B1G Football Media Days – Day Two Recap

By Zachary Swiecicki and Zach VanNieulande

The college football season is quickly approaching, as conferences across the country hold their respective media days. Impact Sports’ Zach Swiecicki and Zach VanNieulande traveled to Chicago to hear from each Big Ten university’s coach and players. After the final of two days closes, they give their takeaways and analysis from the day’s action. Teams from Day Two included: Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue and Rutgers.

Michigan (10-3 overall, 7-2 B1G, 3rd in B1G East)

@zachswies —

Jim Harbaugh, possibly the most intriguing coach in the Big Ten, had nine words for his opening statement on Tuesday. But, he eventually went on his normal tangents while answering basic questions — like comparing Rashan Gary to an orange cone on the side of the road. He was in mid-season form.

Michigan finished last season losing three of their four final games. Harbaugh was asked if that helps motivate the team.

“I hope a lot,” he said. “I know it has [motivated] a lot of us. Myself included. Lost three out of the last four games. Okay, good. Maybe that will motivate us to put more into it. Coach better. Play better. Train harder. Put more of our heart into each and every one of those ball games.”

UM opens the season second in odds to win the conference (+400), only behind Ohio State (+125). With only five returning starters (four on offense, one on defense), the least in the nation, Harbaugh will have one of his toughest tests yet at his alma mater.

@vannieulande —

The opening pressers began with excitement in PJ Fleck and ended with excitement when Jim Harbaugh spoke. The most interesting man in college football might not have stolen the show as one would expect, but he kept the audience engaged after Mike Riley and Chris Ash’s stage time ended with crickets.

Wearing his trademark khaki pants, Jordan sweatshirt and block M cap, Harbaugh dove into the details of what he learned on his team’s trip to Rome and discussed his team’s preparation for this upcoming season.

After saying earlier in the year that Wilton Speight was his guy at quarterback, Harbaugh appeared to balk at doubling down on his claim, characteristically saying, “Wilton’s in a good spot. He comes in really tied for first with John O’Korn and Brandon Peters”.

The one thing about Jim Harbaugh that never ceases to amaze is his comparison skills. He seemingly has one for everything, and his time at media days was no different when he discussed his support for the doing-away of two-a-day workouts.

“Pilots have to sleep ten hours, I think, before each flight,” he said. “It’s just everybody is doing it that way. Even the military doesn’t have sleep deprivation and three-a-days, et cetera. So I’m all for it.”

Minnesota (9-4 overall, 5-4 B1G, 4th in B1G West)

@vannieulande —

Minnesota’s PJ Fleck kicked off Tuesday’s Media Day with his usual bravado: I’m not sure if this was by design to make me go first by waking everybody up.”

The man known for his “Row the Boat” mantra established at Western Michigan may be the perfect man to right the ship in the Twin Cities. Despite being the third Minnesota head coach in three years, buying into Fleck’s philosophy came very easy to his players.

“We accepted him after he got there,” Minnesota linebacker Jonathan Celestin said. “We love him. He’s been able to accept us, and we know that everything happens for a reason…and we’ve actually grown together as one”

Fleck’s high energy and player-friendly persona could make him a disruptive force in a Big Ten landscape already stacked with some of the nation’s best coaches. Fleck respects these men, and they have mutually welcomed him with open arms into the coaching fraternity.

“We’re all competitors,” he said. “We’re competing in recruiting, you’re competing on the field, but really they’ve accepted me as part of the group very quickly. When you get the job, you get text messages from all of them. I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Big Ten and the coaches.”

Nebraska (9-4 overall, 6-3 B1G, 3rd in B1G West)

@zachswies —

Mike Riley’s Cornhuskers come off a season where they were in the middle of the conference rankings, middle of the conference in scoring offense, middle of the conference in scoring defense, middle in basically every noteworthy statistic. Now, they enter August with a quarterback depth chart that has a combined zero starts at Nebraska.

“There’s been a lot of changes within our deal,” Riley said. “We do have a good corps of people coming back, but how that is put together we’ve done defensively in making a move to the 3-4. And the fact we don’t have a quarterback that has played a down for Nebraska yet. I don’t know how that narrative sounds in general. But that’s where we are. I do have a lot of faith and am very interested in what this is going to look like going forward.”

