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A Foundation Built on Loyalty

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seniors_blog.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Loyalty means more to the small group of Penn State seniors on the 2014 team than it would to just about any other class in the program's iconic history.

Alongside its two predecessors in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 senior class will go down as a group of individuals who deserve more recognition than they have gotten credit for.

In July of 2012, this group, more than any other, had a distinct opportunity to leave the challenges following the NCAA sanctions announcement. The players in this group of seniors could have walked out the door and played three full seasons anywhere in America.

Anyone in the class could have left without any repercussions to attend a school that could compete for a conference title, post-season berth or a national championship.

The entire group faced open recruitment by dozens of schools across the country.

No student-athlete signed up for the challenges and scrutiny bestowed upon them starting in November 2011 and magnified the following July, so it would have been easy to leave. And some of their teammates and classmates did just that.

But knowing the road would be a challenge unlike any other student-athletes had ever faced, this small collection of men refused to leave their family behind.

A bond had been forged inside the locker room and in their residences, and this resilient group refused to break it.

The players knew they couldn't play in a bowl game. They knew they couldn't compete for a national championship. They knew the deck was almost insurmountably stacked against them.

They didn't care.

For this group, the sanctions, hurdles and hardships brought the group closer together. The situation reaffirmed their passion for the University they had committed to.

The Penn State community embraced the group of players with open arms, and the group is forever grateful for the support from the thousands of Blue and White faithful worldwide.

But for the past three years, their actions have spoken louder than any words. These seniors played for one another. They played for their families. They played for the players who wore the blue and white before them. They played for Penn State. And they did everything with class.

"You always want to leave a legacy with your peers where they remember you as a group that set an example," guard Miles Dieffenbach said. "We all tried to be a role figure, and it means a lot to leave here knowing we did that."

It's impossible to imagine what it might have been like to walk in the shoes of men like safety Adrian Amos, running back Bill Belton, linebacker Mike Hull, defensive end C.J. Olaniyan or running back Zach Zwinak. Despite the odds of competing in the Big Ten with a roster of limited scholarships, the group's confidence never wavered.

"I think we have been able to be so successful against the odds because Penn State is so special," Hull said. "Everyone understood the importance of upholding the legacy of this University and the football program."

This group's college experience has been unique to any other in the history of Penn State Football, which is why the group deserves the utmost respect from any supporter of the program or intercollegiate athletics. They worked hard for one another in the toughest of circumstances because that is the only thing they knew how to do.

"I just wanted to enjoy it and cherish every moment," Amos said. "This process helped develop me as a person and made me stronger as a man. There were a lot a chances to quit and get angry, but I came here for a reason."

It was clear two years ago that the current seniors weren't playing for accolades or a bowl game. The quest for success was far bigger than wins and losses on the field. The group saw the situation not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to grow together.

"Whether it is in life or in football, this is something that you had to adapt to," Belton said. "We found a way to make things work."

But that doesn't mean the 2014 seniors weren't more deserving of a chance at a post-season game than anyone else in college football. When the NCAA lifted the ban on post-season play on Sept. 8, head coach James Franklin called every member of the team who was on the roster in July of 2012 to the front of the meeting room to stand before the rest of the team.

Franklin and the underclassmen gave the collection of players standing in the front of the room a rousing, standing ovation and pleaded with the young players in the room to play the rest of the 2014 season for the men who had been through never ending adversity, especially the seniors.

"We are so appreciative of all the things you guys have done," Franklin said.

Behind a dominant defense, the Nittany Lions reached a sixth win and bowl eligibility with a 30-13 victory over Temple. And while the seniors never suited up for the right to play in a bowl game, they deserved the moment they shared with one another inside the winning locker room on Nov. 15.

"I think the bowl game is just a great reward because of everything we have gone through," Hull said.

"It's a sense of accomplishment that we stuck together," Amos said. "It's rewarding that we will have this opportunity that we have worked hard for."

Penn State's season will extend beyond the Michigan State. The extra practices and additional game will pay huge dividends for the nation's second-youngest team. But more importantly, this group of seniors will have an opportunity to be together as a family for one more month.

The 2014 senior class is a rare group that embodies loyalty beyond any words.

Prior to the season, nine members of the senior class had already earned their degrees. Amos and Tyrone Smith are on schedule to graduate in December, along with six redshirt juniors, for a total of 11 seniors and 17 players who have earned their degrees prior to Penn State's bowl game.

Despite all the obstacles, the 2014 seniors have been instrumental in the Nittany Lions earning a 30-17 record the past four years, with three winning seasons and an opportunity for a fourth during their careers.

