CHICAGO — What can be done to end the Big Ten’s two-year absence from the College Football Playoff? Three veteran league coaches weighed in during their televised podium sessions Friday morning at Big Ten media days.

An equal number of conference games across all Power Five leagues would go a long way, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald said. Penn State’s James Franklin said a division realignment deserves a look.

“I don’t have all the answers to that,” Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh told a reporter. “Maybe something that would be worthy of you researching, studying.”

The Big Ten champ has been left out of the past three playoffs, and the league has missed the four-team event entirely the past two years.

Franklin said scaling back to match the SEC’s eight league contests “needs to be discussed.” It’s also a challenge, he added, when the CFP committee members change annually and factor in such varying criteria.

“Right now, I’m more worried about Penn State and what we need to do to be successful,” Franklin said. “But I think it’s a fair question, and I think it’s a fair discussion that needs to happen.”

Outgoing Commissioner Jim Delany said Thursday “we’re not going to change” from the nine-game conference schedule that it started in 2016, though he acknowledged pressure to do so. The better games are attractive for fans and TV alike.

Fitzgerald said playoff expansion is “inevitable.” But in the meantime, everybody should be playing under the same rules.

“I think the nine league games are great for our fans; I think it’s great for our guys from a competitive standpoint,” Fitzgerald said. “But to me, to have a true champion we have to have the same data points. And until we do that, it’s not any different than the BCS, it’s just a different name.”

Transfer rules a hot topic

Jim Harbaugh could be coaching against one of his former quarterbacks this fall. That led the Michigan coach to offer his opinion on the transfer portal and what he would change as it relates to college football.

Every student-athlete should have a one-time ability to transfer and not have to sit out a season, Harbaugh said. If the player transferred a second time, he would be ineligible for the following season. Harbaugh also advocated for keeping the graduate transfer rule in place allowing players to change schools and play immediately.

“It would be good to just have a clear, concise (rule) where everybody understands what the ramifications are,” Harbaugh said. “I think that would be a fair way to proceed.”

The topic cropped up multiple times throughout Big Ten media days. As it relates to Michigan, former backup QB Brandon Peters moved to Illinois in the summer as a grad transfer and could face his former team Oct. 12.

Illinois coach Lovie Smith said Thursday he would prefer more transparency in the process. His team has added talent through the transfer market in the offseason, including players from Georgia, Alabama, USC and now Michigan.

Nebraska added two grad transfers: former Cal receiver Kanawai Noa and ex-Oklahoma State defensive lineman Darrion Daniels. Former Husker safety Tre Neal was a grad transfer last year.

Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz said one thing he would change about college football is clearer terms about which undergraduate transfers are immediately eligible. He added that the Hawkeyes are not a program that will build or likely even supplement itself through transfers.

“It’s been a little confusing to figure out who can get a waiver and who can’t, what are the actual criteria,” Ferentz said. “I’d like to see that get cleaned up a little bit.”

Wildcats fighting for respect

Pat Fitzgerald is used to it by now. Regardless of the success Northwestern might have each year, his team is almost certainly an underdog in its division the next preseason.

“I’m going to have Matt Foley come talk about that in the first team meeting and really get the guys stoked up,” Fitzgerald quipped at Big Ten media days Friday.

The Wildcats don’t need the famous Chris Farley character from “Saturday Night Live” to rile them up after a Big Ten West division title in 2018. But it didn’t stop Fitzgerald from riffing on the lack of respect his team annually receives.

“We’ll just continue to do that and control what we can control, but yeah, it’s always fun to read this time of year how we stink,” Fitzgerald said. “I should actually get better at golf, because I don’t know why I coach. I should just golf. Haven’t experienced August since 1984. So maybe I should start doing that.”

Fitzgerald does want his team to lock in quicker at the beginning of the season. Northwestern lost three of its first four games in 2018, three of its first five in 2017 and three of its first four in 2016.

This season, Northwestern’s first six games include trips to Stanford, Wisconsin and Nebraska and a home game against Ohio State.

