Even with a lighter Big Ten schedule this year, the Gophers are listed as heavy underdogs to win the Big Ten West.

Minnesota was picked fifth in the division — behind Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Northwestern — in the annual preseason media poll released Friday by Cleveland.com.

The Gophers also were picked fifth two years ago, when they went 5-3 in conference play, losing a decisive game to Wisconsin for the division title.

Last year, the media picked the Gophers third in the West, and they went 2-6 in conference play, tying for fifth place.

This year, the Big Ten is switching to a nine-game conference schedule. After drawing interdivision games against heavyweights Ohio State and Michigan the past two years, the Gophers appear to have a lighter load this year, facing Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers from the East.

Tracy Claeys is entering his first full season as Minnesota's coach, and senior Mitch Leidner returns at quarterback for a squad with a new offensive coordinator, in Jay Johnson.

The media picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten Championship, as the Buckeyes received 27 of 39 votes to win the title, despite losing 16 starters from last year's team. The Buckeyes were picked first in the East, followed closely by Michigan and then defending conference champion Michigan State.

Big Ten Media Days run next Monday and Tuesday in Chicago. The Gophers open training camp on Aug. 5, and play their first game on Sept. 1, at home against Oregon State.

Joe Christensen • 612-673-7844