Harbaugh expects young Michigan team to be motivated

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Scenes from Big Ten Media Days

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Wolverines lost three of their last four games

The fourteen Big Ten head football coaches posed for a photo during Big Ten Media Days at the McCormick Center. Thirteen of them wore suits and ties. One of them wore a blue sweater and khakis.

Anyone familiar with Big Ten football can guess the outlier. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh knows how to stand out in a crowd. He didn’t say anything particularly crazy Tuesday, other than starting off his press conference by saying, “Good afternoon,” when it was 9:30 a.m.

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Michigan has one of the youngest teams in the nation, returning fewer starters (four on offense, one on defense) than any team at the FBS level. Building on back-to-back 10-3 finishes in Harbaugh’s first two seasons won’t be easy. Harbaugh particularly likes his senior class, which includes Trotwood-Madison graduate Mike McCray, a starter at linebacker.

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Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh speaks at Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday, July 24, 2017, at McCormick Place in Chicago. David Jablonski/Staff

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh speaks at Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday, July 24, 2017, at McCormick Place in Chicago. David Jablonski/Staff

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Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh speaks at Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday, July 24, 2017, at McCormick Place in Chicago. David Jablonski/Staff

“They were there when we won nine straight games and everybody is high-fiving in the locker room after the game,” Harbaugh said, “And they were also there when we lost three out of our last four games, two by one point and another game by three points in overtime. They know what it feels like. And they like the feeling of the high-fiving better than the other.

“I feel like, OK, good, they’ve seen that. Maybe that’s going to motivate them even more this year, give them more reason to put all their talent and pour their whole heart into everything that they’re doing.”

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Big role: Illinois coach Lovie Smith expects Centerville grad Tito Odenigbo to get plenty of playing time in 2017. Odenigbo is a redshirt junior defensive lineman who appeared in 11 games last season and started one game at tackle.

“He’s been around a while,” Smith said. “Tito has a strong lower body. We’re expecting big things from him. We lost some players on our defensive line. He’s a guy who’s played a lot of football for us. He’ll play the nose position for us and hopefully can give us some big play.”

Raising the bar: Penn State upset Ohio State last season and won the Big Ten East Division. The Nittany Lions return 16 starters. Sporting News ranked them sixth in a preseason poll.

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All that is a major change from four years ago when James Franklin took over the program.

“I think the expectations are always pretty big at Penn State,” Franklin said. “I think where it’s probably changed is there are more people nationally talking about Penn State right now than probably in years past. But one of the reasons why we came here is because we love the expectations. We embrace those expectations as coaches.”

High praise: New Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck worked under Ohio State coach Jim Tressel as a graduate assistant in 2006 and said he learned two things from Tressel.

“Nobody’s perfect and poise,” Fleck said. “I’ve never seen a guy more poised in my entire life. It could be high. It could be low. I’ve never seen anybody be able to handle a situation or crisis as well as Jim Tressel. And everybody is a human being. Everybody can be defeated.”

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Tough lessons: Former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash finished 2-10 in his first season as the head coach at Rutgers. Asked what lessons he learned, Ash said, "Not much fun, that's the first lesson. You don't want to do it again. But as a first-year head coach, you learn so much. The first thing I learned, I tell people, is I learned I can't do everything."

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