HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … Northern Iowa.
NORTHERN IOWA (8-5 IN 2017)
MVFC (UNI was 3rd in 2017)
COACH: Mark Farley – 18th year (134-67 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 29.4 ppg. (38th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 23.6 ppg. (40th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: Northern Iowa has been a consistently solid program lately, making the playoffs three times in the last four years. But the Panthers are still looking to get back to their dominant ways when they won the MVFC title seven times from 2001-2011. North Dakota State has taken over the throne since entering the conference in 2008, creating a heated rivalry. The Bison are favorites to win it again but expect UNI to push for that top spot as NDSU comes to the UNI-Dome.
The offense could be a good one this year with nine starters coming back. Quarterback Eli Dunne played well as a junior and running back Marcus Weymiller broke onto the scene as a top guy in the Valley. Who steps up for the pass catchers is going to be key as NFL Draft pick Daurice Fountain is gone. But the Panthers have great play at the tight end position and speedster Jalen Rima is a playmaker on the outside. The defense has more holes to fill, although this is always a stingy unit. Preseason All-American defensive back Xavior Williams is one of several talented players returning.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The Panthers again compete at the top of the conference and get a playoff seed. Usually, the second best team in the MVFC is good enough to get a first-round bye. UNI has had tough draws in the playoffs, getting eliminated by MVFC foes South Dakota State last year, NDSU in 2015 and Illinois State in 2014. The Panthers are going to need to play well in the nonconference, with games at Montana and Iowa, are else they'll be playing must-win games in October.
TOP RETURNEE: DB Xavior Williams (Preseason HERO Sports 3rd Team All-American)
THE NEXT BEST: QB Eli Dunne (2,704 yards, 26 TDs, 11 INT); RB Marcus Weymiller (809 yards, 8 TDs); K Sam Drysdale (HERO Sports All-Sophomore Team Honorable Mention); LB Rickey Neal (15 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks); TE Briley Moore (All-MVFC Honorable Mention )
TOP NEWCOMER: RB Jack Wegher (Purdue transfer, played as true freshman, injured throughout 2017)
DID YOU KNOW?: UNI has had three players drafted since 2015 (2015 RB David Johnson, 2016 DB Deiondre' Hall and 2018 WR Daurice Fountain)
THE QUOTE: “Right now with the same coaches, same offense, and a lot of the same guys coming back there’s just a level of comfort, I know, with guys. We can kind of extend what we want to do. We can make more calls. Make things a little more complex because we know the offense. There’s just a level of confidence that I’ve noticed in spring ball, even this summer, in what we’re doing. I think that’s going to carry over. I’m really comfortable these first couple games we’re going into.” — Quarterback Eli Dunne told The Gazette
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #UNIFight
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @UNIFootball