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Northwestern picked to finish 5th in Big Ten West

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Ohio State is the unanimous pick to win the conference.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The unofficial preseason Big Ten media poll was released this morning, and Northwestern was forecasted to finish 5th in the Big Ten West behind Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa, in that order.

The poll, compiled by Cleveland.com in the absence of an official poll, is comprised of 40 writers, some of whom cover the overall conference, and some of whom focus on a particular team.

Northwestern comes into the 2015 season facing a good deal of uncertainty, helping to explain the relatively low expectations they face.

The three way quarterback competition between Clayton Thorson, Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver likely won't be resolved much before the Sept. 5 opener against Stanford, and it's still not clear who will start on the offensive line.

On the defensive side of the ball, Northwestern is tasked with replacing safety Ibraheim Campbell, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 4th round, and standout linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo.

The Wildcats' schedule doesn't make things any easier. After a difficult season opener against Stanford, Northwestern gets a bit of a break with a home game against Ball State before a trip to Duke. In conference play, Northwestern faces trips to Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

The poll made one thing clear: Ohio State is king of the Big Ten, at least for now. Fresh off a national championship, the Buckeyes were unanimously picked to win the conference and will enter the season with a top-5 ranking. Running back Ezekiel Elliot was the pick for Offensive Player of the Year while Joey Bosa was the writers'  pick for Defensive Player of the Year. No Northwestern players were picked in the top-10 in either category.

In 2014, Northwestern was picked to finish 4th in the Big Ten West. After holding a share of the division lead after a 2-0 start in conference play, the Wildcats lost five of their next seven and to finish 5-7 overall and a tie for 5th in the West.

Northwestern is looking to reach a bowl game for the first time since the 2012 season, when they defeated Mississippi State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. The Wildcats have finished 5-7 two years in a row.