gophersbadgersMaybe the Big Ten — and particularly the West — is just so wide open that it’s hard to predict this season. Maybe there is just a lot of faith in Tracy Claeys’ team.

Whatever the reason, we’ve seen more than one college football expert weigh in with a very positive outlook when it comes to this year’s Gophers. Last week it was ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit tabbing the Gophers as a surprise winner of the West (though couching it a bit by noting how there is no true favorite in the division).

And now it’s Big Ten Network’s Tom Dienhart coming out firing with his preseason conference power rankings. Let’s see, he starts with Ohio State. Sure. Then Iowa. Yes, makes sense — a standard pick to win the West. Then Michigan State and Michigan, two more powerhouses.

And then the Gophers. Yes, Minnesota at No. 5 — and No. 2 in the division. That’s ahead of Nebraska (6), Northwestern (7) and most notably Wisconsin (8), all of whom are West foes.

Dienhart, it should be noted, isn’t fully sold on the Gophers.

Writes Dienhart: “If you wanna be Mr. Trendy and create headlines for yourself, pick the Golden Gophers to win the West. Hey, it may happen. The schedule is kind. And this is a smart staff that maximizes its roster as well as any Big Ten program. But is this really a championship-caliber offense?

That seems to be a fair assessment. The schedule is quite forgiving, and it doesn’t take too much squinting to see Minnesota start the year 7-2 (or even 8-1?) heading into a closing stretch of at Nebraska, home vs. Northwestern, at Wisconsin.

It certainly sets up, at least, to give Claeys a chance to be a hero and prove himself worthy of keeping this job for a long time. The Badgers, meanwhile, have a brutal start. Their first four conference games are against Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa — all top 20 teams, with three of the four on the road.

If you’ve watched the last decade two decades three decades four decades half-century of Gophers football, though, you also know that nothing can be taken for granted.

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