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 on Tuesday at Big Ten Football Media Days.
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 on Tuesday.
“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, Wisconsin.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.