Hiring P.J. Fleck hasn’t ratcheted Gophers football expectations across the Big Ten, at least for this season.
Minnesota was picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West on Friday, in the seventh annual preseason media poll released by Cleveland.com. A panel of 38 voters who cover the conference picked Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa to finish ahead of the Gophers, followed by Purdue and Illinois.
“We have to worry about us,” Fleck said. “We’re not going to worry about anybody else. I’ve been picked to be 7-5 [at Western Michigan in 2013] and went 1-11. I’ve been picked to go 4-8 and went 8-5 [the next year]. And nobody thought we’d go to the Cotton Bowl [last season].
“But I understand why they put us where they put us. I get it. It’s not like I’m saying, ‘How dare them?’ I see it. But that doesn’t mean we have to finish there.”
The Gophers also were picked fifth in the West last season, under then-coach Tracy Claeys. Minnesota went 5-4 in conference play, finishing behind Wisconsin (7-2), Iowa (6-3) and Nebraska (6-3). Northwestern also went 5-4, but the Gophers defeated the Wildcats at TCF Bank Stadium.
The media picked the Gophers third in the West in 2015, when they stumbled to 2-6 in conference play, tying for fifth in the division.
This year, the media picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten East, followed by Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers. The voters predict Ohio State will defeat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, with 26 of 38 predicting the Buckeyes will return to the College Football Playoff.