CHICAGO – Big Ten Media Days kicked off Monday with seven head coaches meeting with the league’s media.
The event marks the unofficial start of the football season, and while most of the participants seemingly work hard to say absolutely nothing memorable, occasionally some interesting nuggets of information leak out.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights from Day One.
Nebraska’s Scott Frost is the only first-time coach at the event. Frost was the starting quarterback on the Huskers’ 1997 national championship team and went undefeated as UCF’s head coach in 2017. He was asked about what it’s like recruiting high school players who have no memory of Nebraska as a national power.
“When I sit in my office with recruits, in this first recruiting cycle, the parents all remember Nebraska as Nebraska. A lot of the kids don’t remember that,” said Frost.
“It’s our job to change that. It’s our job to make sure that the new generation remembers Nebraska for what it is and what it should be, and we’re in the process of making sure that the kids that we’re going to recruit going forward see Nebraska as one of the top programs in the country.”
Much like Frost, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck earned a Big Ten head coaching job by going unbeaten as the head coach of a Group of Five school.
While Frost did it at UCF, Fleck’s 2016 Western Michigan team went 13-0 and earned a spot in the Cotton Bowl.
Neither of those teams earned a spot in the College Football Playoff, but while you might expect Fleck to be bitter about getting left out, he said he thought there was a path for a non-Power 5 school to earn a playoff berth.
“Maybe if you go 13-0 and 13-0 (in back-to-back years),” Fleck said.
“They say that one last year doesn’t affect necessarily this year. But I think that could start to turn the tide a little bit if you have a team that’s 26-0. You force somebody to do something.”
Penn State’s James Franklin has seen his team narrowly miss out on the College Football Playoff a couple times recently, but he said Monday, “I like the system.”
However, he did suggest one possible change. Franklin pointed to the subjective nature of the selection process, and said that if leagues could come to an agreement to play each season under the same terms, that could help make picking the top four teams easier.
“When we get to a point where everybody’s playing under the same scenario, I think that would be the best situation,” Franklin said.
“So the amount of conference games across the entire country, every conference is doing it the same way, we’re all playing the same number of conference games. We’re all playing FCS opponents or we’re not. We’re all playing the same number of Power Five out-of-conference opponents, things like that.”
Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh had his own suggestion for improving the College Football Playoff selection process: Make it bigger.
“Thoughts on the playoff system, I guess the first thing that comes to mind is more would be more. More would be better in the playoffs. Four (teams) right now, go to eight and eventually get to 16.”
When a reporter asked about player safety concerns with a 16-team playoff that could add two more games to a team’s schedule, Harbaugh suggested dropping conference title games, meaning that the most games a team could play in a season would be 16.
“Probably take away the championship, the league championship game. It would eliminate that one, and then so it could be 16 games. But only the two teams playing in the national championship would play that many games.”
You may recall that Harbaugh refused to release a depth chart during the 2017 season. Monday, Michigan was the only program at Big Ten Media Days to not release an electronic copy of its media guide.
So after all that reluctance to put out any information about his program, Harbaugh was asked about a proposal that would require teams to release a weekly injury report on players to the gambling public.
“Yeah, I would be fine with that. Want to do an injury report? We can do an injury report.”
Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald mentioned an unlikely factoid during his introduction. The Wildcats currently own the longest active winning streak in FBS, at eight games.
Fitzgerald is a big proponent of the new rule that allows players to see action in up to four games in a season, while still qualifying for a redshirt year. He pointed to clear benefits to players, who can see some early game action without burning a season of eligibility. However, he also said the added depth would have significant positive impacts for the team as well.
“I think it’s great from a health and safety standpoint. And also obviously for us for the flexibility from a coaching standpoint, it’s huge,” Fitzgerald said.
Purdue’s Jeff Brohm highlighted the fact that his Boilermakers will face 11 Power Five Conference teams in their 12 regular season games. That figures to make his second season in West Lafayette a challenging one.
However, he’s already ahead of where he was a year ago.
At that point, Purdue was just starting to crawl out of the smoking crater of the Darrell Hazell era during which they went 3-30 in Big Ten Play.
It didn’t take long for Brohm to instill confidence in his team – in fact it took just two quarters of game action.
“It wasn’t until halftime in the first game against Louisville where we came in with a lead, came into our locker room, you would have thought we won a Super Bowl. Our guys were happy,” Brohm said.
“You could see that belief that: You know what? Maybe we’re a little better than we thought. Maybe we can compete against these teams.”
Rutgers coach Chris Ash made what might have been Monday’s boldest prediction when he said the Knights were on track to get to a bowl game this fall.
Ash came to Rutgers with a three-year plan, and saw his team jump from 2-10 to 4-8 in his first two seasons.
“In year one we just wanted to be able to make the changes that we need to implement the things we wanted to do in the program to get it going and to build it the way we wanted to build it,” Ash said.
“Year two was about being more competitive, winning more games, which we did. We went from two wins to four wins, zero wins in the Big Ten to three wins in the Big Ten. Had opportunities to get some others. It didn’t happen. But we made progress.
“And in year three, it’s about trying to build your team and have an opportunity to go to postseason play, and right now I feel like we’re right on track to get that done.”
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst will highlight the list of coaches who will speak on Tuesday’s Day Two.