Men’s preview: Big Ten Conference

Editor’s note: College golf is dormant in January, so let Golfweek’s annual conference preview series serve as a bridge to the spring season. Here you’ll find fall highlights and spring predictions for each conference with an automatic qualifying spot in the postseason. The series (read all stories here) runs from Jan. 12 to Feb. 11.

Big Ten Conference

Conference championship: April 24-26, Victoria National Golf Course, Newburgh, Ind.

Defending champion: Minnesota

Conference members (Golfweek ranking in parentheses): Illinois (1), Ohio State (42), Iowa (43), Northwestern (49), Penn State (58), Maryland (59), Michigan (65), Purdue (68), Michigan State (80), Wisconsin (97), Minnesota (98), Indiana (124), Rutgers (197), Nebraska (208)

Conference favorite: Illinois, and it’s not even close this year. The Fighting Illini are ranked No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and no other team is in the top 40 as the spring season gets underway. Mike Small’s teams had won five consecutive Big Ten titles until Minnesota snapped the streak last spring at the Pete Dye Course at French Lick (Ind.) Resort. The event stays in the state of Indiana this year, but moves a little further south to Victoria National Golf Course.

Could challenge: Sure, Minnesota had a very good spring season a year ago, but it’s unlikely anyone would have predicted the Gophers to win the conference title. Any tam hoping to deny Illinois its sixth title in the past seven years will have to get hot this spring and head to the conference championship with some momentum and confidence – much like Minnesota did a year ago. Perhaps Iowa, Ohio State or Northwestern could challenge, but the task is even more difficult in this championship because 72 holes are used to crown a champion.

Sleeper: Possibly Purdue or even Michigan. Both schools have showed signs this past fall of competing for a top-three finish in the league. Maybe even keep an eye on league newcomer Maryland.

Midseason All-Conference team: Charlie Danielson, Illinois (junior); Brian Campbell, Illinois (senior); Thomas Detry, Illinois (junior); Jose Mendez, Minnesota (sophomore); Nick Hardy, Illinois (freshman)

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