– After finishing with their best football record since 2003 last season, the Gophers weren’t shy expressing their confidence Monday at the start of Big Ten media days.

“I think there’s no question we want to continue to improve on what we did last year,” coach Jerry Kill said of a team that went 8-5 and 4-4 in conference play. “I think anytime you go into the Big Ten, if you don’t have a mission to win the Big Ten, then why play?”

The Gophers’ schedule appears tougher, with a nonconference game at TCU and this four-game challenge to end the season: Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin.

“When we say we want to be 12-0, we mean it,” senior running back David Cobb said. “That’s not a joke. We’re not just tossing that around. We feel like anybody on our schedule we can beat, home or away.”

The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West, behind Northwestern, in the annual media poll conducted by cleveland.com.

“It definitely gives us motivation,” senior safety Cedric Thompson said. “We use that for motivation, but every day we go to work, no matter what somebody has to say.”

Delany tempers comments

Last week Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the NCAA’s enforcement system is “broken,” noting that there hasn’t been an infractions hearing in nearly a year. He said, “It’s not an understatement to say cheating pays presently.”

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany didn’t go that far Monday.

“I’ve used the word ‘overmatched,’ ” Delany said. “I haven’t really gone much beyond that. I don’t intend to today. But my hope is over the next year to 18 months, the major conferences can come together and will find ways [to mete out proper punishment]. … We need a system that works.”

The NCAA board will vote Aug. 7 on a proposal to give the biggest five conferences autonomy to make their own rules. Delany said he’d be “very surprised” if the measure doesn’t pass.

Delany said he’s not concerned about perceived imbalance between the Big Ten’s East and West divisions, even though the East includes Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State.

“I don’t [worry about it], simply because during my tenure … we’ve had nine different teams play in the Rose Bowl,” he said.

Obvious leaders

Kill said the Gophers won’t officially name captains until after two-a-day practices are finished, but Kill made it clear Thompson and redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner are logical choices.

“I think it’s pretty obvious with what those two kids have done,” Kill said. “I don’t know if we need any more leadership. Those two kids have done an unbelievable job in the summer.

“Mitch has been incredible. And really, I give kudos to Cedric, because he came in and said, ‘Hey, I want the responsibility. I don’t care what anybody thinks of me, I want to win and do it now.’ So that excites me a whole bunch.”