Big Ten: Louisville Cardinals
Illinois head coach Ron Zook hopes to recreate it.
Zook is hiring three former Louisville assistants to handle Illinois' offense in a make-or-break 2010 season.
Paul Petrino, most recently the offensive coordinator at Arkansas, takes the same job in Champaign. Petrino served as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Louisville from 2003-06 before following his older brother Bobby to the Atlanta Falcons and then to Arkansas. Though the move from Arkansas to Illinois might seem a bit odd, Paul Petrino now will get to call his own plays (Bobby handled the Razorbacks' play-calling duties).
Greg Nord, who spent the past 15 years on Louisville's coaching staff, heads to Illinois to coach tight ends. And Jeff Brohm, the former Louisville offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who most recently held the same titles at Florida Atlantic, will coach QBs for Illinois, according to colleague Bruce Feldman.
Zook has acted extremely quickly since Friday, when he dismissed four assistants, including offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, and demoted co-defensive coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory. The embattled coach clearly had a replacement plan before announcing the changes. He still has to find a defensive coordinator, with former Kansas assistant Bill Miller a possible candidate.
All three incoming assistants -- Petrino, Nord and Brohm -- were part of Louisville's heyday.
In case you've forgotten -- it feels like eons ago for U of L fans -- the Cardinals lit up the sky and the scoreboard from 2003-07. Louisville's offense ranked in the top 10 nationally in all five seasons, leading the nation in 2004 (539 ypg) and ranking second in 2006 (475.3 ypg).
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's worth reiterating that expansion is not a front-burner issue for the Big Ten right now. But things always change, and it's undeniable that the league loses something -- certainly from a marketing standpoint and possibly from a competitive standpoint -- without a championship game that ends the regular season on the same day as the other BCS conferences.
Let's also reiterate that Notre Dame has been and always will be the best option for Big Ten expansion. The two parties last talked in 1999 but didn't get too far. Notre Dame obviously has some tremendous advantages as an independent, and purely from a business standpoint, joining a league doesn't make much sense. The dilemma for the Big Ten is whether to add a 12th team or wait until its home-run choice decides it wants to join a league, which may or may not happen.
I've heard just about every suggestion for a 12th team this week. There are the usual suspects (Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Iowa State, Missouri, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut), a few reaches (West Virginia, Nebraska) and several fuhgetaboutits (any MAC school, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois).
Of all the realistic possibilities, Missouri makes the most sense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As one of few remaining members from the greatest non-BCS team in the BCS era, Utah quarterback Brian Johnson has tasted success at the highest level.
In 2004 he appeared in 10 games as Alex Smith's backup and helped Utah to a perfect season and a Fiesta Bowl win. After a knee injury put his career on pause, he went 8-2 as the Utes' starter last season, including a win against Louisville. Beating big-time teams in big-time settings isn't foreign to Johnson, but he didn't downplay what it meant to beat Michigan 25-23 on Saturday.
"I think so," Johnson said when asked if it was the biggest win in his career. "It's right up there with that Louisville win, and I'm sure I'll remember this win for the rest of my life."
After a nearly-flawless first half in which he dissected Michigan's secondary, Johnson struggled down the stretch, throwing an interception and fumbling with 7:40 remaining. But panic never set in.
"Being a fifth-year senior, I've seen a lot of football," Johnson said as 'Hail to the Victors' played in the background. "The key is to stay calm in those situations. You don't want to get too anxious and go out there and mess up. We just had to stick together."
Aside from Johnson, no Utes player faced more pressure Saturday than All-American kicker/punter Louie Sakoda. The senior went 4-for-4 on field goals, including a 53-yarder, and averaged 47 yards on six punts.
Like Johnson, Sakoda faced his share of adversity. He had an extra-point attempt blocked and a punt blocked in the fourth quarter that set up a Michigan touchdown. But Sakoda never flinched, launching a 50-yard punt to pin Michigan at its 11-yard line with 2:35 left. You could make a strong case Sakoda was the player of the game.
"I actually felt more comfortable kicking here than I have in a lot of stadiums," Sakoda said. "A lot of it was just my offseason work and preparation. It didn't seem to have too much of an effect."
After celebrating with a group of fans in the southwest corner of the stadium, defensive tackle Lei Talamaivao shouted, "We're taking the big house with us!" as he walked to the tunnel. Not many non-BCS teams can make that claim, but this is nothing new for Utah.
"This has been one of the biggest ones for sure," coach Kyle Whittingham said, "but you'll have to look back in the last 15 years to see where it ranks. It was a great way to start the season."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Brock Spack and Danny Hope go way back.
They first met on the recruiting trail before joining forces on Joe Tiller's staff at Wyoming in 1996. The next year, Spack and Hope joined Tiller at Purdue, where they worked for the next five seasons before Hope left for a job at Louisville.