"It's just a great group of people," Amos said. "This is a group that wanted to be a part of building something. I just love this senior class."

"We talk about it all the time as a group about how we stuck together as a family," Olaniyan said.

The seniors may not leave with all the victories and championships they had hoped to win when they committed to Penn State, but the group's battle through adversity gives success a far different meaning than wins and losses. In a situation that few thought would be possible for the program to survive, this group stood tall with dignity, class and an unrivaled work-ethic.

"The legacy we want to leave is that we kept fighting. We stuck together," Amos said. "There is always light at the end of the tunnel. If you keep fighting, you will find that light."

It's a group that let its actions set an example for individuals in all facets of life. It's a group that has earned the respect from everyone who supports the Blue and White. And it's a group summed up best in one statement from Mike Hull.

"I love Penn State so much."

VIDEO: James Franklin Postgame vs. Michigan State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talks with the media following Saturday's Senior Day game against No. 10 Michigan State.

VIDEO: Postgame Player Interviews - Michigan State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Several Nittany Lions talk with the media following Saturday's Senior Day game against No. 10 Michigan State.

2014 Photo Blog - Penn State vs. Michigan State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to's coverage of the 2014 football season. Check back often for an inside look at the Penn State's final regular season game of the season against Michigan State.


2014 Game Blog - Penn State vs. Michigan State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to's live, interactive coverage of the 2014 football season. Tune in for live blog coverage from all 12 games on the schedule. Penn State closes out the season with a matchup against Michigan State inside Beaver Stadium.

Live Blog 2014 Game Blog - Penn State vs. Michigan State

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Gameday Preview - Lions Host Michigan State on Senior Day

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GAME BLOG - Penn State vs. Michigan State

Game Notes | Gameday Central | Michigan State Scouting Report | Coach Franklin Wednesday

Press Conference Roundup | Coach Shoop Q&A | Player Q&A Video | Community Service

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions (6-5, 2-5) will host No. 10 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) on Senior Day inside Beaver Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday with television coverage on ABC (ESPN2 outer markets).

10578368.jpegPenn State will pay tribute to a special group of seniors prior to Saturday's game. The program will honor a collection of 17 players who have exhibited unrivaled commitment to Penn State during some of its toughest times. A senior class that has seemingly gone through everything during its time in the Blue and White is deserving of a standing ovation from the Beaver Stadium faithful on Saturday.

The list of players who will be honored includes: Adrian Amos, DeShawn Baker, Brad Bars, Bill Belton, Drew Boyce, Jesse Della Valle, Miles Dieffenbach, Sam Ficken, Mike Hull, Ryan Keiser, Jesse Merise, C.J. Olaniyan, Devin Pryor, T.J. Rhattigan, Tyrone Smith, Deron Thompson and Zach Zwinak.

The Nittany Lions are coming off a tough 16-14 setback at Illinois last week after the Fighting Illini made a game-winning field goal with eight seconds left. The Lions enter the final week of the regular season having held nine of their 11 opponents to fewer than 20 points in regulation this season.

Penn State is the only FBS team in the top five in rushing defense, total defense, pass efficiency defense and scoring defense. The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the nation against the run (81.7 ypg.), No. 3 in the nation in total defense (267.2 ypg) and No. 4 in the nation in scoring defense (16.2 ppg) and No. 3 in pass efficiency defense (94.78).

Additionally, Penn State is second in third down conversion percentage defense (27.6 percent), is third in the nation in first downs defense (156 total), is 15th in passes intercepted (15) and is No. 17 in passing yards allowed (185.5 ypg).

Penn State is also one of just two teams in the nation to have not allowed a rushing play of 30 or more yards (Syracuse). The Lions also lead the nation with fewest plays of 30 or more yards allowed this season (7).

Saturday's game will pit one of the Big Ten's top defenses against one of the top offenses. Michigan State enters the final week of the season
ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense (514.5 ypg) and the No. 3 in the Big Ten in total defense (299.0 ypg). Rated as the Big Ten's top passing offense, Michigan State has scored 27 or more points in every game on the schedule this season and is averaging 43.9 points per game.

The Senior Day game is also a Blue Out. Fans are encouraged to wear blue attire to support Prevent Child Abuse PA. Official Blue Out shirts have been available for purchase at the Penn State Bookstore and other downtown outlets since the summer, with proceeds going to Prevent Child Abuse PA.

The Penn State Blue Band will pay tribute to retiring director Dr. Dick Bundy with a halftime performance featuring music that he arranged and the formations he designed during his career, including music and formations used in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and 1986 Orange Bowl.

The Nittany Lions and Spartans will battle for the Land Grant Trophy on Saturday. Penn State and Michigan State were the nation's first two Land Grant institutions, both founded in February of 1855.

Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week 12 matchup against Michigan State.

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Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
10578370.jpeg1. Seventeen seniors will be honored for their efforts before kickoff, but one name stands out in the group. Simply put, Mike Hull's impact on the 2014 team cannot be measured in statistics. The Pittsburgh native has been incredibly productive and consistent since the season began in Ireland on Nov. 30. Entering the week as the Big Ten's top tackler (11.0 tpg), Hull has a knack for being in a great position to make plays on virtually every single snap. His work ethic on the practice field is second to none, and Hull has made everyone around him elevate their game this fall. Hull has played a season at middle linebacker among the greatest players in Linebacker U history, and he is deserving of a big game in his final outing at Beaver Stadium.

2. No player has felt the effects of Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach being back in the lineup on the offensive line more than junior running back Akeel Lynch. On the heels of a career-high 28 carries and career-best 137 yards at Illinois, Lynch's confidence is at an all-time high. Lynch tallied his second-straight 100-yard performance in Champaign last week, which included a 47-yard touchdown run. Against a Michigan State defense that has been stingy against the ground attack, the Lions will need another strong outing from Lynch and the running back corps this week.

3. Like Hull and so many of the senior members of the team, kicker Sam Ficken has earned the respect of every single member of the football program for his work ethic and production and ability to overcome adversity. Ficken has been consistent every step of the way in 2014. He is 22-of-26 on field goal attempts (all four misses were blocked) in 2014. Ficken is ranked 11th in the nation in field goal percentage (84.6 percent) and third in the nation in field goals per game (2.00). Ranked second in Penn State history with 52 made field goals, the Indiana native will go down as one of Penn State's most productive kickers.

What to Watch For - Michigan State
10578344.jpeg1. Penn State leads the nation in defending the run at 81.7 yards per game. The unit will face a stiff test on Saturday against Michigan State junior Jeremy Langford. The Spartan running back enters the weekend having eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 14 consecutive Big Ten games (Longest streak in FBS conference games since the stat has been kept in 1996). Langford is a big, physical back with great speed. He will be looking to set a school record of nine-straight 100-yard games.

2. In the passing game, Michigan State junior Connor Cook and wide receiver Tony Lippett have been a formidable duo for the Spartan offense. Cook is the Big Ten's passing leader with 2,720 yards (21 touchdowns and 5 interceptions) while completing 59 percent of his passes. Lippett is the Big Ten's only 1,000-yard receiver thus far. He has made 56 receptions and scored a Big Ten-best 10 touchdowns.

3. Defensively, the Spartans field a talented collection of impact players. Safety Kurtis Drummond leads Michigan State with 59 tackles and four interceptions this season. The Spartans have three players with 11.0 tackles for loss, including standout defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Michigan State leads the nation in turnover margin (+1.73) and is No. 3 in turnovers gained this season (31).

The Final Word:
The 2014 senior class has been instrumental in helping Penn State earning a 30-18 on-field record during unprecedented circumstances in the last four years. The senior class has earned three-straight winning seasons and will have a chance for a fourth on Saturday. Nine of the 17 seniors graduated prior to the start of the 2014 season. The group also includes the No. 3 scorer in school history, one of the program's elite tacklers, a 2,000-yard rusher and six of the seven team captains. Additionally, the Nittany Lions are thrilled to pay tribute to safety Ryan Keiser, whose season was cut short with a season-ending injury prior to the Ohio State game. Keiser's maturity and leadership have been paramount to Penn State's success during the last for seasons. The kickoff is set for 3:36 p.m. on Saturday with Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham and Jeanine Edwards calling the ABC broadcast.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Happy Thanksgiving from Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 'Tis the season for giving thanks, and the Penn State Athletics would like to take an opportunity to say thank you to the loyal fans on Thanksgiving.

As you sit down with family and friends to eat your traditional meal while the Lions and Cowboys host their annual Thanksgiving day home games, Penn State Athletics would like to thank you, the fans, for the unrivaled support you give every team on campus.  Penn State's teams would not be the same without the greatest fans in college sports.

As a token of their appreciation, several student-athletes from teams on campus would like to say thank you and Happy Thanksgiving for the support you give them throughout the athletic season.

VIDEO: James Franklin Practice Update - Michigan State Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin provided an update to the media following Wednesday's practice session inside Holuba Hall. The Nittany Lions host Michigan State in Saturday's Senior Day game (3:30 on ABC).

Michigan State Week Q&A - Assistant Coach Bob Shoop

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10578272.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State defensive coordinator and safeties coach Bob Shoop spoke with the media on Thursday.  The Nittany Lions host Michigan State in the final regular season game on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (ABC). Take a look at a Q&A with Shoop.

