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Minnesota Golden Gophers 2014 opponent profile: Eastern Illinois

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The Minnesota Golden Gophers open their 2014 schedule with a Thursday game against the Eastern Illinois Panthers.

Series History: No previous meetings between the two teams

2013 Record: 12-2 overall (8-0 Ohio Valley Conference)

2013 Offensive Statistics: 48.2 points per game, 589.5 total offense per game, 217.1 rushing yards per game, 372.4 passing yards per game, 23 turnovers, 20 sacks allowed

2013 Defensive Statistics: 22.8 points allowed per game, 374.1 total offense allowed per game, 170.1 rushing yards allowed per game, 204.1 passing yards allowed per game, 38 turnovers forced, 26 sacks

Head Coach: Kim Dameron (first season as a head coach)

Key ReturningOffensive Players: WR Adam Drake, RB Taylor Duncan, WR Keiondre Gober, WR Jeff LePak, RB Shepard Little

Key Returning Defensive Players: DB D.J. Bland, DT Dino Fanti, LB Adam Gristick, LB Robert Haynes, DB Jourdan Wickliffe

Outlook: The Gophers begin the season against an upstart Panthers team that won five more games in 2013 than they did in 2012. They also hosted a pair of playoff games after going 11-1 in the regular season. They played two games against FBS programs, including a blowout win at San Diego State and a close loss at Northern Illinois.

The Panthers lose quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the NFL draft. The Panthers have announced the addition of three FBS transfer players that can play right away, including Garappolo’s expected replacement in Jalen Whitlow. Reports also say that the nation’s top high school recruit in 2012, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, is transferring to EIU after two troubled seasons at the University of Missouri. Reports also speculate that he could sit out the year and enter the 2015 NFL draft. His exodus from Missouri has nothing to do with his on-field talent, but because of his off-field character issues.

The Panthers have come a long way since winning two games in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2010. They are an improving program with proven position coaches and coordinators. The Gophers should start the season with a win, but cannot take the Panthers lightly.

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