FCS First Round Preview – Monmouth at Northern Iowa

Monmouth is in the postseason for the first time since joining the ranks of the FCS.

The program has followed a circuitous path since entering the higher division of football. The Hawks were originally part of the Northeast Conference, and then they became an Independent before joining the Big South in 2014. They were a middling program for their first three seasons in the conference, but they have since risen in the food chain with Coastal Carolina and Liberty leaving for the FBS.

Monmouth will face perhaps the toughest test of any team in the first round. It must travel to battle one of the blue bloods of the FCS in one of the loudest stadiums at this level of football. Northern Iowa is back in the postseason after missing out last year and has been on a tear as of late. The Panthers have won five of their last six, with victories over South Dakota State, Youngstown State and South Dakota. The lone loss in that time span was on the road against North Dakota State.

FCS First Round Betting Odds
Monmouth +22.5
Northern Iowa -22.5
Total 62.5

Keep an Eye On…

The keys to Monmouth’s offense all year have been wide receiver Reggie White Jr. and running back Peter Guerriero.

White is a playmaker. He emerged as one of the top receivers in the conference last season and has continued to shine despite seeing increased coverage rolled his way. He had some huge games in wins over Lafayette, Holy Cross and Liberty, but he had his worst outing of the year last week in a blowout loss to Kennesaw State. White caught just two passes for seven yards in that game as Kenji Bahar was unable to find him.

Last week, Guerriero was one of the few Monmouth players to have a good game. He ran for 141 yards and two scores against the Owls, topping 100 yards for the fourth time in Big South play. He has been an all or nothing back for most of the season. Guerriero is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, but he was held to 40 yards or less in four games.

Northern Iowa has a middle of the road defense according to the numbers, but the Panthers have played some very tough offenses. Make no mistake, this might just be the second-best defense Monmouth has played all season.

Injury to Watch

Panthers fans held their collective breath two weeks ago after starting quarterback Eli Dunne suffered a concussion early on against Missouri State. He had taken every snap for Northern Iowa, so it forced the Panthers into a tough spot. They decided to take the redshirt off of Colton Howell, who led the team to a victory in that game and then again the next week against Indiana State.

All indications are that Dunne will play in this game after two weeks off, but it’s worth noting that he still has not been cleared as of Tuesday. That would severely hurt the Panthers offense, as Dunne has a big arm and is able to spread the field. He has been very reliable for the Panthers and came on strong at the end of the year.

Prediction

It was pretty surprising to see Monmouth make it into the postseason despite having a 9-2 record. The Big South was very down this season and the Hawks’ schedule was filled with Patriot League cupcakes and weaker conference foes.

Monmouth was pasted on the road by a 4-7 Albany team and lost by 31 points to Kennesaw State in its season finale. The school didn’t beat a program that finished better than 6-5, but the selection committee decided to reward the school anyway.

This is the largest spread of the first round of the playoffs in spite of the concerns over Dunne’s health. Northern Iowa is just on a different level than Monmouth as a program and the Hawks have never played in a stadium like this before. The UNI Dome is going to be bonkers and Monmouth’s offense won’t have much success against this defense. This will be a beatdown.

Pick: Northern Iowa -22.5

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