How the Vikings' 2012 draft class came to be

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 23, 2013 - 10:14 AM

By all accounts, the Vikings’ draft class last year was an immediate success. GM Rick Spielman and his staff show how their plan developed and thrived.

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Coach Leslie Frazier and General Manager Rick Spielman flanked the two biggest prizes of the Vikings’ 2012 draft class, offensive tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith. The two first-rounders quickly became fixtures in the starting lineup for a team that improved from 3-13 in 2001 to 10-6 and in the playoffs.

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The golden rule at Winter Park is nonnegotiable. A draft class cannot be fully evaluated until after three seasons.

So there will be no celebration of the Vikings’ 2012 haul until January 2015. At the earliest.

To rejoice now would be premature, like declaring a Las Vegas trip a success after a hot 30-minute blackjack run.

“What if all those guys we picked last year come back in 2013 and stink it up?” asked General Manager Rick Spielman.

That, of course, is not the expectation. Not with a group whose talent and hunger paid immediate dividends. So even with the three-year rule in place, those within the Vikings organization have no problem expressing unbridled enthusiasm about the momentum built through last year’s draft.

It was a weekend that included 10 picks and four trades, a draft that delivered difference-making starters on offense and defense in Round 1 (Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith); a Pro Bowl steal in Round 6 (Blair Walsh); and plenty of promising complementary parts throughout (see: Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison and Robert Blanton).

Sure, we may only have one season of on-field results to assess. But the internal hunch is that last year’s draft may long be looked at as a landmark turning point.

Said director of college scouting Scott Studwell, entering his 22nd season in the player personnel department: “As long as I’ve been doing this, that class is one of the best if not the best that we’ve had here. A lot of things just clicked.”

So how did it all come together?

And which key elements will the Vikings hope to find again when they charge into another critical draft this weekend?

Here’s our look back …

Day 1: Having a plan, attacking with purpose

In the final days before last year’s draft, two certainties emerged. First, the Vikings were set on making Kalil their top pick. Yet even with that, Spielman also was growing increasingly eager to plunge into one of his favorite activities of the weekend: trade talks.

Convinced Kalil was a can’t-miss future Pro Bowl player, Studwell feared Spielman’s urges to wheel and deal might interfere with the opportunity to land the superb left tackle.

So before leaving Spielman to his fun, Studwell made sure to reassert his stance: Kalil was a must get, no matter what kind of chatter caught the GM’s ear.

“But what if we were to get some crazy, RG3-type compensation offer for that No. 3 pick?” Spielman asked, mostly trying to instigate Studwell.

Studwell didn’t budge.

“Don’t [bleep] this up,” he said. “Seriously. Get Kalil.”

Spielman laughed.

“Oh, no. I was serious about it,” Studwell said. “One hundred percent.”

As it turns out, Spielman and the Vikings danced gracefully through the draft’s first night. Not long before the draft began, Spielman convinced Cleveland GM Tom Heckert that another team was scheming its way up to the Vikings’ slot at No. 3 to nab running back Trent Richardson, the player the Browns most coveted.

We might never know whether that was a legitimate possibility or sly posturing. But somehow Spielman plucked four picks from Cleveland without giving up anything at all. The Vikings simply slid from No. 3 to No. 4 while gathering additional selections in Rounds 4, 5 and 7.

In a draft full of exhilarating moments, that might have provided the biggest jolt.

Said assistant GM George Paton: “That started us off with really good energy.”

The Vikings had gained more than just a good feeling, however. They had collected valuable draft currency, enough to buy flexibility and peace of mind.

So after picking Kalil, they zeroed in on the player they always had coveted with their second pick: Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.

The Vikings debated holding still until their next pick — at No. 35, early in Round 2 — to grab Smith. But that selection would not come until Friday evening. And the thought of waiting frazzled Spielman.

“It would have been a sleepless night,” he said.

So the Vikings reassessed the “hot spots” where Smith conceivably could slip away, then plowed through trade offer calls to teams in the early 20s — Detroit at 23, Pittsburgh at 24, Denver and Houston at 25 and 26.

Eventually, Baltimore latched onto an offer that enabled the Vikings to jump from No. 35 to 29 while surrendering a fourth-rounder.

Harrison Smith was all theirs.

“I’m not sure we make that move back up without those picks we got [from Cleveland],” Paton said. “But we all started talking. Why even risk losing Harrison? We have the ammo. Let’s go get him. Because after Harrison, we didn’t think there was any other safety who could come in and start for us.”

