Last season was a massive disappointment for the Northern Iowa Panthers.
Despite starting the year strong with a win over Iowa State, the Panthers failed to perform the rest of the way. They finished with a losing record for just the third time under head coach Mark Farley’s watch and are looking to bounce back with a vengeance. To do that, though, Northern Iowa will have to brave playing in the toughest conference in the FCS.
2016 Northern Iowa Football Season In Review
Aaron Bailey just wasn’t getting it done under center for the Panthers last season. He started the season as the team’s quarterback, but it went just 2-4 under his command. He had major issues with his accuracy and wasn’t able to make routine throws, completing just 51.5 percent of his passes.
After the sixth game of the season, Farley replaced Bailey with Eli Dunne, and the team’s fortunes improved. Although he threw quite a few interceptions, he was largely more accurate than Bailey. He went through quite the learning curve and showed that he can win games with his arm.
Northern Iowa didn’t have much of a running game to rely on last fall. Tyvis Smith ended the season as the leading rusher but only ran for 597 yards. The inability of the passing game to move the ball really hampered the effectiveness of the running attack, as defenses knew the offense would be forced to be more one dimensional.
Fumbles were a huge issue for this team last year, too. Northern Iowa fumbled the ball once every 33 rushing attempts, one of the worst rates in all of FCS.
The defense was very solid but underappreciated because of the struggles on the other side of the football. Karter Schult wrecked opposing offenses, winning the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the FCS. He finished with 17 sacks and 24 tackles for loss.
Northern Iowa went 5-6 last season, but only one of those losses was a blowout. The other five setbacks all came by six points or less, while the Panthers blew out three of their conference foes. They may be primed for a bounce back season in 2017.
2017 Northern Iowa Football Season Preview
Dunne is back and the team is excited about his development. He has a receiver in Daurice Fountain who has been unable to reach his full potential under the Panthers’ previous quarterbacks. If he can continue to improve as a passer, this offense can have a complete turnaround in 2017.
The big question on offense is whether or not someone can emerge as a solid option at running back. Smith graduated in the offseason, and the situation is running back by committee right now. There are a plethora of guys contending for carries, but no one has seized control of the position yet.
Defensively, losing Schult is going to hurt. He was the best defensive lineman in FCS last season, and his loss leaves a gaping hole along the line. The run defense is going to be susceptible to power running games, but the secondary will be a strength. The defensive backs are aggressive and aren’t afraid to take risks, which should lead to some takeaways.
2017 Northern Iowa Football Schedule
September 2: Northern Iowa at Iowa State
September 9: Northern Iowa vs. Cal Poly
September 16: Northern Iowa at Southern Utah
September 30: Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois
October 7: Northern Iowa vs. Western Illinois
October 14: Northern Iowa at South Dakota State
October 21: Northern Iowa vs. Youngstown State
October 28: Northern Iowa at North Dakota State
November 4: Northern Iowa vs. South Dakota
November 11: Northern Iowa at Missouri State
November 18: Northern Iowa vs. Indiana State
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
Northern Iowa will have to go on the road for its three toughest games. The Panthers showed they can knock off Iowa State last season, but that one is just for bragging rights.
The real tests will come against North Dakota State and South Dakota State. Each program is expected to start the season ranked in the FCS Top 5 and both are loaded with talent.
Northern Iowa must have done something to upset the conference schedule-makers. The toughest three games for the school are in back-to-back-to-back weeks when the Panthers travel to SDSU, host Youngstown State and travel to NDSU. The Panthers might be lucky to win one of those. Fade them all three weeks in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.