Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.

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Writers pick Gophers to finish fifth in Big Ten West, behind Northwestern

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers preseason practice, The Big 10 Updated: July 25, 2014 - 1:04 PM

The Gophers are headed for a fifth-place finish this year in the Big Ten West, behind Northwestern, according to a poll of 29 writers conducted by Cleveland.com.

The same poll predicted the Gophers would finish last in the Legends Division last year, and the Gophers responded with a 4-4 conference record, finishing ahead of Michigan (3-5) and Northwestern (1-7).

Heading into their fourth year under Coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers need to replace NFL draft picks Ra’Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen, along with quarterback Philip Nelson and leading receiver Derrick Engel. But overall, it’s an older team that expects to take another step forward this year.

The Big Ten scrapped its Legends and Leaders format and adopted East and West divisions with Rutgers and Maryland joining the conference this year. The Big Ten does not conduct its own media poll, so Cleveland.com has been putting this together for four years. I’m one of the voters and had the Gophers finishing fourth in the West, ahead of Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue.

Here’s the predicted order of finish -- note there were more than 29 first-place votes in each division because of predicted ties:

WEST

1. Wisconsin, 183.5 points (15 first-place votes)

2. Iowa, 173 points (11)

3. Nebraska, 157.5 points (5)

4. Northwestern, 112 points (1)

5. Minnesota, 96.5 points

6. Illinois, 58 points

7. Purdue, 31.5 points

EAST

1. Ohio State, 195 points (23 first-place votes)

2. Michigan State, 180 points (10)

3. Michigan, 136 points

4. Penn State, 105.5 points

5. Maryland, 84 points

6. Indiana, 78.5 points

7. Rutgers, 33 points

Big Ten title game matchup predictions

Ohio State over Wisconsin, 12 votes

Michigan State over Iowa, 5

Ohio State over Iowa, 4

Ohio State over Nebraska, 3

Michigan State over Wisconsin, 2

Michigan State over Nebraska, 1

Michigan State over Northwestern, 1

Nebraska over Ohio State, 1

Preseason vote for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

1. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State (13)

2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska (10)

3. Michael Bennett, Ohio State (4)

4. Joey Bosa, Ohio State (1)

4. Jake Ryan, Michigan (1)

Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Award

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State QB (21)

2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (5)

3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB (2)

4. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB (1)

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