Day 2: A lesson in patience

After drafting Smith, the Vikings were left with only one Friday selection — a third-rounder, pick No. 66.

With a huge need to upgrade his passing offense, Spielman watched as the first run on receivers began. Brian Quick, Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery, Ryan Broyles and Rueben Randle were all taken in Round 2.

And as that receiver run continued, the Vikings began eyeing three potential cornerback targets.

But then at No. 62, Green Bay grabbed Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward. Three picks later, Montana’s Trumaine Johnson landed with St. Louis.

While securing Kalil and Smith on Day 1 had been ideal, the Friday board had not broken perfectly.

Anxiety surged.

“But,” Spielman said, “that’s the other big part of the draft — the patience. And making sure you stay in ‘Don’t panic’ mode.”

Missing out on Hayward and Johnson stung some. But Studwell recalled draft advice from former coach Dennis Green: “You’ve got to like a lot of guys.”

In the big picture, the Vikings still really liked and valued a 21-year-old from Conference USA, a young playmaker with good size, elite speed and plenty of upside.

From New York, former Vikings star Anthony Carter made the official announcement: “With the 66th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Josh Robinson, defensive back, Central Florida.”

Day 3: The passion priority

When Saturday arrived, the Vikings still owned nine picks in the final four rounds. Eventually, they made trades with Detroit and Tennessee to accumulate selections for 2013 while also filling out their 2012 class.

The game plan for the middle-to-later rounds revolved around finding potential, guys who could be immediate special teams contributors while working their way up the depth chart.

With that in mind, Spielman zeroed in on players with obvious passion, which is why the selections of Wright, Blanton, Audie Cole and especially Ellison resonated.

Over the years, Spielman has scrutinized his draft mistakes far more than he has ever celebrated his victories. He says he has learned to place greater value on guys to whom football means the most.

And sure, shortly after being picked in Round 4, Ellison asserted on a conference call that he never expected to be drafted at all. But the Vikings believe he might very well go down as the most underrated selection of a potentially special draft.

In addition to his blocking ability and versatility, Ellison’s work ethic, selfless attitude and enthusiasm surfaced during his interview at the combine followed by a more intimate visit with the Vikings at Southern California when the team went to lock in on Kalil.

“You can see that passion on film. You can get that from talking to your sources,” Spielman said. “We get it from our psychological testing. But then you can really nail it down once you sit there and look the kid square in the eye. … You wait for that little bit that really resonates.”

The exclamation point: late-round luck

No pick from the Vikings’ 2012 draft created more immediate head scratching than the sixth-round selection of Blair Walsh.

Really? With so many holes, the Vikings were using a sixth-round pick on a kicker? And not just a kicker, but a guy who missed 14 field goals as a Georgia senior? At a position where 15-year veteran Ryan Longwell had been ultrareliable?

Yet arguably no other player in the Vikings’ 2012 draft class was more important to last season’s playoff surge. Walsh’s rookie synopsis: A perfect 10-for-10 on field goals from 50 yards or longer. Two game-winners. Fifty-three touchbacks on 86 kickoffs. All-Pro honors.

“Not even we could have foreseen all that,” Studwell said. “We obviously had our reservations. But we could also see his talent. So I guess I’d call it an educated guess.”

With a fortuitous twist.

Leading to the draft, the Vikings talked extensively about finding an upgrade over Longwell. But they only wound up with Walsh after the two other kickers in their sights — Texas A&M’s Randy Bullock and Missouri Western State’s Greg Zuerlein — came off the board at picks 161 and 171 respectively.

The Vikings never had to unveil their choice on which kicker they liked most, holding their breath until Walsh was officially theirs at pick 175.

And the rookie exploded onto the scene, kicking his way to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl after helping the Vikings to the playoffs.

Walsh proved to be another sparkling draft gem in an April 2012 weekend full of them.

Said Studwell: “The whole draft just flowed well. It felt right. We did a great job of evaluating and then moving around to maximize that. And we wound up with a class that everyone felt terrific about.”

Those feelings, it is hoped, will last until the three-year evaluation milestone and beyond.