Q: When you got here in January and looked at all of the personnel, did you think this unit could play as well as it has this year?
"At that time, I didn't know. When I got here, I'd studied all of the personnel and I knew there was potential. I knew there was a nice nucleus of seniors...I knew Deion Barnes. I knew who Austin Johnson was. I knew C.J. Olaniyan. I certainly knew who Mike Hull and Adrian Amos were. The guys are hungry. They are team-first individuals. They play hard. And I think is a group that embodies the thought that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They've been really neat overachievers."

Q: Were you able to put your finger on what the defense needed to do a little bit better at the end of the Illinois game and how did the unit bounce back?
"It was just a couple plays. (Mike) Dudek and (Reilly) O'Toole made a couple plays. And I think you certainly give them credit. Bill Cubit is an outstanding offensive coordinator. Dudek played a great game on senior day, and O'Toole came up with a couple big plays. We misplayed the first two. We played 72 snaps in that game. You hold them to 282 yards and 14 out of 16 on third down and you don't execute in the two-minute drill. We stepped up at the end and made them kick a field goal, but we needed to block it obviously at that particular point. I think Coach might have said this yesterday; there is a difference between playing well and playing winning football. We need to execute in all situations. We didn't do as well as we needed to at the end of the Illinois game.

"We did a two-minute drill yesterday against the offense, and they executed very, very well. They are a resilient group. They are very confident. We always have a 24-hour rule, good or bad. Twenty-four hours after the game, we have a Sunday meeting to debrief the previous day's game. I show them a good, bad and ugly tape. We evaluate all of the situations to show what we did well and what we did poorly. And then we move on to the next opponent. The players are really excited to play Michigan State this weekend."

Q: What can you say about Ryan Keiser and what he meant to the defense? And how much will it mean to you to see him get honored with the senior class?
"Words probably can't express what it means to me to see him out on the field with his teammates on Saturday. That was really one of the weirdest, flukiest things I've ever gone through as a coach on the Thursday before Ohio State...We thought he had the wind knocked out of him, and then for him to have gone through what he has gone through during the past month has been tough. Someone put it really well to me, there is probably no one in our program more equipped to handle such a thing than Ryan because he is married. He's so mature. He recognizes that football is what he does and not who he is. He's handled it incredibly well and unselfishly. I've gotten to know his wife McKenzie during this period better than I knew her before. What he brought to the team that people don't recognize, he is one of those unique people who can make everyone around him not only a better player, but a better person. I include myself in that...As good of a football player as he is, he is a better person. He can be on my team any day. I can promise you that."

Q: How would you describe the improvement Deion Barnes has made this year and his commitment to get better?
"Deion is awesome. I saw it when I first got on the job here. When I first got on the job here the perception was that in (2013), he took a little bit of a step backwards. I watched a lot of the game film, and I didn't necessarily see it that way. He and Sean Spencer developed an incredible relationship. And he and I developed a really good relationship. He's a man of few words. He doesn't say a whole lot, but his approach to getting better as a person and as a football player everyday was incredible...There is probably not a player who practices more consistently than he does. He has great fundamentals. He has great techniques."

Q: How much of an impact do you think Mike Hull has had on Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell through the whole season?
"That is a great question. Mike Hull has had an impact on our entire unit, this entire team, and maybe the entire program. I don't know that I have ever seen a person be more of an ultimate teammate than he is. Similar to Deion, Mike is a person of few words. It's not like he is the most vocal guy. But when he says something, it has a significant amount of substance. To him, it's not talking about it, it's being about it. It's about how he approached winter program, how he approached the new staff with tremendous energy, about how he embraced being the quarterback of the defense. Certainly, he helped Brandon and Nyeem take their games to another level. But certainly he helped a lot of people on the defense take their game to the next level. In some ways, he's like a quarterback on the field. And he has really taken the next step now that Keiser is out."

Q: Remarks on the Michigan State offense...
"Michigan State will certainly provide as tremendous of a challenge that we have faced all year. Connor Cook is an outstanding quarterback who is playing really well. (Jeremy) Langford is a tremendous running back. They have great depth at running back. They've got good tight ends. They've got a stable full of wide receivers. And their offensive line is really very, very good."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Opponent Previews - Michigan State

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10578006.jpegMichigan State | Beaver Stadium | 3:30 p.m. | ABC
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State hosts No. 10/8 Michigan State on Saturday in the final game of the regular season. Get to know the Spartans in this week's scouting report.

