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Michigan center Mason Cole talks about New Year's Day matchup playing South Carolina in Outback Bowl. Angelique S. Chengelis

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Tarik Black, Michigan's promising freshman receiver who is recovering from a broken foot suffered early this season when he was the team’s leading receiver, may be able to start practicing during Outback Bowl practices. But that does not mean he will play in the game.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wants to preserve a year of eligibility, and although he did not say definitely, he is leaning toward Black sitting out the game although he “can probably play.”

Michigan will face South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.

“He’s already played in four games this year and right now the rule is if he’s only played in four, he could get this year back as a medical redshirt,” Harbaugh said Sunday night on the Outback Bowl conference call. "As I sit here now, I’d probably say Tarik wouldn’t play. Get the year back.”

That led Harbaugh to a discussion of a rule proposed to the NCAA by the American Football Coaches Association that if passed would allow players to play in up to four games at any point during a season without burning their redshirt years.

“It’s being discussed at the NCAA level that, I think the proposal is, if they are playing four games maximum, no matter when they occur, the first four games or the last four, say they only played in one game, like a bowl game, their redshirt year would not be affected,” Harbaugh said. “I think that’s a real good discussion and dialogue to be having right now that freshmen who have redshirted up to this point could still play in a bowl game and still be a redshirted player that would have their five-year clock.

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“Right now if you play anybody in a bowl game they would lose their redshirt year. In the discussion, I think the bowl game should be treated as a new year. It should be treated as next year. If they count that as the fourth game that they’ve played in or the third or the second or the first and it still does not burn their redshirt year, I think that would be a good thing for the players, it would be a good thing for all concerned. What a wonderful thing it would be to play some of the freshmen in that bowl game and not lose their redshirt year. This is a timely time to talk about it because there’s real-life examples where these bowl games could be treated as next year and not part of the regular season.”

Supporting Speight

Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who won the starting job the last two seasons but played in only four games this season after suffering three fractured vertebrae in the Big Ten opener at Purdue, announced a week ago he will spend his final year of eligibility at another program.

Speight two days later told WXYZ the prospects of another quarterback competition did not turn him off. Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters won the starting job late this season, and Dylan McCaffrey is redshirting this year.

“It’s just one of these things that it’s just time to move on,” Speight told the station, adding he had no issues with Harbaugh. “There’s absolutely no bad blood. At the end of the day, it’s human nature. You’ve got to look out for yourself. I had to leave home.”

Harbaugh spoke of Speight’s decision during the Outback conference call Sunday night and said he backs him.

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“Like all the guys on the team, support what they think is best for them,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the angle of approach that I come with. Always had a good relationship with Wilton. I was most pleased, proud, happy, I’m just happy he came in and talked to me. We can have an honest discussion.

“Always strive for that with all of our players, and know what’s on his mind. Nothing’s secretive, nothing’s coming from the dark shadows. Doesn’t have to be that way. It can be just good, upfront, honest dialogue and appreciate those kind of relationships the most.”

Will everyone play?

Last bowl season there were players heading off to pro careers who decided not to participate in their team’s bowl games. Among the big-name players, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette skipped bowl games.

Michigan tight end Jake Butt wanted to play in his final college game and tore an ACL for the second time in his career. He is in the NFL now, but the injury affected his draft stock.

It is unclear whether any Michigan players may choose not to play in the Outback.

“Don’t know. Haven’t had those conversations yet,” Harbaugh said. “We will, I’m sure. Again, I’ll ask if there’s a player on that team has that perspective, it doesn’t have to be secretive, doesn’t have to come from the dark shadows. We’ll talk about it, we’ll be able to figure it out. I’ll be supportive in the conversation and the discussions about it. None of those have taken place though yet.”

Playoff expansion

Harbaugh was asked his opinion of the Big Ten being shut out of the four-team College Football Playoff, and he shared his expansion thoughts.

“My reaction is I think there should be more than four teams in the playoff — eight teams, 12 teams, 16 teams,” Harbaugh said. “Sixteen would be ideal to be in the playoffs. That would make us more like every other sport, every other collegiate sport that has the playoff. Every league in sports that has a playoff and a championship does it through a playoff format. FCS, they have the format. I think it’s up to 24 teams now. It’s the ideal way to do it. That’s my first reaction.”

Time to practice

Michigan’s non-starters practiced Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday last week.

“The starters did not,” Harbaugh said. “They did weight training and treatment and young guys and guys who don’t play as starters have already begun practicing and the whole team will resume (Monday) as a full team.”

OUTBACK BOWL

Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)

Kickoff: Noon Jan. 1, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

TV/radio: ESPN2/WWJ 950

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis

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