College Football
Preview
Eastern Illinois at Minnesota
When: 7:00 PM ET, Thursday, August 28, 2014
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Coming off its best season in a decade, Minnesota faces some elevated expectations entering Thursday's season opener against visiting Eastern Illinois of the FCS. The Golden Gophers went 8-5 a year ago - their highest victory total since a 10-3 campaign in 2003 - and return an intimidating rushing attack loaded with upperclassmen. David Cobb ran for 1,202 yards in 2013, while fellow senior Donnell Kirkwood and junior Rodrick Williams Jr. offer depth at the position.

Minnesota also gets help on the ground from sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner, who will take over as the full-time starter this season. Eastern Illinois, on the other hand, is facing plenty of questions at quarterback after 2013 Walter Payton Award winner Jimmy Garoppolo landed with the New England Patriots in the second round of the NFL draft. Minnesota also lost a key player in Round 2 of the draft, with stud defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman joining the Atlanta Falcons, leaving big shoes to fill in the middle of the Gophers' defensive line.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Minnesota -26.5

ABOUT EASTERN ILLINOIS (2013: 12-2): Garoppolo (4,489 passing yards, 48 touchdowns) fueled the Panthers' offensive assault last season, as the team averaged a whopping 49 points per game. Eastern Illinois does return some key talent, highlighted by junior running back Shepard Little (1,563 yards, 15 touchdowns) and first-team FCS All-American left tackle Collin Seibert. Kim Dameron takes over on the Panthers' sideline after Dino Babers became the head coach at Bowling Green.

ABOUT MINNESOTA (2013: 8-5): While the Gophers had a strong season on the ground in 2014, it was actually their defense that did the bulk of the heavy lifting for much of the year. Theiren Cockran (7.5 sacks) returns to highlight Minnesota's defense, which allowed 22.2 points - 25th-best in the nation - a season ago. A pair of seniors in center Tommy Olson and guard Zac Epping return to anchor the Gophers' offensive line, although the team expects to start a sophomore at each offensive tackle position.

EXTRA POINTS

1. While splitting time with Philip Nelson, Leidner threw more than 12 passes in a game only twice last season - including an 11-for-22 effort with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl.

2. Two quarterbacks likely will see action for Eastern Illinois - transfers Andrew Manley (New Mexico State) and Jalen Whitlow (Kentucky).

3. Minnesota is 2-1 against FCS opponents under coach Jerry Kill, losing to North Dakota State in 2011.

PREDICTION: Minnesota 27, Eastern Illinois 23
Stats and Records
Team Comparison
  W/L Strk PF PA Home Away Grass Turf Conf
Eastern Illinois 0-0 - 0.0 0.0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0
Minnesota 0-0 - 0.0 0.0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0-0
Last Meeting
Eastern Illinois Minnesota
Date Away Home Tot Rus Pas Tot Rus Pas
No previous meeting.
Player Stats
Previous Matchup
Passing Player COMP % YDS TD INT
Eastern Illinois N/A
Minnesota N/A
Rushing Player CAR YDS AVG TD
Eastern Illinois N/A
Minnesota N/A
Receiving Player REC YDS AVG TD
Eastern Illinois N/A
Minnesota N/A
Touchdowns Player TD
Eastern Illinois N/A
Minnesota N/A
Season
Passing Player COMP % YDS TD INT
Eastern Illinois N/A
Minnesota N/A
Rushing Player CAR YDS AVG TD
Eastern Illinois N/A
Minnesota N/A
Receiving Player REC YDS AVG TD
Eastern Illinois N/A
Minnesota N/A
Touchdowns Player TD
Eastern Illinois N/A
Minnesota N/A
Quickchart Matchup
Eastern Illinois Off vs  Minnesota Def
0 yards
0 yards
0 yards/rush
0 yards/rush
Minnesota Off vs  Eastern Illinois Def
0 yards
0 yards