 

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New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Dallas 38 2nd Qtr 8:14
Orlando 23
Sacramento 51 2nd Qtr 6:36
Indiana 32
Toronto 47 2nd Qtr 7:24
Washington 33
Houston 12 1st Qtr 6:43
Detroit 18
Philadelphia 10 1st Qtr 6:31
Atlanta 10
Cleveland 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Oklahoma City 7:00 PM
Memphis
Portland 7:30 PM
Milwaukee
LA Clippers 8:00 PM
San Antonio
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Denver
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Golden State
Washington 0 FINAL(OT)
Montreal 1
NY Islanders 1 FINAL
Detroit 4
Arizona 2 FINAL
Ottawa 7
Los Angeles 0 2nd Prd
Boston 0
Florida 0 2nd Prd
New Jersey 2
Carolina 0 2nd Prd
NY Rangers 2
Toronto 0 1st Prd 2:31
Philadelphia 1
Dallas 1 1st Prd 2:46
Winnipeg 0
Columbus 0 1st Prd 12:30
Tampa Bay 0
Edmonton 9:00 PM
Calgary
Chicago 9:30 PM
San Jose
Boston College 49 FINAL
Clemson 64
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Eastern Mich 69
NC State 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Wisconsin 74 FINAL
Iowa 63
Stony Brook 48 FINAL
New Hampshire 63
Notre Dame 72 FINAL
Pittsburgh 76
Providence 66 FINAL
St Johns 75
Davidson 70 FINAL
Saint Josephs 75
Xavier 82 FINAL
Seton Hall 90
Tulane 37 FINAL
Temple 55
Auburn 63 FINAL
Tennessee 71
Texas Tech 58 FINAL
West Virginia 77
Arkansas 56 FINAL
Florida 57
Penn State 58 FINAL
Illinois 60
Lipscomb 73 FINAL
Stetson 75
South Florida 71 FINAL
Tulsa 78
Bradley 58 FINAL
Indiana State 64
UMass Lowell 69 FINAL
Binghamton 76
Green Bay 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 76
Georgetown 67 FINAL
Creighton 40
Coll of Charleston 68 FINAL
Delaware 71
Villanova 68 FINAL
DePaul 55
Vermont 65 FINAL
Hartford 46
TCU 66 FINAL
Iowa State 83
Kennesaw St 51 FINAL
Jacksonville 50
Kansas State 57 FINAL
Kansas 68
Boston Univ 86 FINAL
Lehigh 89
Illinois State 48 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
Albany 77 FINAL
Maine 59
Butler 72 FINAL
Marquette 68
LSU 67 FINAL
Miss State 73
Mount St Marys 77 FINAL
Sacred Heart 71
Richmond 64 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 55
Virginia Tech 70 FINAL
Wake Forest 73
IUPU-Ft Wayne 75 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 65
Arkansas State 43 FINAL
Georgia State 74
Loyola-Maryland 77 FINAL
Army 71
Tenn Tech 53 FINAL
Belmont 71
Bethune-Cookman 61 FINAL
Florida A&M 44
Valparaiso 70 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 65
UAB 65 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 57
Idaho State 69 FINAL
North Dakota 80
Evansville 65 FINAL
Drake 70
Rutgers 64 FINAL
Indiana 72
Ball State 73 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 79
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alcorn State 51
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Drexel 85
Coastal Carolina 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 66
Morgan State 48 FINAL
Howard 64
William & Mary 84 FINAL
James Madison 65
North Carolina 68 FINAL
Louisville 78
Coppin State 82 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 92
Ole Miss 67 FINAL
Missouri 47
Wichita State 54 FINAL
Northern Iowa 70
Loyola Marymount 76 FINAL
Pacific 71
Winthrop 66 FINAL
Radford 73
George Washington 55 FINAL
Rhode Island 59
Bryant 71 FINAL
Robert Morris 68
Long Island 64 FINAL
St Francis-NY 81
Fair-Dickinson 63 FINAL
St Francis-PA 68
Massachusetts 60 FINAL
Saint Louis 56
Georgia 50 FINAL
South Carolina 67
Central Conn St 55 FINAL
Wagner 86
SIU Edwardsville 54 FINAL
Eastern Ill 57
Ohio 69 FINAL
Central Mich 74
Eastern Ky 66 FINAL
Morehead State 57
Incarnate Word 69 FINAL
Nicholls 58
Campbell 63 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 70
Vanderbilt 58 FINAL
Texas A&M 69
Western Carolina 78 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 73
Detroit 74 FINAL
Milwaukee 78
Idaho 95 FINAL
Eastern Wash 98
