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July 25, 2008

Big Ten Notes: Rodriguez finds good help

CHICAGO — Lost amid all the controversy that has surrounded Rich Rodriguez's messy divorce from West Virginia is the fact he has built a formidable staff at Michigan. And one of his biggest catches was luring defensive coordinator Scott Shafer from Stanford. He and Rodriguez never had worked together, but Rodriguez was familiar with Shafer's skills.

"When I was at West Virginia, we played Maryland and so did Northern Illinois, which is where Scott was running the defense at the time," says Rodriguez, whose nine-man staff includes eight assistants who have coordinator experience. "Watching the film of Northern Illinois, I was impressed not necessarily with the schemes Scott was using but with how hard his guys played. They had passion."

NIU beat Maryland that year and also toppled Alabama. Schafer moved on to Western Michigan, and then to Stanford. Schafer's defense played a huge role in orchestrating one of the biggest upsets in college football history last season when the 41-point underdog Cardinal won at No. 2 USC, 24-23.

"I called him up when he was going to the AFCA Convention," says Rodriguez. "I don't know how much his wife wanted to move for a third year in a row. But we are glad to have Scott."

IS PAINTER NEXT?

Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter feels the strain of the school's quarterbacking legacy. There was Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Mike Phipps, Mark Herrmann, Jim Everett, Drew Brees and Kyle Orton. And now, Painter?

"I try not to think of all of that," says Painter, who is within striking distance of becoming the all-time leading passer in Big Ten history. "I think if I take care of business and take this team to some big wins, things will take care of themselves."

NEXT IN LINE
Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher is ready for a breakout season, and he may get it. The Wildcats are loaded on offensive and poised to make a bowl for the first time since 2005. And, if things go right, Bacher will join a growing legacy of prolific Northwestern signal-callers that includes Steve Schnur, Zak Kustok and Brett Basanez.

"I plan to talk to Zak before the season starts," says Bacher, whose mother is of Korean descent and met his father while he was stationed in Korea during a stint in the Air Force. "He works here in Chicago. The way our offense has been tweaked (to more of a no-huddle) is like the one he ran here a few years ago."

Bacher was well-prepared to thrive, hailing from Jesuit High in Carmichael, Calif. That is the same school that produced NFL quarterbacks J.T. O'Sullivan and Giovanni Carmazzi.

Bacher isn't the only Wildcat here with a famous former teammate. Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton played pee-wee football with NBA superstar LeBron James. And the duo stays in touch to this day.

The Boilermaker publicity machine is running full steam. DVDs and calendars of Painter were fanned out on the table he was seated at for media days.

"I try not to get caught up in all of this stuff," says Painter. "My mom and dad haven't seen any of this. But I'm sure my mom will have a lot of these calendars up around the house."

Painter sees Brees when the former Purdue great comes back to campus in the summer for various events, but claims they rarely talk football. Instead, they discuss life. And Painter stays in touch with Orton, who was a senior when Painter was a true freshman in 2004.

"I have the cell numbers for both of them," says Painter. "If I need to, I call them up and we talk. They are good resources to have."

CRUEL SUMMER FOR KROUL

You think you've had tough times? Talk to Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul.

His family's pumpkin farm - located between Mount Vernon, Iowa, and Solon, Iowa, on Highway 1 (not far from Iowa City) - got flooded by the Cedar River this summer. It was one of many sad stories of flooding across the state. The Kroul's pumpkin crop had to be replanted, and water flooded greenhouses, sheds and the family home.

"We had about 2 feet of water around our house," says Kroul, whose Hawkeyes are trying to rebound from their first non-bowl season since 2000. "We sandbagged and kept most of it out, but we still got about five inches of water in the basement. It was a finished basement, but we had to rip out the drywall. Now, it's an unfinished basement. We went through a lot of this back when we had flooding in 1993."

NOW HEAR THIS

When Illinois comes to play at your school's stadium this fall, go ahead and yell. Scream and shout until your throat bleeds. Illini linebacker Brit Miller doesn't care. He can only half hear you. You see, Miller is deaf in his right ear.

"I have been since birth," says Miller, who notes his deafness is the result of a premature birth. "This is all I know. I don't realize what I am missing."

Miller has tried many things to help, even having tubes inserted and using hearing devices. All to no avail. He has learned to live with one good ear, taking Q-Tips with him everywhere he goes to keep his ears clean. To adapt, Miller has learned to read lips to understand what he's being told. It got him in trouble with an old girlfriend.

"She used to get mad because I wouldn't look her in the eyes when we talked," says Miller, part of what looks like a terrific Fighting Illini defense that's trying to help the program build on last year's stunning success that saw the school earn its first Rose Bowl since the 1983 season. "I had to read her lips.

"But I can hear pretty well out of my good ear. I have to turn up the TV loud and crank the music. But I can hone in on voices I know. I even can sometimes pick out my mother's voice in a crowd when I am playing in games."

BREWSTER AND BROWN

Nothing could have prepared Tim Brewster for his first season as head coach of Minnesota. It was a debut to forget, on many fronts, as the Golden Gophers skidded to a 1-11 season. It was the school's worst season since a 1-10 effort in 1983. The low point last year for Brewster?

"I don't know if there was a low point," says Brewster. "Because me, the coaches and players all knew we were doing the right things.

"I did learn how to respond instead of react to situations, because I get presented with about 30-40 situations every day that I have to deal with. And you can't go off the handle. You have to stay calm and focused. (Texas coach) Mack (Brown) helped me learn that."

Brewster's close relationship with Brown helped Brewster during his debut. Brown helped groom Brewster, who was an assistant to the Longhorn legend at North Carolina and Texas. Knowing that, it's easy to see where Brewster cultivated much of the charm and charisma he has developed into trademark characteristics. "When I would get a quick call from Mack or a text message, it really lifted my spirits," says Brewster.

RUN TO THE HILLS

How did Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema get away this summer? He went on an Alaskan cruise with his mother and father. Bielema's father turned 70 during the cruise and his mother turned 69. They also celebrated an anniversary.

Bielema hoped to be inconspicuous during the trip, but he quickly found out there was a group of about 250 Alabama fans on the boat as part of a school-sponsored event. And there were about 30 Wisconsin fans. Badger fans are ubiquitous.

"It was great," says Bielema. "We spent the Fourth of July in Anchorage. But I thought about football a lot."

No doubt his players back in Madison were thinking of Bielema. Maybe they even were cursing him under their breath because of a new training regime he implemented for the first time this offseason.

"When I was at Iowa and Kansas State," says Bielema, "we used to have our guys run stadium stairs. But that's too hard on the knees. So, I had our guys run Beacon Hill on campus. It's sort of a landmark in Madison. I got the idea because I was a Walter Payton fan, and he used to train by running up sand dunes."

Did Bielema ever join his troops in trudging up the hill?

"Are you kidding?" he says. "Look at me."

TIMING THE OFF-WEEK

Purdue is the only team that will play 12 games in a row. Well, technically, the Boilermakers will be off the first week of the season—August 30.

All of the other schools have an off week later in the season. But four schools - Indiana (Sept. 13), Illinois (Sept. 20), Michigan (Sept. 20), Wisconsin (Sept. 20) - have off weeks in September. A fifth school -Northwestern (Oct. 4) - has its off week the first weekend in October. The other schools have their off week later in the season.

"That's how I would want it," says Minnesota coach Tim Brewster. "Having it later in the season helps your team maybe get over some injuries or bumps and bruises it has. The worst is to have an off week early in the schedule."

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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