6 p.m., TCF Bank Stadium • TV: Big Ten Net. • Radio: 107.9-FM

Line: No line (FCS opponent) • Series: First meeting

By JOE CHRISTENSEN • joe.christensen@startribune.com

 

THE OPPONENT

Eastern Illinois plays in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), but the Panthers opened last year with a 40-19 victory at San Diego State, stunning a team that finished 6-2 in the Mountain West Conference. With a prolific offense, EIU went 12-2 and lost to Towson in the FCS quarterfinals. But now the Panthers must replace record-setting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

GOPHERS OFFENSE VS. panthers DEFENSE

Eastern Illinois’ new head coach, Kim Dameron, has 15 years of experience as a defensive coordinator, most recently at Louisiana Tech. EIU returns seven starters from a defense that forced a whopping 37 turnovers last year. But the Panthers must replace both starting cornerbacks, which could help Mitch Leidner establish a rhythm with his wide receivers. Advantage: Gophers.

panthers OFFENSE VS. GOPHERS DEFENSE

Andrew Manley passed for 288 yards and three TDs to help New Mexico State beat the Gophers in 2011. Now, Manley is one of two EIU QBs fighting to replace Garoppolo. The other is Jalen Whitlow, who started 15 games for Kentucky before transferring to EIU. The Panthers use a high-tempo, spread offense, but the Gophers are well-equipped to handle it with a deep secondary. Advantage: Gophers.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Gophers coach Jerry Kill has said he’ll use two place-kickers this year — Ryan Santoso and Andrew Harte. Junior punter Peter Mortell ranked third in the Big Ten last year with a 43.3-yard average. Advantage: Gophers.

 

INTANGIBLES

The forecast calls for rain, which should favor the Gophers, who can control the ball on the ground, while Eastern Illinois likes to air it out. Incoming freshmen students got free tickets, as part of Welcome Week, but the weather could limit the turnout.

Advantage: Gophers.

PREDICTION

Kill drew comparisons between Eastern Illinois and North Dakota State to remind everyone this won’t be easy. But with a new coach and new quarterbacks, the Panthers could be scrambling to iron out first-game kinks. The Gophers will pull away in the second half.

Gophers 45, Eastern Illinois 21.

 

NUMBERS TO KNOW

1,551

Rushing yards last year for Eastern Illinois junior Shepard Little.

2-1

The Gophers’ record against FCS opponents under Kill, including a loss to North Dakota State (2011) and wins over New Hampshire (2012) and Western Illinois (2013).

 

DON’T FORGET ABOUT …

Marcus Jones

In last year’s season opener, he returned the second-half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, keying the 51-23 victory over UNLV.