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With just 38 days to go until the pigskin (officially) flies through the air for the first time at Iowa, we'll be previewing all 10 TTU opponents here on TTUsports.com.
Countdown to camp: 13 days
Countdown to season opener: 38 days
Countdown to home opener: 43 days
Who: Eastern Illinois Panthers
What: Game 3, Ohio Valley Conference Opener
When: Saturday, Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m. CT
Where: O'Brien Field, Charleston, Ill. (10,000)
Bob Spoo, the dean of coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference returns for his 25th and final season on the Eastern Illinois sidelines looking to guide the Panthers to their 14th NCAA FCS playoff appearance. Spoo currently ranks fourth among Division I coaches with the longest tenure at one school trailing Penn State’s Joe Paterno, Albany’s Bob Ford and Villanova’s Andy Talley on that list.
Spoo announced at a press conference in November that the 2011 season would be his final year at EIU. The 2011 season will mark his 25th season at EIU and his 50th year coaching football at the high school and collegiate levels.
After posting a 2-9 record a year ago, the 2011 Panthers are projected for seventh place in the OVC. A roster with 36 returning lettermen including 17 starters hopes to prove the prediction wrong and send Spoo out on a high note.
Defensively, linebacker Cory Leman is the headliner after finishing second on the squad last season with 95 total tackles and five tackles-for-loss. Also back in their starting slots are rover Nick Martinez (third on the team with 74 tackles) and middle linebacker Gordy Kickels (fourth in tackles with 72 including 7.5 tackles-for-loss). Up front, defensive end Artavious Dowdell was named to the preseason all-OVC team after posting 12.5 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 quarterback sacks.
On the other side of scrimmage, seven starters return including four of five up front. That group is led by preseason all-OVC selection Erik Zink at left guard. Also back ar Kevin Kapellas at right tackle, Alex Pierce at right guard, and Dominic Pagliara at left tackle. Mike O'Neill is also back after starting seven games, including four at center.
That experienced line will work in front of quarterback Jimmy Garopollo, who earned the starting role for the final eight games and passed for 1,639 yards and 14 touchdowns. Erik Lora, the team's leading receiver with 50 catches for 478 yards and two touchdowns, returns to headline the receiving corps. Also back is senior receiver Lorence Ricks, who had 20 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
Tech trails in the all-time series against EIU, 12-5, after claiming a 34-20 win in Cookeville a year ago. In fact Tech has lost five consecutive games to the Panthers in O'Brien Stadium and is 2-6 all-time in Charleston. Tech earned a 41-14 win at EIU in 1976, and claimed a 14-7 victory in 1999 for it's only two wins at EIU.
Senior Linebacker Cory Leman