Marshall 57 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 81
Jackson State 62 FINAL
Miss Valley St 75
Houston Baptist 52 FINAL
Sam Houston St 63
Louisiana 71 2nd Half 0:43
Texas State 63
Denver 39 FINAL
South Dakota St 69
Oral Roberts 73 FINAL
South Dakota 72
South Alabama 61 FINAL
ULM 67
Texas 53 2nd Half 5:56
Baylor 71
Citadel 61 2nd Half 3:42
Chattanooga 72
Fresno State 48 2nd Half 5:31
Colorado State 72
Yale 59 2nd Half 1:45
Cornell 48
Ark-Pine Bluff 47 2nd Half 7:30
Grambling St 44
Nebraska 42 2nd Half 1:01
Minnesota 59
Purdue 55 2nd Half 3:54
Northwestern 48
Alabama A&M 23 2nd Half 20:00
Prairie View 47
Dartmouth 53 FINAL
Princeton 64
Pepperdine 56 2nd Half 4:57
St Marys-CA 53
Delaware State 53 2nd Half 5:40
SC State 60
Western Ky 63 2nd Half 6:28
Southern Miss 51
Nevada 48 2nd Half 1:43
Wyoming 56
Hampton 34 2nd Half 15:04
Norfolk State 35
NC A&T 33 2nd Half 14:28
Savannah State 30
Akron 29 2nd Half
Bowling Green 29
Colgate 25 1st Half 2:00
Bucknell 25
FIU 44 2nd Half
Charlotte 31
Brown 35 1st Half 0:03
Columbia 39
George Mason 15 1st Half 0:03
Duquesne 22
NC Central 35 1st Half 0:10
East Tenn St 28
Saint Peters 25 2nd Half
Iona 25
Alabama 17 1st Half 3:34
Kentucky 32
Char Southern 35 1st Half 2:13
Liberty 29
Hawaii 27 2nd Half
Long Beach State 26
New Orleans 10 1st Half 10:40
McNeese State 16
Lafayette 40 2nd Half
Navy 37
Elon 25 1st Half 2:10
Northeastern 36
Fla Atlantic 30 2nd Half
Old Dominion 29
Harvard 36 2nd Half
Penn 15
La Salle 24 1st Half 3:48
St Bonaventure 20
Furman 29 2nd Half
Samford 29
Duke 26 1st Half 0:12
Virginia 25
Mercer 26 2nd Half
Wofford 20
Northern Ky 29 1st Half 0:58
Fla Gulf Coast 41
USC Upstate 33 1st Half 1:22
North Florida 44
Longwood 35 1st Half 0:15
Presbyterian 27
Ark-Little Rock 13 1st Half 13:37
Ga Southern 7
Abilene Christian 29 1st Half 6:49
Lamar 24
TX A&M-CC 12 1st Half 8:36
Stephen F Austin 12
SE Missouri St 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
CS-Northridge 7:00 PM
UC Riverside
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Hofstra
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Murray State
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Oklahoma State
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SMU
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Missouri State
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Texas-Arlington
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Tennessee St
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Texas Southern
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Washington St
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BYU
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New Mexico St
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Southern Utah
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Texas-El Paso
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Grand Canyon
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CS-Bakersfield
Montana State 9:05 PM
Portland State
Montana 9:05 PM
Sacramento St
Colorado 9:30 PM
UCLA
UMKC 9:30 PM
Utah Valley U
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Sacred Heart 71
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Middle Tennessee 74
Arkansas State 61 FINAL
Georgia State 47
Bryant 84 FINAL
Robert Morris 87
Central Conn St 83 FINAL
Wagner 67
Fairleigh Dickinson 78 FINAL
St Francis-PA 60
Long Island 53 FINAL
St Francis-NY 62
Bethune-Cookman 70 FINAL
Florida A&M 57
Longwood 56 FINAL
Campbell 68
Charleston Southern 40 FINAL
Winthrop 77
Louisiana Tech 68 FINAL
Marshall 67
Ohio U 74 FINAL
Central Michigan 66
Western Mich 61 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 53
Coppin State 58 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 66
Incarnate Word 34 FINAL
Nicholls 67
Samford 46 FINAL
East Tenn St 48
Western Carolina 72 FINAL
Furman 84
Gardner-Webb 71 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 65
