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The Gophers have many key players back from a team that last season went 3-1 in its final four games, including a win over Wisconsin, but the annual Big Ten media poll still predicts Minnesota will finish sixth this fall in the Big Ten West.

The Cleveland.com poll of 34 writers who cover the conference closely has Nebraska winning the West Division, followed by Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Purdue, with Illinois in last place, behind the Gophers.

Opinions were clearly split. Nebraska and Iowa each received 14 first-place votes, with the other first-place votes going to Wisconsin (four), Northwestern (one) and the Gophers (one).

Heading into P.J. Fleck’s third season, the Gophers could return up to nine starters on offense and seven on defense. They went 7-6 last season, 3-6 in the Big Ten.

In this year’s poll, the writers picked Michigan to win the East, followed by Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers.

Michigan was the leading pick to win the Big Ten Championship Game, with 17 votes, followed by Ohio State, with 14.

Big Ten Media Days begin Thursday in Chicago, with Fleck scheduled to address the media at 1 p.m., televised on Big Ten Network.

Joe Christensen