If Northern Iowa's football team is unbeaten next Sept. 16, it will be America's greatest sports story of that weekend, maybe that month. It will be the college football story of the year.
The Panthers announced Thursday they will open the 2012 season at Wisconsin, on Sept. 1. Two weeks after that, UNI plays Iowa for the first time since its memorable 17-16 loss in Iowa City in 2009.
"The 2012 schedule creates an opportunity for our team and fans to experience two of the greatest gameday atmospheres in college football," said UNI head coach Mark Farley. "While it is a challenge, it is also an opportunity."
Darn right. If you're going to play one of the big boys, play it right off the bat. That's when UNI came ohhhhhh so close to knocking off the Hawkeyes in '09.
And UNI does have a history of beating FBS teams. The Panthers beat Iowa State in 1992, 1994 and 2007. They are 3-0 against Kansas State, with wins in 1985, 1986 and 1989. They won at Eastern Michigan in 1998, at Ohio in 1999, and at Ball State in 2001.
I'm on record about not being wild for these FCS-FBS games, but Northern Iowa is one of the FCS programs that has consistently been able to compete with the FBS kingpins. Northern Iowa football doesn't have to explain what it is or what it has done on the gridiron. That isn't the case for many of the FCS teams playing FBS clubs.