Usually, it’s pretty annoying any time a Big Ten football team plays someone with an FCS affiliation.
Minnesota 44, New Hampshire 7 (2012), Illinois 56, South Dakota State 3 (2011). Purdue 59, Southeast Missouri State 0 (2011). Wisconsin 70, Austin Peay 3 (2010).
Also: Iowa 46, Maine 3 (2008). Iowa 37, Eastern Illinois 7 (2010). Iowa 34, Tennessee Tech 7 (2011).
Home dates for the big guys. Nice paychecks for the sacrificial lambs. Dull, meaningless games for the ticket-buyers.
But an exception to the rule is Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, where Iowa hosts Northern Iowa.
No barking will ever come from my doghouse when it comes to Iowa or Iowa State ever scheduling UNI. ‘Tis far better to anticipate a UNI-Iowa contest than, say, next Saturday’s Central Michigan-Iowa game.
That opinion was held here even before the start of the 2009 season, when the Panthers last played at Iowa and gave a wonderful account of themselves in the Hawkeyes’ 17-16 win.
That was an 11-win, Orange Bowl-champion team that UNI took to the very last play. It only added to the reputation of the Panthers as a team intimidated by no foe or venue.
The fact UNI has nine wins over FBS programs is proof enough. But more evidence was on display last year when Iowa State had to rally to nip the Panthers, 20-19, and two weeks ago when Wisconsin escaped Camp Randall Stadium with a 26-21 victory over UNI.
The following paragraph might resonate better with fans of FBS teams if they’d had a multi-team playoff in effect for the last few decades:
UNI has been to the national playoffs 16 times, and advanced to the semifinals seven times.
That means more in Cedar Falls than the occasional win over a larger-division team. The goal in Mark Farley’s program is to win a national-title. It hasn’t yet happened, but Farley has sustained a program that keeps giving itself the chance to make runs at the championship.
While he was guesting on my most-recent podcast at TheGazette.com, Panthers radio play-by-play announcer Gary Rima said something that may surprise many of you. It kind of surprised me.
Rima insisted that if it were a choice of beating Missouri Valley Football Conference powers Youngstown State and (defending FCS champ) North Dakota State in the two following weeks or upsetting Iowa today, Farley and UNI would take the conference wins. They’re more useful toward getting into the FCS playoffs.
Such is the mentality in the UNI-Dome, and it’s a good one. Winning the conference and competing for national-titles are the primary goals. If you can knock off an FBS team along the way, all the better.
UNI has always done what it does with a lot of Iowa players. Fifty-four of the 95 Panthers are from this state. Tyler Sievertsen, for instance, is a junior from Cedar Rapids Kennedy who is 19-for-21 kicking field goals in his UNI career. He earned several FCS All-America honors last year.
But Farley and his coaches don’t just take the best of what’s left over in Iowa after the Hawkeyes and Cyclones are done cherry-picking. They recruit, and they recruit hard.
UNI’s offensive starters come from eight different states. The Panthers’ starting quarterback and left defensive end are from Oklahoma.
This is a sound football program through and through, and has been for decades. That’s why there is plenty of nervousness about this game among Iowa camp followers.
They know the Hawkeyes almost surely must elevate their game from the last two weeks if they are to win. Because there isn’t a morsel of cupcake in this FCS opponent.