Liberty 58 FINAL
High Point 41
Presbyterian 46 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 59
Kent State 67 FINAL
Akron 74
Northern Ill 65 FINAL
Ball State 62
Houston 66 FINAL
Cincinnati 69
SIU-Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 48
Eastern Kentucky 58 FINAL
Morehead St 76
Holy Cross 67 FINAL
American Univ 61
Army 62 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 53
Niagara 53 FINAL
Manhattan 46
Lehigh 78 FINAL
Boston U 71
Navy 65 FINAL
Lafayette 60
Saint Josephs 57 FINAL
Davidson 52
Duquesne 56 FINAL
Fordham 46
George Washington 87 FINAL
George Mason 52
St Bonaventure 77 FINAL
Massachusetts 57
Milwaukee 64 FINAL
Youngstown St 87
Jacksonville 78 FINAL
Kennesaw St 64
North Florida 49 FINAL
USC Upstate 61
St Marys-CA 53 FINAL
Pepperdine 49
Nebraska Omaha 49 FINAL
IUPUI 68
Houston Baptist 67 FINAL
Sam Houston St 74
Mercer 59 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 71
No Dakota State 52 FINAL
South Dakota St 82
Oral Roberts 70 FINAL
South Dakota 93
Southern Miss 63 FINAL
Western Ky 61
TX-San Antonio 57 FINAL
UAB 73
East Carolina 67 FINAL
Tulane 63
South Florida 57 FINAL
Memphis 53
Buffalo 75 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 53
New Mexico St 74 FINAL
TX-Pan American 71
Utah Valley U 58 FINAL
UMKC 61
Jackson State 71 FINAL
Miss Valley St 74
Louisiana 83 FINAL
Texas State 81
South Alabama 53 FINAL
ULM 55
Saint Louis 72 FINAL
Dayton 87
Cleveland State 72 FINAL
Oakland 64
Grand Canyon 76 FINAL
Chicago State 51
UCLA 65 FINAL
Oregon 67
Washington St 56 FINAL
(12) Stanford 75
Kansas State 41 FINAL
Texas Tech 38
UNLV 91 FINAL
Air Force 79
UCF 61 FINAL
Tulsa 70
UNC Greensboro 64 FINAL
Wofford 77
Delaware State 62 FINAL
SC State 64
San Diego State 70 FINAL
Utah State 59
Sacramento St 86 FINAL
Montana 94
Northern Colorado 52 FINAL
Weber State 59
Hampton 66 FINAL
Norfolk State 71
NC A&T 53 FINAL
Savannah State 48
Alabama A&M 64 FINAL
Prairie View 81
Toledo 64 FINAL
Bowling Green 48
Ark-Pine Bluff 56 FINAL
Grambling 75
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alcorn State 51
Marist 63 FINAL
Iona 58
Bucknell 41 FINAL
Colgate 54
North Dakota 69 FINAL
Idaho State 75
Ark-Little Rock 58 FINAL
Georgia Southern 44
BYU 58 FINAL
Santa Clara 56
Gonzaga 85 FINAL
Portland 63
Pacific 84 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 61
Abilene Christian 72 FINAL
Lamar 76
Colorado State 49 FINAL
Fresno State 53
New Mexico 64 FINAL
San Jose St 62
UC Davis 60 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 54
San Diego 74 FINAL
San Francisco 69
New Orleans 58 FINAL
McNeese State 82
TX A&M-CC 55 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 64
Old Dominion 72 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 44
Tenn Tech 53 FINAL
Belmont 59
Eastern Washington 98 FINAL
Idaho 95
Stetson 82 FINAL
Lipscomb 77
Washington 58 FINAL
California 82
USC 35 FINAL
(7) Oregon State 68
IUPU-Ft Wayne 55 FINAL
Western Ill 59
Northwestern St 52 FINAL
SE Louisiana 58
SE Missouri St 30 2nd Half
Austin Peay 34
Portland State 46 FINAL
Montana State 63
Charlotte 81 FINAL
FIU 62
Morgan State 77 FINAL
Howard 64
(19) Princeton 83 FINAL
Dartmouth 65
UT Martin 95 FINAL
Murray State 85
Columbia 54 2nd Half 8:12
Brown 66
Penn 67 2nd Half 0:31
Harvard 61
Troy 67 2nd Half 1:03
TX-Arlington 68
Alabama State 27 2nd Half 12:19
Texas Southern 51
Jacksonville St 53 2nd Half 6:19
Tennessee St 45
Wyoming 24 1st Half 0:27
Nevada 27
Oklahoma St 36 2nd Half
Iowa State 31
CS-Bakersfield 32 2nd Half
Seattle 33
La Salle 24 1st Half 3:30
VA Commonwealth 21
Cal-Irvine 24 1st Half 1:07
Cal Poly 34
Fla Gulf Coast 29 2nd Half
Northern Ky 21
Green Bay 7:00 PM
Illinois-Chicago
Southern Utah 3 1st Half 16:38
Northern Ariz 3
Cal State Fullerton 9:00 PM
Long Beach St
CS-Northridge 9:00 PM
Hawaii
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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