#5 Northern Iowa FCS Football 2016 Preview

Northern Iowa Panthers
Overall Rank: #5
#2 Missouri Valley
After a rough 2-4 start, Northern Iowa won their final five regular season games to reach the playoffs. Each game was basically a must win and the Panthers were up for the challenge. And they made a nice little run in the playoffs too, beating Eastern Illinois and Portland State before falling 23-13 at North Dakota State. The schedule this year is not quite as front heavy, so there should be a little more room for error for the Panthers in 2016.
2015 Record: 9-5, 5-1
2015 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Mark Farley (129-61 at Northern Iowa, 129-61 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Ryan Mahaffey
Defensive Coordinator: Jeremiah Johnson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Aaron Bailey, RB, 1,334 yards
Passing: Aaron Bailey, QB, 1,656 yards
Receiving: Daurice Fountain, WR, 604 yards
Tackles: Jared Farley, LB, 97
Sacks: Karter Schult, DE, 14.0
Interceptions: Jared Farley, LB, 1; D’Shawn Dexter, LB, 1
Other Key Returnees: RB Tyvis Smith, WR Charles Brown, TE Branden Lehman, OL Robert Rathje
Key Losses: RB Darrian Miller, OL Jacob Rathmacher, LB Brett McMakin, DB Deiondre’ Hall, DB Tim Kilfoy, DB Makinton Dorleant, DL Isaac Ales, K Michael Schmadeke
The toughness of the schedule may not matter at all if the UNI offense picks up where they left off in 2015. Quarterback Aaron Bailey was running wild over every defense he faced. On the year, Bailey rushed for 1,334 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also threw for 1,656 yards and 13 touchdowns with just six interceptions. With Daurice Fountain and Charles Brown back at wide receiver and Branden Lehman at tight end, the passing game will be in good shape. But it is the running game that gives opposing defenses nightmares. Tyvis Smith rushed for 1,079 yards and seven touchdowns and he was a quiet 1,000 yard rusher since Bailey grabbed all of the headlines and focus from the opposing defenses. With a bulk of the skill players back and a strong offensive line, led by Robert Rathje, this will be a dynamic and surprisingly fun Northern Iowa offense to watch in 2016.
The Panthers usually win games with defense and last year really was not all that different. This year the unit should take a step back though. All four starters are gone in the secondary, including Deiondre’ Hall, who picked off six passes and recorded 82 tackles, Makinton Dorleant, who broke-up 17 passes, and safety Tim Kilfoy, who had some of the biggest defensive plays for UNI over the last few years. Surely there is talent that has been waiting on the bench, but the complete lack of experience is a big issue. The defense also lost leading tackler Brett McMakin. Jared Farley will emerge as the team’s top linebacker this year. The strength of the defense will be in the front four where Karter Schult returns after tallying 14.0 sacks and 22.5 tackles-for-loss.
The Bottom Line:
The schedule begins with a trip to Iowa State and then a home game against Montana and a trip to Eastern Washington. That is very similar to how last year started, but the good news is, unlike last season, the toughest conference games are not right after that. Northern Iowa does not play North Dakota State until October 29th and South Dakota State until the season finale on November 19th. And they do not have to play Illinois State at all. Even Western Illinois, a team that upset the Panthers at home last season at the end of that brutal stretch, is not until November 12th. That means even if Northern Iowa struggles early, they will have plenty of time to regroup before the tougher games in conference play.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 233.3 (15th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 148.8 (102, 9)
Total Offense: 382.1 (59, 7)
Scoring Offense: 29.5 (40, 4)
Rushing Defense: 124.2 (18, 2)
Pass Defense: 207.9 (53, 7)
Total Defense: 332.1(26, 3)
Scoring Defense: 19.6 (16, 3)
Turnover Margin: 1.14 (4, 1)
Sacks: 2.71 (19, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.71 (99, 9)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#54 Christian Ellsworth
#144 Markail Williams