AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - When Joe Tiller went to Purdue in 1997, he was told his high-octane offense would never work in the Big Ten.
Not only would the spread attack be frowned upon in a conference that still believed in Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and "3 yards and a cloud of dust," but a pass-based system would be grounded by the wind and cold of a Midwest autumn.
Tiller didn't pay any attention. Nor did his opponents in the Motor City Bowl. Tonight, Purdue (7-5) will play its 10th bowl game in 11 years, facing the back-to-back Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan Chippewas (8-5), who also use the spread offense.
"When I got to Purdue, they told me that there was no way the spread would work here because of the weather," Tiller said. "That never made much sense to me, because I had just been having great success with it in Wyoming. Maybe they didn't know what November is like in Wyoming."
While Tiller was one of the coaches to bring the spread offense - a system using four or five receivers on many plays, and a quarterback in the shotgun formation on most snaps - to a wider audience, it has become the latest trendy scheme.
First-year Central Michigan coach Butch Jones is another spread believer, and he inherited a program that already ran Brian Kelly's version of the system. He made some changes, adding things he had learned in his two years as an assistant at West Virginia under new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez.
Rodriguez's system, unlike many flavors of the spread, makes heavy use of the quarterback as a runner, and Jones had the perfect player in Dan LeFevour.
LeFevour led the Chippewas to a MAC championship and a Motor City Bowl title as a freshman but took a big step forward as a sophomore, joining Vince Young as the only quarterbacks to ever throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season.