Optimism aplenty at Big Ten Media Day

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By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published July 28, 2014

CHICAGO — Everyone is optimistic at Media Day.

Listening to Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, one would think the Boilermakers were ready to make a run for the Rose Bowl. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald tried convincing the room that the Union controversy didn’t cause even a blink in his locker room this off-season. Illinois coach Tim Beckman’s secondary sounds like it’s the second coming of a Nick Saban defense.

And Michigan coach Brady Hoke was no exception.

Questions of Big Ten championships and trips to Pasadena aren’t dismissed. Fifth-year senior linebacker Jake Ryan was asked about holding a rose in his mouth three times over the course of the afternoon.

“I’d love to do that, of course,” he said. “How could you not?”

Immersed in optimism, it’s easy to forget Michigan’s lackluster 7-6 record, but as Hoke said on numerous occasions throughout the day, it’s a new season.

Hoke pointed to depth at every position and the vast leadership that has emerged out of last year’s disaster. He spoke of this season’s revamped offensive line as strong despite the struggling unit losing its two stars to the NFL. He even managed to put a positive spin on questions of him being in the “hot seat.”

“The only pressure is every day preparing those guys for life after football,” Hoke said. “Competition, hard work and all that, that’s part of it. But socially and academically, that’s a big part of it. So when you talk about that, that’s the only pressure as a coach that I've ever felt — making sure we’re doing it for the student-athletes.”

And while questions of Hoke’s hot seat turned into big picture goals that only intensified the optimism in the room, the players responded with similar enthusiasm.

“I want to take us to a place where we haven’t been, and that’s to Pasadena,” said senior defensive end Frank Clark. “You know, all I think about is seeing the sunset (and) having a rose in my mouth at the end of the day. I watch videos all the time of Charles Woodson … I watch Charles Woodson holding a rose in his mouth with his hands in the air. That’s what I want to do.

“I want to be in Pasadena in the West Coast, see the mountains and the sunset, that’s what I want to see.”

Clark’s dream of driving off into the Pasadena sunset fits the Media Day optimism that moved from goals of Rose Bowl victories to all of the players being asked about Michigan State’s success versus Michigan’s struggles. And all three players — Clark, Ryan and fifth-year senior Devin Gardner — managed to sidestep them.

“We’re both great programs, both great coaches,” Ryan said. “It’s just where we are on the map, it’s not who’s better and who’s not.”

It’s easy to say that on Media Day, when no one wants to ruin the mood until there’s a reason to.

But interestingly, the one area where Hoke was cautiously optimistic was on the topic of freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers, the highest-profile freshman the team has had in the Hoke era.

“Let’s anoint him when he does something, right?” Hoke said. “I mean, let’s see what he can do.”

But Peppers aside, the optimism was abundant because, hey, it’s July, and everyone can hold a rose in their mouth.