Mark Dantonio is in his eighth year leading the Spartans. Dantonio is 73-31 at Michigan State and 91-48 overall. The Spartans went 13-1 overall and 8-0 in the Big Ten in 2013, winning the Big Ten Championship and defeated Stanford, 24-20, in the Rose Bowl. Michigan State returned 46 lettermen and 12 starters from last year.

The Spartans improved to 9-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play with a 45-3 win over Rutgers last Saturday. Michigan State's offense gained 520 yards, including 242 on the ground. Quarterback Connor Cook completed 16-of-24 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Jeremy Langford gained 126 yards and scored twice on 16 carries. Fellow back Nick Hill contributed 61 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Tony Lippett caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. R.J. Shelton had three receptions for 39 yards and a score.

Michigan State allowed only 234 yards and 95 yards rushing. The Spartans also forced three interceptions, with safety Kurtis Drummond, linebacker Riley Bullough and cornerback Arjen Colquhoun all recording picks. Drummond added six tackles, including five solo. Linebacker Ed Davis led the Spartans with seven tackles. Defensive tackle Joel Heath added five stops, two for loss and a sack.

The Spartan offense averages nearly 44 points per game, ranking second in the conference. They lead the conference averaging 514.5 yards and 269 passing yards per game. They also rank fifth in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging 245.5 yards.

Junior Connor Cook sits atop the Big Ten with 2,720 yards passing. He has completed 59 percent of his passes and thrown 21 touchdowns and five interceptions. Cook also has two rushing touchdowns.

Jeremy Langford, a 6-foot-1, 208-pound junior, has 1,242 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, with 17 touchdowns. Langford has rushed for 100 yards in 14 straight Big Ten regular-season games. It is the longest 100-yard streak in the FBS for regular-season conference games since STATS began tracking records in 1996. Langford also has eight catches for 55 yards. Five-foot-eight, 196-pound senior Nick Hill has contributed 596 yards and nine scores, while 6-foot-1, 228-pound sophomore Delton Williams has 314 yards and five touchdowns.

Senior Tony Lippett leads the Spartan receivers with 56 catches for 1,071 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 Lippett averages 19.1 yards per catch. Junior Macgarrett Kings Jr., 5-foot-10, has 336 yards and a score on 24 receptions. Tight end Josiah Price, 6-foot-4, has 23 catches for 347 yards and five touchdowns.

The physical Michigan State offensive line includes two redshirt seniors, two juniors and a sophomore. The five combine for 109 career starts. Center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin were named midseason first team All-Big Ten by Phil Steele.

The Spartan defense ranks in the Top 25 in the nation in virtually every major statistical category. They rank 22nd in scoring defense, allowing 20.8 points per game, and eighth in total defense, allowing 299 yards per game. They give up 103 rushing yards per game, ranking eighth, and 196 passing yards, ranking 25th. Michigan State leads the nation in turnover margin and has forced 31 turnovers. They have returned three interceptions for touchdowns.

Defensive end Shilique Calhoun leads the line with 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Calhoun has 33 tackles, tied for the lead on the line with fellow end Marcus Rush, who also has 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Calhoun also has a fumble recovery and Rush forced a fumble.

Davis leads the linebackers with 54 stops, 11 for loss and six sacks. Senior Taiwan Jones has recorded 52 tackles, with 11 for loss and four sacks. He also has an interception and a fumble recovery. Darien Harris has 44 tackles, with three for loss, two fumbles and an interception.

In the secondary, Drummond leads with 59 tackles, 41 solo, and three for loss. He also has four interceptions and nine pass breakups. Fellow safety R.J. Williamson has three interceptions and has returned two for touchdowns. Williamson also has 46 tackles and five pass breakups. Cornerback Trae Waynes has two interception and six breakups, while Darian Hicks has two picks and three breakups.

Kicker Michael Geiger has converted on 12-of-19 attempts, with a long of 42. Punter Mike Sadler averages 41.3 yards per kick. R.J. Shelton handles the kick return duties, averaging nearly 23 yards per return. Kings is the Spartans' punt returner, averaging six yards per return.

Penn State leads the all-time series 14-13-1, on the field. The teams last met in 2010, with the Spartans winning 28-22 at Beaver Stadium.

What Mark Dantonio is saying about Penn State:

"A great environment Penn State has. Very exciting to go over and play. I think Penn State itself, Coach Franklin has a football team that's been extremely close in a lot of games."

"When you look at them defensively, they're No. 1 in rushing defense. They are top five in scoring defense, pass efficiency and total defense. So an excellent defensive unit."

"They have a quarterback that can throw it and a very productive wide receiver in [DaeSean Hamilton]."

Contributions on all of the 2014 Opponent Previews provided by Student Writer Paul Marboe.