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Updated: June 6th, 2014 11:58am
Athlon predicts Gophers will finish fourth in Big Ten's West division

Athlon predicts Gophers will finish fourth in Big Ten's West division

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com

There are still 12 weeks until the Gophers open the 2014 season against Eastern Illinois, but college football preview magazines are already starting hit shelves.

With that come a heavy dose of early preseason predictions.

Among the clutter of preseason publications, Athlon Sports unveiled its projected Big Ten standings earlier this week.

So where did the Gophers end up?

Athlon is projecting a 6-6 record and a fourth place finish, tied with Northwestern, in the Big Ten's West division for Minnesota, falling in behind Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

The Gophers are coming off their first eight-win season in a decade.

Minnesota's schedule has been part of the reason for some of the tempered predictions. It's certainly not going to be easy for the Gophers, with road games at TCU and Michigan in the season's first half and a four-game gauntlet finish that includes Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Debates about their schedule aside, the Gophers have a quality team, despite a still unproven offense. Experience should be a major help. Minnesota returns 25 players who started at lest three games in 2013. Even with Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen gone, the Gophers defense should be able to hold its own among the best in the Big Ten.

Minnesota fans have reason to enter the season with heightened excitement and optimism, although one should still exercise caution when building up expectations.

Athlon's Big Ten predictions

East Division

1. Ohio State: 12-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten
2. Michigan State: 10-2, 7-1
3. Penn State: 10-2, 6-2
4. Michigan: 8-4, 5-3
5. Maryland: 6-6, 3-5
6. Indiana: 5-7, 2-6
7. Rutgers: 4-8, 1-7

West Division

1. Wisconsin: 10-3, 7-1
2. Iowa: 9-3, 6-2
3. Nebraska: 9-3, 5-3
4. Northwestern: 6-6, 3-5
5. Minnesota: 6-6, 3-5
6. Illinois: 4-8, 1-7
7. Purdue: 3-9, 0-8

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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