“Up until the last couple years we’ve been a really good team early in the season, and then I got my rear end ripped by everybody that covered us, well, what happens in October,” Fitzgerald said. “Now it’s what’s going on in September, and wow, October and November were pretty good. We’ve just got to become more consistent, and that starts and ends with me.”

Chryst cuts to chase on QB race

Confirmed: Wisconsin will have a quarterback for its offense.

When asked what that quarterback situation is in Madison, coach Paul Chryst answered:

“We’re going to have one,” which was met by laughs by the media.

The Badgers will be replacing Alex Hornibrook, who transferred to Florida State after last season.

In his place, Wisconsin has sophomores Jack Coan, Chase Wolf and Danny Vanden Boom, and four-star freshman Graham Mertz.

Coan appeared in five games last year. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 515 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Mertz, from Mission, Kansas, was one of Wisconsin’s highest-rated recruits in the 2019 class.

“I appreciate a lot of what Jack Coan did for us last year. Jack got five starts and I thought got better in each one of those starts,” Chryst said. “Certainly we’re excited, really excited about Graham. He’s early in on the process, and so I like the group that we have. I’m thankful that we’ve got Jack coming back that’s played in games and certainly looking forward to fall camp and seeing the growth and development of all of them.”

Targeting calls get a closer look

The rules on the most controversial penalty in college football are changing. And changing pretty drastically.

Bill Carollo, coordinator of football officials for the Big Ten, announced Thursday that when a targeting flag is thrown, referees can no longer “stand” by the call. They must review the call and confirm it. If the call doesn’t check off every element of targeting, the ruling is canceled.

All elements of targeting have to be confirmed, Carollo said. Last year, he said, if a review was not clear, the play would stand, and that player would be disqualified.

Carollo said he thinks the change will cut down about 10 percent of all targeting ejections.

The elements that must be met, Carollo said, include the launch, thrust upward, the attack, the use the crown of the helmet or hitting a defenseless player above the shoulders.

“We want to get this play correct. It’s a very important play as far as health and safety, but it’s also the penalty is our largest penalty, so we want to make sure that we get that correct,” Carollo said. “We spend probably most of my time on targeting. They’re our toughest calls.”

There’s also an even stiffer penalty related to targeting. If a player is called for three in one season, he’ll be suspended for one game.

“It’s a pretty heavy penalty. So we’re going to be working with the teams and with the players, especially after they get the first one, and we’re going to give them warnings,” Carollo said.

Other changes for next year include an overtime tweak. Once a game reaches its fifth overtime, the ball will not be placed on the 25-yard line to start the drive. It’ll be put at the 3-yard line.

“They’re going to have one shot at scoring a touchdown from there,” Carollo said. “We don’t want the game to end in a tie, but we want the game to keep moving, and we want it to end once we get to that point.”

Boilers continue to percolate

Purdue has just eight seniors and might be the youngest team in the Big Ten.

Coach Jeff Brohm is OK with that — especially considering his 2019 recruiting class, ranked 25th in the nation by 247 Sports’ composite service, is chock full of immediate contributors, including national top 100 prospect George Karlaftis, who enrolled early and was, Brohm said, perhaps the team’s best defensive player in spring practice.

“A lot of guys could see the field, and they’re going to have to, and they’re going to have to be ready to play, because we are going to be a little bit young,” Brohm said. “But I think they’ve worked hard to this point, and they understand that we need those guys to step in and be ready to go.”

Brohm hinted that true freshmen may play earliest at receiver, where consensus four-star talents David Bell and Milton Wright have big bodies who fit nicely with diminutive star sophomore Rondale Moore.

Moore had 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, which led to him being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Brohm knows Moore will get more attention from opponents in 2019 and may not match his 2018 numbers.

“He has put on a little bit of weight,” Brohm said. “He’s a little bit stronger — he’s always been fast. But he just works extremely hard in practice. He gives great effort. He goes full speed all the time, and I think he’ll have another tremendous year.”

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Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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