#16 Northern Iowa 2018 FCS Football Preview

Northern Iowa Panthers
Overall Rank: #16
#3 Missouri Valley
 UNI Logo
Northern Iowa went back to the playoffs last season for the third time in four years, and the tenth time in Coach Mark Farley’s 17 years leading the program. Once there, the Panthers beat Monmouth 46-7 before falling at South Dakota State in the second round. UNI does lose a lot to graduation, but some of the key pieces are back and Coach Farley always does a great job of rebuilding his team.
2017 Record: 8-5, 6-2
2017 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Mark Farley (135-68 at Northern Iowa, 135-68 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: John Bond
Defensive Coordinator: Jeremiah Johnson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Marcus Weymiller, RB, 809 yards
Passing: Eli Dunne, QB, 2,704 yards
Receiving: Briley Moore, TE, 494 yards
Tackles: Duncan Ferch, LB, 94
Sacks: Rickey Neal Jr, LB, 9.5
Interceptions: Xavior Williams, DB, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Trevor Allen, WR Isaiah Weston, WR Jaylin James
Key Losses: RB J’Veyon Browning, WR Daurice Fountain, OL Lee Carhart, DB Elijah Campbell, LB Jared Farley, DL Adam Reth, DB Malcolm Washington, P Sam Kuhter
Quarterback Eli Dunne and running back Marcus Weymiller are back and that is a great place to start. Dunne threw for 2,704 yards and 26 touchdowns and the senior has developed into a consistent passer. Dunne will miss having receiver Daurice Fountain out wide after he caught 66 passes for 943 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Tight end Briley Moore is a consistent target and Isaiah Weston has some big play ability. Weston caught only 22 passes last season, but they went for 380 yards and five touchdowns. The passing offense will be in good shape, but the ground game needs to improve on their 119.1 yards per game. Weymiller easily led the team with 809 yards and eight scores and he will again be the workhorse for this offense.
Like on offense, Northern Iowa has some big holes to fill on defense. The big losses are linebacker Jared Farley, who led the team with 122 tackles, and Elijah Campbell, who recorded five interceptions. The good news is that Duncan Ferch is ready to take over as the team’s top tackler after recording 94 last season. Also back is one of the best pass rushing linebackers in the FCS, Rickey Neal. He tallied 9.5 sacks and 15.0 tackles-for-loss as a junior and will again lead what should be a solid pass rush. The secondary still has some playmakers, most notably Xavior Williams who picked off four passes in 2017.
The Bottom Line:
Coach Farley has some nice pieces to build around on both sides of the ball. If some newcomers and younger players can fill in around those pieces, the Panthers will be a serious contender for a MVFC title. But, as usual, the schedule is what could keep the Panthers on the wrong side of the playoffs. Trips to Montana and Iowa to start the season will provide a couple tough tests right off the bat. A three game stretch against North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State beginning on October 6th could decide the fate of the Panthers postseason hopes. The schedule does not get all that much easier either and Northern Iowa cannot afford to lose too many of those tough early games or their margin for error down the stretch will be slim. However, Northern Iowa has been down that road many times before and this group too should be able to overcome a slow start and at least reach the playoffs.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 119.1 (87th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 235.6 (34, 5)
Total Offense: 354.7 (68, 9)
Scoring Offense: 29.4 (38, 6)
Rushing Defense: 125.8 (28, 4)
Pass Defense: 235.2 (88, 7)
Total Defense: 360.9 (59, 5)
Scoring Defense: 23.6 (40, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.62 (24, 4)
Sacks: 2.08 (59, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 2.46 (84, 9)
HERO Sports 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#141 Khristian Boyd
#159 Eric Mooney