"He and I have been friends for a long time," said Spack, who has served as Purdue's defensive coordinator since 1997. "I really care a lot about him. We've worked together forever."
But will they work together after this season?
Hope takes over for Tiller as Purdue's head coach in 2009. At some point, he'll begin forming his staff, and there are no guarantees any of the current Purdue assistants will be part of it.
Such a fluid situation would seem to create some awkward moments in the coaches' meeting room, as Brock and the other assistants rub elbows with their potential future boss.
Would offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher rip Hope after a bad performance by the line, the unit Hope will coach this fall? Would other assistants watch their words whenever Hope is around?
"There's no auditioning going on," Spack said. "You can't. Football, it's all-consuming. All you can concentrate on is your team and making your players better. You can't worry about the periphery. You can't worry about what people say about you, what people think about you.
"You've got to make the decisions you think are best for your football team, your players and your program and this year. We're going to worry about now. We're going to win now."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
David Gilreath produced more than his share of highlights as a freshman at Wisconsin, setting several team records as a dynamic return specialist.
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|Wisconsin's David Gilreath is looking to expand on his skills as a wide receiver.|
But Gilreath didn't spend the offseason replaying his 56-yard punt return against Minnesota or his 60-yard kickoff runback against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. The big games and accolades rarely entered his thoughts during the winter and spring.
"Have you seen the Penn State game?" he asked.
Wisconsin's trip to Happy Valley was the biggest stain on a season that culminated in a New Year's Day bowl berth but left many players, including Gilreath, unsatisfied. Badgers coach Bret Bielema called the 38-7 loss the "only time that I didn't recognize the crowd on Saturday that we'd coached during the week."
But early in the second quarter, Wisconsin trailed by only three points and had the ball. Quarterback Tyler Donovan found Gilreath wide open over the middle, but the freshman bobbled the pass and Penn State's Lydell Sargeant swooped in for an interception.
"I never knew about momentum that much," Gilreath said. "Once I dropped that pass, it went downhill. You'll always remember that play you messed up on, whether it be in third grade or whatever. It's been going through my mind ever since."
Gilreath is hard on himself, but when a player sets the goals he does, he has to be. Last fall, he set team records for kickoff return yards in a season (967) and in a game (189) to go along with other milestones, but he has yet to start a game and his capacity at wide receiver remains largely unknown.
A reasonable expectation for the fall would be securing and maintaining a starting job, but Gilreath aims higher.
"I want to be an All-American," he said. "With Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard gone, it's an opportunity for me to step in there and be the guy. I come in thinking, 'Yeah, this is my chance.'"
He capitalized in spring practice and likely will enter the season as the starter opposite classmate Kyle Jefferson. Who throws them passes this fall remains to be seen, though Gilreath gives a slight edge to fifth-year senior quarterback Allan Evridge.
Gilreath had only one reception last season, while Jefferson ranked third on the team in both receptions (26) and receiving yards (412). But the two sophomores, who share the title of team's fastest man, want to show Wisconsin's offense goes beyond the ground game and All-American tight end Travis Beckum.
"People say, 'Oh, they've got the four running backs and they've got Travis and a couple other guys,'" Gilreath said. "But I don't think we're ranked as high as we are just because we have a run game. Especially when Travis is doubled, and they've got to put a lot of guys in the box for our run game, we've got to go out and make plays. We'll show the country then."
Opponents are already aware of Gilreath's prowess as a return man. He racked up 226 return yards at Minnesota, playing just miles from his hometown of New Hope, Minn., and tallied 199 return yards in a close victory over Michigan State.
Gilreath became the first Wisconsin freshman since Ron Dayne to win Big Ten Player of the Week honors when he took home the special teams award for his performance against The Citadel in Week 3. Naturally, when Gilreath reflects on the game, a missed opportunity comes to mind.
"There was a punt return, I think my first one of the game, there was a huge opening to the right and I just ran to the left, wasn't even thinking about it, just thought I would use my speed," said Gilreath, who still gained 34 yards on the play. "It would have been a touchdown."
There will be other chances this fall for Gilreath, who, at 5-11 and 165 pounds, tries to model his game after other smaller receivers. Baltimore Ravens wideout Mark Clayton and former Cal star DeSean Jackson are two of his favorites, and he also watched his cousin, Harry Douglas, a big-play threat for Louisville during the team's Orange Bowl run in 2006.
Despite leading the Big Ten in punt returns (14 ypr) and ranking seventh in kickoff returns (23 ypr) as a freshman, Gilreath didn't surprise himself.
"I set my standards pretty high," he said. "I did some things out there, but I didn't do much. I didn't score. I guess that will come."