Roster filled with suburban standouts has revived Augustana College

Not every Division III football team is homegrown. Peruse some of the local rosters and you may find a surprising number of players from Tennessee, Arizona or Texas.

Augustana, on the other hand, created a winning formula from mining the Chicago suburbs. The Rock Island school is enjoying its best season since 2005 with an 8-1 record heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against No. 1 North Central, another very Chicago-centric roster.

Ninth-year coach Steve Bell, a Virginia native, thinks it's a natural fit for kids who want to get away for college but still be close enough for friends and family to attend games.

"I think Augustana, even well prior to us, back in its glory days, it's been a pretty natural, consistent theme to have Chicagoland kids on our roster," Bell said. "We know there's a plethora of talent in the Chicago area. It would be kind of ludicrous in my opinion not to recruit a very strong hotbed."

Augustana's local contributors include QB Cole Bhardwaj (Jacobs), the top three rushers - Tyler Rivelli (Bartlett), Mike DiGioia (Schaumburg) and Ben Ludlum (Jacobs) - and two of the top three receivers, Bobby Inserra (Maine South) and Breyden Smith (Hersey).

Center Jacob Uhlmann (Geneva) and guard Daniel Skold (St. Francis) are starters on the offensive line, though Skold was lost to a knee injury.

On defense, Nick Harper (Stagg), Darren Oregon (Oswego East), Rukkus Hunkins (Huntley), Toby Splitt (Cary-Grove), Cole Romano (Johnsburg) and Hugh Keany (Notre Dame) rank among the leading tacklers.

Rivelli ran for 145 yards last Saturday when the Vikings rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Carthage 16-13.

"He's just tough as nails," Bell said of Rivelli. "He's come up huge in some key moments for us, very consistent. Combination of him and Mikey DiGioia, both of those kids have come in and had some huge moments for us when we needed it."

Bell didn't want to speculate on Augustana's playoff chances. The lone loss was in Week 3 at Wheaton, but the Vikings will get a chance to state their case on their home field against the No. 1 team in Division III.

"Couldn't script it any better, could you?" Bell said.

Illini backup shines:

In case you missed it, the weekend's clutch performance in all of college football may have been Illinois backup QB John Paddock.

Paddock replaced injured starter Luke Altmyer under dire circumstances - trailing at Minnesota 26-21 and facing fourth-and-11 at their own 15-yard line. Paddock's entrance was so sudden, the TV announcers didn't even realize he was in the game at first, but Paddock found Isaiah Williams for 22 yards to keep the drive alive.

Paddock then hit Pat Bryant for 17 yards and calmly tossed a game-winning 46-yard TD to Williams with 50 seconds on the clock.

Paddock is a Michigan native and started for Ball State last year. He transferred to Illinois in part so he could become a fourth-generation Illini football player, following his great grandfather, grandfather and uncle. The grandfather, John Wright Sr., is a Wheaton native and was a two-time All-American in Champaign during the 1960s.

Battle of network slants:

One strange sidebar to the Connor Stalions sign-stealing saga is how quickly it turned into an ESPN vs. Fox battle. ESPN reporters called it the greatest scandal in history, while Fox personalities like Joel Klatt and Colin Cowherd pleaded for patience and due process before condemning Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Of course, Fox is the network of the Big Ten and has a huge financial stake in the upcoming Michigan-Ohio State game. ESPN no longer broadcasts Big Ten football and would benefit if, say, that game was forfeited and Fox had to show celebrity bowling instead. College football continues to follow troubling paths.

Local player of week:

Butler QB Bret Bushka (Glenbard East) completed 16 of 17 passes for 281 yards and 5 touchdowns in a 49-7 win over Morehead State.

Results-based top 5:

1. Washington, 2. Ohio State, 3. Florida State, 4. Georgia, 5. Alabama

Interesting game of the week:

Does knowing a team's sideline signals actually make a difference? Maybe we'll find out when Michigan visits Penn State on Saturday in the second leg of the Big Ten's title trilogy.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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