up in New York while Barkley remains home. And a season that could see USC lose as many as six times has many questioning Kiffin's ability to lead USC to the kind of success it enjoyed over the last decade.
"We get asked all the time, hey, did you expect to win 11 or 12?" Kelly said. "We know the unexpected is always out there, so we try to stay focused on the next practice. If we did what you did and did that big picture stuff, it would drive us crazy, too."
Nobody's faulting the preseason predictions that had Notre Dame winning eight or nine games at the most. And nobody's questioning why USC, with all its offensive firepower, was the preseason No. 1. Both were logical projections in August, as illogical as they may look now.
"Preseason predictions are mostly based off the year before," Notre Dame center Braxston Cave said. "Last year was last year, this year's this year."
That's a simple way to put it. But with Everett Golson quarterbacking the Irish offense, the team hasn't experienced the devastating spate of turnovers that plagued the team for much of the 2011 season. Despite losing Michael Floyd and seeing Tyler Eifert's production drop off, Notre Dame's offense has been good enough to support one of the nation's best defenses. Led by Te'o, Notre Dame's defense is only allowing 10.1 points per game -- the best average in the country.
"We've put ourselves in this position, and Manti's played unbelievable this year and he's also put himself in the position that he's in the way he's worked this year, not because of last year," Cave said. "It feels like everything's coming in to place."
Notre Dame's meteoric rise has coincided with USC's decline, with the Trojans failing to register any truly impressive wins in their 11 games. Shootout losses to Arizona and Oregon have combined with a close loss to Stanford and a lackluster performance against crosstown rival UCLA, with that loss to the Bruins dropping USC out of the top 25. No team since 1964 began the season the AP No. 1 and fell out of the top 25 -- at least, until this year.
Barkley has thrown the second-most interceptions of any FBS quarterback with 15, casting a dark cloud on some other impressive totals. Sophomore Marqise Lee emerged as a go-to option and arguably the nation's best receiver and Robert Woods remained effective despite a decreased presence in USC's offense, but the Trojans have turned the ball over 29 times -- the fifth-highest total among FBS teams.
Make no mistake, USC still holds powerful cards in its offensive deck, even with Barkley on the shelf for Saturday's game. But Monte Kiffin's defense has let USC down, too, allowing 392.2 yards and 24.8 points per game -- averages that land the Trojans squarely among college football's mediocre defenses.
It hasnt turned out so far how wed have liked or how we anticipated," USC athletic director Pat Haden told reporters earlier in the week. "We were probably over-hyped at the beginning of the season to be perfectly honest."
But this is where we are, with Notre Dame one win away from a berth in the BCS Championship. This was supposed to be USC's moment, not Notre Dame's. It was supposed to be Barkley's trip to New York, not Te'o's. And it was supposed to be Kelly looking over his shoulder, not Kiffin.
It's a fascinating flipping of the script, and one that Kelly could only chuckle at when confronted with it earlier this week.
"That's why they play the games, you know."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Bears actually trade Alshon Jeffery?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Bears actually trade Alshon Jeffery?

Brian Hedger (, Teddy Greenstein (Chicago Tribune) and Rich Campbell (Chicago Tribune) join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

The Bears reluctantly go back to Jay Cutler as the starter. Meanwhile, can the Bears actually trade Alshon Jeffery?

The guys give their predictions for the Bulls season, Hedger dissects the Blackhawks penalty kill problems and Teddy explains why Michigan will win the Big Ten.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below:

Could Cubs start Kyle Schwarber in World Series game at Wrigley Field?

Could Cubs start Kyle Schwarber in World Series game at Wrigley Field?

CLEVELAND — “No, not right now,” Kyle Schwarber said without hesitation when asked if playing the outfield would be a possibility. The Cubs had just lost their first World Series game in 71 years, with Schwarber showing a minimal amount of rust for someone who hadn’t seen big-league action in more than six months.

Hitting with a brace wrapped around his surgically repaired left knee, Schwarber blasted a double off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and split his matchups against nasty lefty reliever Andrew Miller (walk/strikeout) during Tuesday’s 6-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

Schwarber keeps smashing all expectations, returning from a gruesome outfield collision that was supposed to keep him sidelined until winter ball — and then a return to the 2017 Opening Day lineup if everything went smoothly.

Manager Joe Maddon promised reporters that they would be surprised by how well Schwarber runs now. Schwarber estimated that video from his Arizona Fall League tune-up represented “about 50 percent” of what he could actually do.

So when the World Series shifts on Friday to Wrigley Field — where the designated hitter will no longer be an option — could the Cubs start Schwarber in the outfield?

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

“I have no idea,” Maddon said before Wednesday’s Game 2. “I just want to keep an open mind. But I could keep as open of a mind as I possibly can — it’s up to the doctors to say what he can and cannot do. I would imagine that him playing and coming in today feeling normal is a positive.

“(With) his play tonight — and then we have a day off tomorrow — we can probably reevaluate. I have no proprietary information regarding what a doctor really thinks about this.

“So if it’s brought up to us, and the doc thinks he can ... but I’ve not even asked that question yet to the doctor. We were just trying to get one thing done at a time.”

The Cubs will at least have Schwarber looming as a dangerous pinch-hitter who generated five home runs and a 1.308 OPS during last year’s playoffs. Everything from that clutch performance to his middle-linebacker build to his show-choir video from high school endeared him to Cubs fans.

Just showing Schwarber’s face on the Wrigley Field video board would get a reaction during a random game in the regular season, when he essentially acted like a cheerleader in the dugout. Now imagine him walking up to home plate in the World Series.

“The fans are going to go berserk,” Maddon said. “Our fans really appreciate how hard he worked to get back for this moment. Not everybody would have done that. That’s a tough injury to come back from — really tough — and to accelerate his recovery as much as he (did) speaks to him and the training staff. And I think our fans will appreciate that.”