CHICAGO – Michigan has only five returning starters, the fewest for any FBS team, but coach Jim Harbaugh seemed to want to indicate there is some uncertainty about one of the most prominent returnees.
Quarterback Wilton Speight completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,538 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season for the Wolverines, but Harbaugh described his 2016 starter as “tied for first with John O’Korn and Brandon Peters” to be the starter this season.
Whether that becomes reality or was just coach-speak or an attempt to keep the back-ups engaged remains to be seen. But Harbaugh was pitching it as a competition at the Big Ten Media Day.
“You want to see what’s transpired over the summer and see who has gotten better. And then who gives our team the best chance to move the ball, score touchdowns and put points on the board, not turn the ball over, and it will probably take about anywhere from eight to 15 practices to figure that out,” Harbaugh said.
Michigan was 10-3 last season, but lost three of its last four games, including a 30-27 loss in overtime to Ohio State.
Harbaugh said he hopes that inspires Michigan, which has one returning starter on defense and four on offense.
“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,” he said.
Later he applied the same theory to the spot of J.T. Barrett’s fourth-down run which kept Ohio State’s chances alive against his team last November, saying he was “glad it happened” and that he hoped it would motivate Michigan’s players.
SUITED FOR THE JOB: New Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck wore a gold plaid sport coat, maroon pants and socks with the outline of the state of Minnesota representing the Gophers’ school colors in his first appearance at Big Ten Media Days.
Fleck, who was hired by Jim Tressel as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 2006, is known for his ability to grab attention, which has not endeared him to everyone.
Fleck will be the subject of a four-part reality television show on ESPN-U. He talked about that and his image on Tuesday.
“‘Being P.J. Fleck’ that’s not a title that I would necessarily pick. But I think it’s every head coach’s job and responsibility to bring attention to their institution” he said.
“That’s not self-promoting, but I think every head football coach in America is self-promoting at some point. We’re all selling ourselves and showing what we’re like and recruiting our cultures and developing our cultures. You’re the front porch of the institution.
“You’re not the most important thing on campus, but you’re the front porch of nationally what everybody sees, and you’re representing a ton of people,” he said.
UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE DAY: Former Ohio State assistant coach Chris Ash described his first season as Rutgers’ head coach last fall this way: “Obviously, 2016 wasn’t a great season.”
Rutgers was 2-10 overall and 0-9 in the Big Ten in 2016, including a 58-0 loss to Ohio State, a 78-0 loss to Michigan, a 49-0 loss to Michigan State and a 39-0 loss to Penn State.
“It wasn’t fun, it was awful. But we’ve moved on. We’re a lot better football team because of the adversity we went through,” Ash said.
WISCONSIN-ND GAME POSSIBLE: Wisconsin and Notre Dame have had discussions about scheduling games in the future, probably at Lambeau Field in Green Bay or Soldier Field in Chicago.
Wisconsin opened last season against LSU at Lambeau. Notre Dame and Wisconsin have not played each other in football since 1964 when the Irish beat the Badgers 31-7 in Madison, Wisc.
FRIDAY NIGHT FOR PREPS: Indiana coach Tom Allen said he is against college football games being played on Friday nights.
“I’m very concerned about it. I’m not going to sit here and try and make a big issue in terms of what I think. My history as a high school coach for 15 years is strong. It’s who I am, it’s how I started, and it’s been so many years,” he said.
“I think that’s a special night. I don’t like playing games on Friday night. I think that’s high school night. But it’s not always my decision, but I’m one of those I’m not going to just not tell you what I believe.”
“I think that’s a situation where I would prefer that we didn’t. But I understand there may be factors outside of my control for that. But to answer your question, I would like to keep that night special for high school football. That means a lot to me.”
URBAN ON OSU: Some other thoughts from OSU head coach Urban Meyer:
• Right guard is the only position open on the offensive line and as many as seven players are competing for that spot.
Matthew Burrell, Malcolm Pridgeon, Branden Bowen, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford are among the players Meyer mentioned who are in the running for this position.
• The starting positions at wide receiver and tight end are “wide open,” Meyer said.
“Tight end is wide open. It was not one of our strengths a year ago. To me, the wide receiver position is wide open. We were not where we needed to be a year ago,” he said.
• Junior college transfer Kendall Sheffield, who began his college career at Alabama, will push for playing time at cornerback.
• Meyer thinks the Big Ten is more respected now than when he was hired at Ohio State.
“I’ve coached in the SEC East when that was one of the strongest (divisions) in the country and I think the Big Ten East now is every bit as strong as I can remember the SEC East. Recruiting in 2012 I was shocked at the disrespect the Big Ten had. I don’t feel that at all anymore. I feel a great amount of respect nationally for the Big Ten,” he said.
• He thinks Cincinnati and Luke Fickell were a good fit for each other.
“I think it’s the right job for him at the right time,” Meyer said about the long-time OSU defensive coordinator.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau