The media picked Wisconsin as the favorite to win the Big Ten West Division on Monday, and Gophers football coach Jerry Kill didn’t disagree.
“Wisconsin should be picked to win it,” Kill said. “They’ve beaten us. If you look at it, Wisconsin’s kept us from being in the Big Ten Championship [Game] the last two years.”
The Gophers were picked third in the Big Ten West behind Wisconsin and Nebraska in the annual poll conducted by Cleveland.com. The Badgers received 32 first-place votes, compared with five for Nebraska and three for Minnesota.
Kill noted that the Gophers have defeated Nebraska the past two years. And he’s determined to end Minnesota’s 11-game losing streak against Wisconsin.
“I’ve said all along, ‘You’ve got to beat Wisconsin and Iowa in the same year, if you’re going to win it,’ ” Kill said. “We haven’t beaten Wisconsin or we win our division. That’s the bottom line.”
In last year’s media poll, the Gophers were picked fifth in the West behind Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern. Minnesota stayed in the division title hunt until losing a winner-take-all battle to the Badgers in the season’s final week. The Gophers finished tied for second with Nebraska.
Still, by going 5-3 in conference play, including victories at Michigan and Nebraska, the Gophers were considered overachievers. Kill was voted Big Ten Coach of the Year by both the media and coaches.
This year, the voters picked the Gophers to finish ahead of Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue.
“Evidently, [the voters] think we’re getting better,” Kill said. “We’re getting more respect. You can tell that from the TV [analysts].”
Defending national champion Ohio State was a unanimous pick to win the East and to win the Big Ten title game.
The rest of that division went Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana.
The Gophers, who must replace running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams, among others, will play the same eight Big Ten opponents as they did last season. That includes inter-division games against Michigan and Ohio State, while Wisconsin once again will play its interdivision games against Maryland and Rutgers.
Burnsville’s Kamal Martin committed to the Gophers, giving them 13 commitments for the 2016 class, including eight from Minnesota.
The 6-3, 210-pound Martin is a consensus three-star recruit who previously committed to play quarterback for Eastern Michigan. He attended a recent Gophers camp and moved around to multiple positions, including linebacker and tight end.