Some FCS programs would rather not be on the playoff bubble, while several are just happy to be in the discussion. Northern Iowa is one of those programs that is used to making the playoffs, but didn't get in last year … so being on the bubble is certainly an improvement over 2016. The Panthers want to be back part of the discussion.
So let's take a look at what Northern Iowa needs to do next week, and how it helped itself today:
NORTHERN IOWA (6-4) IN A NUTSHELL
TODAY'S RESULT: Road win at Missouri State, 25-10.
HOW DID TODAY HELP/HURT?: It was an expected win, but this victory keeps Northern Iowa solidly in the hunt for an at-large berth in the FCS Playoffs. In the Missouri Valley, you don't mess around with road games. They're all potential potholes, So UNI got it done.
WHAT'S NEXT?: MVFC last place Indiana State in a home game.
THE SKINNY?: With a very winnable game coming up against winless Indiana State next week, it appears the Panthers will pick up their 7th win and unquestionably make the FCS Playoffs. The UNI resume is impressive. The Panthers have beaten both South Dakota teams — including a 20-point win on the road at surging South Dakota State.
The three-point road loss to Southern Utah is sizing up as a three-point road loss to a potential Big Sky Conference champion, so that will look good when it comes to strength of schedule. Another loss is to a Power Five in Iowa State. Overall, this program will deserve its spot in the FCS Playoffs. Go ahead and pencil them in, they're no longer 'on the bubble'. When you're 5-2 in the Valley, you deserve a playoff spot.
IF IT MAKES PLAYOFFS, WHO COULD IT FACE?: That's a tough question. At this point it may turn out to be one of the more eastern Big Sky teams. Could it be a team like Montana? That obviously depends on who bids for what, hosting wise. Montana and UNI would be prime candidates to host. In that case it may turn out that Northern Iowa takes on a team from the east, maybe on Ohio Valley Conference team like maybe Austin Peay? Or could it be a Southland team that sneaks in, like Nicholls? It'll be interesting to see how they sort this one out.