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College football: Tim Riley takes on expanded role at Northwestern

Oswego High School graduate Tim Riley his Northwestern teammates will take Mississippi State Gator Bowl Jan. 1. | Stephen J.

Oswego High School graduate Tim Riley and his Northwestern teammates will take on Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1. | Stephen J. Carrera~Photo courtesy of Northwestern

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The list

Northwestern’s
bowl history

1949: Rose — 20-14 win over California

1996: Rose — 41-32 loss to Southern Cal

1997: Citrus — 48-28 loss to Tennessee

2000: Alamo — 66-17 loss to Nebraska

2003: Motor City — 28-24 loss to Bowling Green

2005: Sun — 50-38 loss to UCLA

2008: Alamo — 30-23 OT loss to Missouri

2010: Outback — 38-35 OT loss to Auburn

2011: Ticket City — 45-38 loss to Texas Tech

2011: Meineke Car Care — 33-22 loss to Texas A &M

Updated: January 6, 2013 10:04PM



Superback.

In high school, that could have described the play of Oswego running back Tim Riley, the school’s career rushing leader with 4,536 yards.

He capped it in 2008 running for 1,886 yards despite being hampered all year by a hamstring injury.

“He’s a good one. He’s special,” retired Panthers coach Dave Keely said.

Superback.

These days, it’s Riley’s position on the Northwestern University football roster, designated by ‘SB.’

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound redshirt junior started his collegiate career on defense at linebacker. He had limited duty but played in 10 games in 2010 and last year played in 11 of 13, switching to offense midway through the season. He scored his first collegiate TD on a 2-yard pass from QB Kain Colter as he fell out of the end zone in the fourth quarter of a Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to Texas A&M.

“Superback,” Riley repeated. “We have the fanciest name in the country for it. It’s kind of a fullback, tight end blended.

“It could also be termed a slotback who sometimes carries the ball out of the backfield. H-back is another name I’ve heard used for it.”

In Northwestern’s multiple spread offense, it requires a player with good size who has multiple skills. The superback will line up as a tight end and block, or at fullback and be a lead blocker or ball carrier. He might also pass protect from either spot or swing out of the backfield or from a slot position as a receiver.

This year, Riley has backed up true freshman starter Dan Vitale (Wheaton Warrenville South) at the position and seen his role for the 9-3 Wildcats expand as the season has gone on. The team is on holiday break but will fly to Jacksonville, Fla., the day after Christmas to begin preparations for the Tax Slayer.com Gator Bowl against Mississippi State on Jan. 1.

“I like defense. It’s fun in its own right but I’ve liked the move to offense,” Riley said. “It’s kind of what I played, primarily, in high school. I’ve enjoyed my time on offense a little more and feel more comfortable there.

“In the beginning, I was primarily used as a fullback on short-yardage and goal-line situations, but my role has gotten bigger. It’s kinda cool getting involved in all phases of the offense. I primarily block but occasionally run the ball and occasionally catch it out of the backfield.”

He rushed three times for 11 yards against Michigan, caught a 6-yard TD pass — again from Colter — vs. Michigan State and had three carries for 23 yards in the season finale against Illinois.

His blocks helped pave the way for tailback Venric Mark (1,310 rushing yards) and Colter (920). The Wildcat offense gained 3,022 yards on the ground.

This will be Riley’s fourth bowl trip and second to Florida. Last year’s game was in Houston, preceded by the Ticket City Bowl against Texas Tech in Dallas and the Outback Bowl overtime loss to Auburn in Tampa Bay his redshirt year.

Northwestern is playing in its third New Year’s Day bowl in four years.

“When you play on the 1st, the whole country is watching,” Riley said. “And this year, we’re the first to kick off since we play at 11 a.m. When I think of Jan. 1st, I usually think of the Rose Bowl, but it’s a big day for college football.”

Riley, an economics major and two-time All-Academic Big Ten selection, said the team is well aware of its bowl history and its drought that dates back to the Wildcats’ first bowl appearance, a 20-14 win over California in the 1949 Rose Bowl.

Since then, Northwestern has gone 0-9 in bowls.

“Not much is said about the drought,” he said. “But we’ll approach it like we always do. Every week our goal is to go 1-0.”

This senior class, with 38 career wins including five over nationally-ranked teams, is already the winningest in school history. Another win will also make head coach Pat Fitzgerald (49-39 in this, his seventh season) the winningest coach in school history.



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