#11 Northern Iowa FCS Football 2015 Preview

Northern Iowa Panthers

Overall Rank: #11
#3 Missouri Valley

Northern Iowa Team Page#11 Northern Iowa FCS Football 2015 PreviewBuy Northern Iowa Football Tickets

After a 3-4 start, Northern Iowa looked like they were going to miss out on the playoffs. But back-to-back home wins against Illinois State and North Dakota State propelled the Panthers into the playoffs. And obviously they were a team that could do some damage since they had already proven that they can beat the best two teams in the FCS. But after crushing Stephen F. Austin 44-10 in the first round of the playoffs, UNI ran into Illinois State. This time the Redbirds got the best of the Panthers. With a strong defense and a few key transfers, Coach Mark Farley will have his team back in the playoff hunt despite a brutal schedule.

2014 Record: 9-5, 6-2
2014 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Mark Farley (120-56 at Northern Iowa, 120-56 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Davis
Defensive Coordinator: Jeremiah Johnson

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Darrian Miller, RB, 332 yards
Passing: Sawyer Kollmorgen, QB, 1,635 yards
Receiving: Charles Brown, WR, 315 yards
Tackles: Brett McMakin, LB, 103
Sacks: Brett McMakin, LB, 9.5
Interceptions: Deiondre’ Hall, DB, 5

Other Key Returnees: K Michael Schmadeke, DB Tim Kilfoy, DL Ronelle McNeil, DL Karter Schult

Key Losses: RB David Johnson, QB Brion Carnes, WR Kevin Vereen, WR Brett LeMaster, WR Chad Owens, OL Jake Rummells, LB Jake Farley, LB Max Busher, DL Xavier Williams, DL Mac O’Brien

Northern Iowa ranked second in the MVFC in total defense and scoring defense. The opposition averaged just 19.9 points per game. Considering the competition, that is especially impressive. There are some pieces to replace, most notably leading tackler Jake Farley and fellow linebacker Max Busher, but there is still a lot of talent here. On the line, Isaac Ales returns after tallying 9.0 sacks and 18.5 tackles-for-loss in 2014. The senior end was a big reason why UNI ranked third in the FCS with 3.64 sacks per game. He will continue to get help from fellow linemen Ronelle McNeil and Karter Schult. Linebacker Brett McMakin actually led the team with 9.5 sacks and is the team’s top returning tackler with 103. As good as UNI is in the front seven, it is in the secondary where the team really excels. Safety Tim Kilfoy and cornerback Deiondre’ Hall highlight the group. Those two accounted for nine interceptions and three interceptions returned for touchdowns in 2014. Cornerback Makinton Dorleant has done a great job opposite Hall when the opposition smartens up and throws away from Hall.

The big loss for Northern Iowa is running back David Johnson. He rushed for 1,553 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior season. Darrian Miller is the top returning back with 332 rushing yards last season. However, Savon Huggins joins the fray for his senior season. In three seasons with Rutgers, Huggins totaled 842 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He is a talented back, but always seemed to be behind a couple better backs with the Scarlet Knights. Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen is getting some competition from a Big Ten player too. Former Illinois signal caller Aaron Bailey never found his groove with the Illini, but should give Kollmorgen a nice battle in the fall. The passing game will also need to find some new targets with Brett LeMaster, Chad Owens and Kevin Vereen all gone. Charles Brown, who caught 19 passes for 315 yards, and tight end Braden Leham are the top returning targets.

The Bottom Line:
Northern Iowa rarely does themselves any favors when it comes to scheduling. They play the best. But this year it might be a little too much to handle. Four of their first five games are on the road against Iowa State, Cal Poly, Illinois State and North Dakota State. The one home game is against Eastern Washington. That is absolutely brutal. The Panthers have to win at least one of those games to have any playoff shot at all. It is easy to look at that and hope for 1-4, but this is a good team that has a shot at winning all five. With the exception of Illinois State in the playoffs last year, the last time UNI played each of those teams, they won. And they beat Illinois State in the regular season in 2014, along with North Dakota State. In 2013 UNI knocked off Iowa State. In 2005 the Panthers beat Eastern Washington in the playoffs and in 2002 they knocked off Cal Poly in overtime. Expect more thrillers early in the season, but also expect Northern Iowa to come out of that gauntlet with their playoff hopes still alive.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 168.1 (55th in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 201.7 (72, 7)
Total Offense: 369.8 (72, 7)
Scoring Offense: 32.3 (30, 3)
Rushing Defense: 107.7 (10, 1)
Pass Defense: 207.0 (47, 5)
Total Defense: 314.7 (14, 2)
Scoring Defense: 19.9 (15, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.86 (10, 1)
Sacks: 3.64 (3, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 1.64 (41, 5)


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