With the graduation of Tommy Armstrong Jr., Riley awaits “the next man up.” Most likely, redshirt junior and Tulane transfer Tommy Lee will get the starting reins. Lee threw for 1,639 yards, 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in nine games in his 2015 season.

Questions at the quarterback position usually create questions for the team’s season, and Nebraska is no exception. There will be plenty of pressure behind center in Lincoln.

Northwestern (7-6 overall, 5-4 B1G, 5th in B1G West)

@vannieulande —

Pat Fitzgerald is a football lifer. The 12th-year Northwestern coach and former star linebacker for the Wildcats joked around about marketing strategy and billboards during his Q&A on Tuesday, but he made it clear that the result on the field is all that matters to him.

In response to a question about his take on Northwestern’s new “Homegrown” marketing campaign, Fitzgerald said, That’s kind of not really what I’m excited about in my role…I just want to coach the team”.

Answering questions like these are just part of the life of coaching Chicago’s de facto Big Ten team.

One notable part of Fitzgerald’s briefing was his support of the controversial targeting rule. As a ferocious defender in his playing days and a teacher of tough defense, it was refreshing to hear him agree on the rule that prohibits certain questionable and dangerous hits.

I think that rule is good for the game,” he said. “I think it’s good for players’ safety. It was a play that we needed to take out of our game, and the only way you’re going to take it out is, A, through coaching. And then obviously the rule changes and having the accountability that there needed to be to make sure that young men, when they violate the rule, are held accountable”

Penn State (11-3 overall, 8-1 B1G, 1st in B1G East)

@zachswies —

James Franklin did not shy away from reminding people that his Nittany Lions won the B1G Championship last season, but Franklin has not settled, nor let his players become complacent. Motivated would be the word to describe PSU’s attitude at Media Days.

“[There’s] a lot of good things going on now,” Franklin said. “There’s an excitement in our community…I think we all realize Penn State has an unbelievable fan base and tremendous support, but there’s a buzz and excitement from the people that I’ve talked to that have been around for a long time that I haven’t seen in awhile.”

Being able to recognize the opportunity in front of them is special. They may not receive the most attention, but, in a team that won the conference and still features the likes of Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, Penn State is set for another deep run.

Purdue (3-9 overall, 1-8 B1G, 7th in B1G West)

@zachswies —

Jeff Brohm’s first year at Purdue will be one of rebuilding. Expecting immediate success is unreasonable. Brohm continues to try and improve day-by-day.

“Do we have the depth we need?” Brohm said. “Not at this point. But I think it’s getting better. I think that will be the key to how we perform on defense. Can we create more depth, rotate more guys in there, be able to have these guys not only play well but also in the second half, fourth quarter be fresh enough to play at a high level. I think that’s going to be important for us. When you look at Purdue last year, the second half things unfolded and for a lot of reasons that was one of them, that the depth was not there.”

Depth may be an issue in 2017, but the Boilermakers’ 2018 class is growing quickly.

“Recruiting has gone very well,” Brohm said. “It’s actually gone better than I thought [it would] at this point. We’ve had to slow the process down.”

Having too much of a good thing is never bad. While it may be tough to vastly improve on the 3-9 record, the future is beginning to take shape behind their new coach.

Rutgers (2-10 overall, 0-9 B1G, 7th in B1G East)

@vannieulande —

There is no debate that Chris Ash has the toughest job in the Big Ten: Rutgers, the bottom-feeder of the East Division. Despite this, he remains optimistic for the challenge and is looking to put the pieces in place to make Rutgers contend.

One key offseason move was hiring former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator. Kill brings some much-needed experience and will look to get the Big Ten’s worst 2016 offense going.

He’s brought leadership,” Ash said. “He’s brought confidence. He’s brought a head coach’s view to the offensive side of the ball…it’s been a lot of fun in the few months we’ve been together, and excited to get on the football field with him here in a couple of weeks.”

It will be interesting to see how Rutgers offense develops under Kill, but a concern that went unmentioned is the coach’s health, which forced him into resignation at Minnesota. Having just quit in 2015 after having issues with seizures, it should be seen as a red flag for him to return so quickly. He is apparently up to the task though, showing that you just can’t keep some guys away from the game they love.

The Big Ten football season begins Aug. 31. Michigan State’s season starts on Sept. 2 against Bowling Green. Follow @WDBM_Sports on Twitter and stay tuned to Impact89fm.org/sports to remain up-to-date on everything MSU and Big Ten football.