Northern Iowa Football enters 2014 at number 16 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 7-5 (3-5) Missouri Valley Football Conference
Northern Iowa football won their first game of the season at FBS Iowa State 28-20 – a big deal. They followed that victory with three more, including a 41-6 stomping of McNeese State. After their first loss of the season (week five to North Dakota State), I imagine the general feeling was that of “oh man, so close!” After all, the Panthers were 4-1, and one point short of upsetting the reigning (and eventual) National Champions on their home field. Then the next week, that incredulity started to border on frustration after they dropped their second of the season – this time to Southern Illinois in overtime 24-17. When the Panthers lost their third in a row the next week, to South Dakota, this time in double overtime, it was probably a lot of rah-rah, “come on guys, we can turn this around! These are tight losses – down to the wire!” They were 4-3 and saw their season slipping away.
When the Panthers went into overtime against South Dakota State the very next week, panic set in, “Oh god, this can’t be happening again. We have to get one of these right?” Wrong. For the second week in a row, UNI lost in double overtime, final score 38-31. 4-4. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, because with the next week’s loss to Illinois State, Northern Iowa completed their journey from 4-0 to sub-.500. The Panthers won their final three games of the season but all they got for that was pride, not playoffs.
-Mark Blessington OL
-Dan Kruger OL
-Collin Albrecht DL – 32 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FF
-Sam Tim LB – 71 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR
-Tyler Sievertsen K – 21/27 FGs (77.8%), long of 50, 65 kickoffs, 61.5 yard average
What to Watch For
Fire – The Panthers’ inexplicable five-game losing streak was the stuff of nightmares, and they know it. Three of their five losses were in overtime. Their average defeat was by only 5.6 points. The margins were razor-thin, we’re talking one bounce/one call/one play territory, so we’ve either got an unlucky team, or a team that can’t finish. You can bet the Panthers will be out to prove it was the former this season, and you can also bet they’ll do their best to not leave it up to chance this time around.
Quarterback – For the first four games of the season, sophomore starter Sawyer Kollmorgen completed 69.8% of his passes for 875 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INTs, and got sacked three times. For the next five (the losing streak), he completed only 58.6% of his passes for 949 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs, and went down nine times. Compare Kollmorgen’s per-game averages over those two spans:
First Four: 17/24, 219 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
Next Five: 18/30, 190 yards, 1.2 TDs, 1 INT
He suffered a concussion in the 13-3 loss to Illinois State (the Panthers’ fifth-straight) and was replaced for the season by junior Brion Carnes (a transfer from Nebraska), who didn’t do much better than his predecessor statistically. Carnes completed 36 of his 63 passes (57.1%) over those final three weeks for 407 yards, 2 TDs, and 3 INTs. Not great numbers, but Northern Iowa won all three games. Kollmorgen will be back under center this season, but which version of the now-junior quarterback the Panthers will get remains to be seen.
After their disastrous stretch from week five to week nine last season, the Panthers have something to prove in 2014. Lucky for them, they get three of the five teams that beat them in that ill-fated five-week stretch at home this time around: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Illinois State. Those three losses were by a combined 14 points. Northern Iowa has to figure they’re 4.6 points better at home than they are on the road, and should expect to take these games this time around.
All told, the Panthers lost very few pieces this offseason. On defense, the biggest loss was linebacker Sam Tim. They’ll also be without defensive linemen Chris Jepsen and Collin Albrecht and linebacker Jordan Gacke, but the entire starting secondary will be back along with most of the linebacking corps. On offense, their only real losses were linemen Dan Kruger and Mark Blessington. The Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason coaches poll rated UNI as the third best team in the conference behind the state schools from North and South Dakota, and the preseason All-MVFC first team features running back David Johnson, lineman Jack Rummells, defensive lineman Xavier Williams, and cornerback Makinton Dorleant. Johnson and Rummells were also named preseason All-Americans by the Sports Network.
With all the turnover at North Dakota State (quarterback, running back, o-line, d-line, head coach) and South Dakota State (o-line, d-line, defensive backfield), the Panthers should have MVFC title aspirations this season. Fans should do everything in their power to get to these games and cheer their boys on, because this season could be special.