Getting started on Minnesota and more

2014-08-22T13:01:00Z 2014-08-22T20:05:59Z Getting started on Minnesota and moreBY BRIAN NIELSEN JG-TC Sports Editor JG-TC.com
August 22, 2014 1:01 pm  • 

Those needing a college football fix only have to wait until 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

That is when ESPN shows Sam Houston State invading the red turf of Eastern Washington in the first college game of the year.

Not just a boring-after-the-first-series NFL exhibition game that has had to suffice so far in August, although this preseason has been spiced for Eastern Illinois fans watching to see if Jimmy Garoppolo moves up to the New England Patriots No. 2 quarterback or Erik Lora gets a chance to show his stuff with the New England Patriots.

Eastern Washington, No. 1 in the Sports Network's preseason Football Championship Subdivision rankings and No. 2 in the FCS Coaches Poll, faces Sam Houston, ranked 17th and 14th, are playing in an FCS Kickoff game that counts for records just as much as a November game will.

You can also see Vernon Adams, the Eastern Washington quarterback who finished second to Garoppolo in last year's Walter Payton Trophy voting for top the top player in FCS.

You can start tracking Adams' statistics for this year when EIU running back Shepard Little is on the Payton Award Watch List.

Until that 2:30 p.m. FCS Kickoff, here are a few breakfast biscuits while awaiting the 6 p.m. Thursday season opener for EIU, ranked 17th and 11th in the FCS, at Minnesota:

  • Minnesota coach Jerry Kill told the Minneapolis Tribune-Star this week EIU is the same caliber of team athletically as three-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State. North Dakota State beat Minnesota in 2011. “I know our kids understand it,” Kill said in the Tribune-Star “Of course, you can go back to North Dakota State — you better understand it. North Dakota State beat (Kansas) State last year. So a lot of people don’t understand that in I-AA, they have a lot of good players. Just look at the NFL.”
  • Thursday's game could include a running backs duel between EIU's Payton Award candidate Little and Minnesota's David Cobb, named to the Watch List for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose award as the nation's top FCS running back. Last season Cobb became the first Gopher since 2006 to top 1,000 yards when he ran for 1,202 and seven touchdowns.
  • You might think of the Garoppolo-led EIU as a pass-happy program but the Panthers have the nation's top returning FCS running backs duo in Little, who sped for 1,551 yards and Taylor Duncan, who powered for 988 despite missing two games with injuries. Their 2,539 total was second to the 2,674 by a North Dakota State duo last season.
  • Offensive tackle Ben Lauer, a 6-7, 315-pound offensive tackle named a Freshman All-American last season, is listed as questionable for Minnesota's opener with a high ankle sprain.
  • Minnesota expects big things from two starting linebackers 6-5, 240-pound De 'Vondre Campbell, 6-2, 240 Damien Wilson and 6-3, 240 Jack Lynn but expresses concern about depth at that position. Yeah, you read right, a 6-5 linebacker. EIU is not playing in the Ohio Valley Conference this week.
  • EIU's week two opponent Southern Illinois lost as many assistant coaches, five, as 2013 starters. Head coach Dale Lennon has taken over the defensive coordinator role for the Salukis, who get to test things in a Thursday season opener against NAIA Taylor.
  • Speaking of obscure opening foes, Ohio Valley Conference contender and FCS nationally ranked Tennessee State is to face Edward Waters next week.
  • Illinois State, which is to play host to EIU on Sept. 13, has a preseason duel going for its quarterback job between Indiana transfer Tre Roberson and sophomore Blake Winkler, who started the last nine games for the Redbirds last year.
  • As for EIU's quarterback, list that starter as Andrew Manley OR Jalen Whitlow. That keeps Minnesota guessing and the rest of us anticipating football season with curiosity.

Brian Nielsen is sports editor of the JG-TC. Contact him at bnielsen@jg-tc.com or 217-238-6856.

Copyright 2014 JG-TC.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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