CHICAGO - Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was forced to miss his team's opening day of practice yesterday to attend Big Ten media day.
Then his original flight from Detroit Metro Airport was canceled because of bad weather.
When Carr finally made it to the Windy City late yesterday afternoon - more than six hours after he was supposed to - he found out the Wolverines were the media's preseason pick to win the Big Ten Conference.
Ohio State - 25-2 the last two seasons - was picked to finish second, while Iowa was third.
"I always believed championship football starts on defense,'' Carr said. "If we're going to make a run at a championship, and if we're going to make [the media] look good for selecting us as the champions, then we're going to have to play outstanding defense.''
Michigan, the defending Big Ten regular-season champion, is ranked seventh in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' Top 25 preseason poll - the highest ranking among conference schools. Ohio State is ranked ninth.
The Wolverines, who return 17 starters, 10-3 last year (7-1 in the Big Ten) and lost to Southern Cal - the Associated Press national champion - in the Rose Bowl.
"We lost an outstanding tailback from a year ago in Chris Perry, an outstanding quarterback in John Navarre, and an outstanding defensive line,'' Carr said. "Those three positions are really the focus.''
Carr said the Wolverines were granted a rare waiver from the NCAA, allowing them to start practice a week earlier than the rest of the Big Ten.
The reason for the early start is because the Wolverines' first opponent on Sept. 4, Miami (Ohio), opens its season a week earlier on Aug. 28 at home against Indiana State.
"We wanted to start practice on the same day Miami did - and the NCAA approved it,'' Carr said. "We are very grateful to them and the Big Ten.''
BREASTON HURT: Steve Breaston, UM's multi-talented receiver and return man, suffered a stress fracture in his foot a month ago and had a pin placed in it.
"I don't think he'll practice twice a day, " said coach Carr, who was very vague about the injury. "We expect within a couple of weeks, he'll be back at full speed.''
Breaston was named the Big Ten's co-freshman of the year last season. He set UM single-season records for punt returns (45) and yards (619), and added 38 catches for 444 yards and three scores.
HAWK SOARS: Ohio State outside linebacker A.J. Hawk was named the Big Ten's preseason defensive player of the year. Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton received offensive honors.
Hawk earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last year as a sophomore. He topped the Buckeyes in tackles with 106 and was second in tackles for losses with 13 while being named defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl.
"Sometimes I get uneasy about notoriety, but with a guy like A.J. Hawk, his work ethic is tremendous,'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "Hopefully, a lot of our guys will take notice that if you do things like A.J. Hawk does them, you'll probably get recognized.''
Hawk has been named to the preseason list for the Butkus Award., given to the nation's top linebacker, and to several preseason All-American teams.
"A.J. Hawk's position is such that he needs to make a lot of plays for us,'' Tressel said. "I don't care what schemes we're running, what stunts, what blitz, whatever. The weakside linebacker position is the one that needs to make plays. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes just as many - or more - than he has.''