CHICAGO — The unofficial beginning of the college football season is officially here. Big Ten Media Days are underway at the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place in Chicago.
The first day began with opening media sessions and seven Big Ten head coaches took the stage to address the media during brief Q&A’s.
Here are the best quotes from each coach during their Q&A session, in order of when they spoke:
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
1. Fitzgerald kicked off his Media Days by welcoming some of the Big Ten newcomers, including Rutgers coach Chris Ash and Maryland coach D.J. Durkin. Fitzgerald left out one coach in particular during his shoutout: Illinois first-year coach and Fitzgerald’s newest in-state rival, Lovie Smith.
Fortunately, Fitzgerald made up for his mea culpa and tried to show Lovie some love.
— Pat Fitzgerald (@coachfitz51) July 25, 2016
2. Northwestern’s offense runs through dynamic tailback Justin Jackson, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards last season. The only problem is the rest of Northwestern’s offense wasn’t particularly good, which meant Jackson was often facing eight or nine men in the box. Fitzgerald admitted that the Wildcats will need more from its passing game to lessen the load on their star tailback.
“We’ve got to have more balance offensively to keep people out of the box,” Fitzgerald said. “I think most games we saw eight, nine guys in the box. We’ve got to be able to throw it more efficiently to loosen people up to respect our passing game to be, quite frankly, more explosive offensively.”
3. Part of that balance also falls on the wide receivers, who were lackluster last season. Fitzgerald said the Wildcats are developing more depth at the position, and part of that is because of a fear of losing playing time.
“If you’re not getting the job done, you get to meet my friend called ‘Bench.’ He’s awesome, he’s unbelievable, he’s the best motivator in the world.”
Nobody on Northwestern’s receiving depth chart wants to meet Fitzgerald’s good pal.
Darrell Hazell, Purdue
1. Purdue has six wins during Hazell’s first three seasons. But don’t tell him the “train isn’t arriving” in West Lafayette, Ind. Hazell was extremely optimistic during his opening session and emphasized that his team is feeling great entering the new season.
Boilermakers fans might not be feeling as optimistic
“The most important people where the morale counts is in the locker room,” Hazell said. And our morale is off the chart right now. We’re ready to go.”
Hazell can definitely sell optimism, now he needs to extract better results on the field.
2. The presumptive starting quarterback is transfer David Blough, but Hazell said he won’t name a starter until a few weeks into fall camp.
“What I like about those guys is that they’ve slowed the game down, they’ve showed tremendous leadership, they’re throwing it with some accuracy and they’re playing with some confidence. It’ll be a few weeks before we make that decision.”
Chris Ash, Rutgers
1. Michigan and Rutgers might not be rivals, but Ash was asked about a quarrel between Wolverines and Scarlet Knights fans. Ash admitted that there isn’t a rivalry between the schools, but that could change.
“There’s no rivalry with Michigan, yet,” Ash said.
Emphasis on the “yet.” Clearly, Ash has aspirations of getting Rutgers to an elite level in the Big Ten.
2. As for the quarterback competition, Ash said it’s wide open.
“Right now it’s an open competition,” Ash said. “We have four guys who will compete for the starting position. They’ve had a great summer, all four quarterbacks have had a great summer.
“I’m excited to see what they do once we start training camp. But right now we have four guys, they’ll all get an opportunity to prove what they can do and fairly quickly in camp we’ll start to identify the one or two that give us the best chance for offensive success.”
James Franklin, Penn State
1. Franklin sort of foreshadowed that with the Jerry Sandusky sanctions behind them, it’s time for his program to start showing strides as he embarks on his third season. He described the scene as an “exciting and pivotal time” for Penn State.
Lions fans might hone in on the word “pivotal.” Patience is waning in Happy Valley.
But Franklin wasn’t done there, putting even more emphasis on the importance of this season.
“This is going to be an important year, no doubt, to show progress,” Franklin said.
2. Some Penn State supporters might be annoyed with consecutive 7-6 seasons. Franklin hears you, but acknowledged that winning 14 games the past two seasons is an accomplishment.
“There’s very high expectations for Penn State, and there should be. I’d also say that there are very few programs that would’ve been able to come through what we’ve come through with the type of success that we’ve had.”
Tracy Claeys, Minnesota
1. Claeys is now in his first full season at Minnesota after stepping in during the middle of the year for Jerry Kill. Despite a rash of injuries and a brutal schedule, the Gophers managed to win the Quick Lane Bowl and finish the year with some positive momentum.
“I think we can be proud of the way we competed as the year went on,” Claeys said. “We lose seven ball games and six of those teams had 10 wins or more. But we had a lot of opportunities in the fourth quarter to do somethings in those games and didn’t get them quite done.”
2. Claeys might be proud of how the 2015 campaign concluded, but he isn’t satisfied with it.
“It was great to win a bowl game for the first time in seven years and be a part of the Quick Lane Bowl, but that’s not our goal. We have two goals at the University of Minnesota and that’s to win the Big Ten and graduate all of our players. So we’ve got some work to do there.”
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Harbaugh’s second media day appearance might not have been as bombastic, but it was certainly memorable. He began with a five-minute monologue about Michigan’s media day player representatives — Jake Butt, Amara Darboh and Jourdan Lewis — before fielding questions from the media.
1. There weren’t too many memorable quotes, but Harbaugh emphasized the importance of getting better every day by one percent. Harbaugh will even take an improvement by .01 percent. Improvement is improvement.
2. Harbaugh was asked about his rap video, and his answer was what you’d expect from a man in his 50s when asked about the rap genre.
“The reaction has been very good,” Harbaugh said. “I think the cool people liked it.”
The only cool people that matter to Harbaugh might be his recruits. We’ll see whether his rap video cameo will help the Wolverines on the recruiting trail.
3. Harbaugh also raved about Jabrill Peppers’ athleticism and said he could pretty much play every position on the field.
“He can play just about anywhere on a football field and he can be effective,” Harbaugh said. “The other thing about Jabrill is he is highly, highly motivated and very serious about being good.”
Like player, like coach, I suppose.