Early FCS Poll Has Eastern Illinois in Top 25

CHARLESTON, Ill. – While a lot of attention this week has been placed on former Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and his opportunity to start the season for the New England Patriots, the current Panthers squad, under second year head coach Kim Dameron, looks to make a mark of its own during the 2015 season.  The Panthers have been ranked No. 25 in the Sporting News FCS Preseason Top 25 released on Wednesday.

EIU returns 16 starters from last year's team that was in the thick of the Ohio Valley Conference Championship race until the final weeks of the season.  Of those 16 starters two return as first team All-OVC defensive players in linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and safety Jourdan Wickliffe.  EIU has four players returning that earned second team All-OVC honors last year with quarterback Jalen Whitlow, offensive linemen Nick Borre and Evan Kanz and defensive lineman Dino Fanti.  Kicker Nick Bruno returns after earning freshmen All-American honors as a member of the All-OVC Newcomer team.    After missing part of last season with injuries EIU will return running back Shepard Little, a first team All-OVC back in 2013; and offensive tackle Jimmy Lowery, a freshman All-American in 2013.  Add to that mix two transfer running backs in Devin Church and Korliss Marshall and the Panthers should once again have a potent offense to go with a veteran defense.

Defending National Champion North Dakota State was ranked as the preseason number one followed by Sam Houston State, Illinois State, Villanova and Eastern Washington in the top five.  Coastal Carolina was sixth followed by Jacksonville State, Chattanooga, Montana State, Youngstown State, Northern Iowa, James Madison, Idaho State, Eastern Kentucky and Montana in the top 15.  The final ten schools in the preseason top 25 were Liberty, Stephen F. Austin, New Hampshire, Indiana State, Alcorn State, Southeastern Louisiana, Northern Arizona, South Dakota State, Charleston Southern and Eastern Illinois.

The Panthers open the season on Thursday, Sept. 3 at Western Illinois and then visit Big Ten member Northwestern on Sept. 12.  EIU's home opener is the Mid-America Classic against Illinois State on Sept. 19. 
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