#21 Northern Iowa FCS Football 2021 Preview

Northern Iowa Panthers
Overall Rank: #21
#5 Missouri Valley
 Northern Iowa Logo
Northern Iowa finished the spring season in 2021 with a disappointing 3-4 record. It does not sound great for a program like UNI, but those four losses came by a combined total of 15 points. The Panthers will look to use that experience from the spring to turn reverse their fortune and turn those close losses into close wins.
2020-21 Record: 3-4, 3-4
2020-21 Postseason: None
Coach: Mark Farley (162-87 at Northern Iowa, 162-87 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Shawn Watson
Defensive Coordinator: Jeremiah Johnson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Tyler Hoosman, RB, 373 yards
Passing: Will McElvain, QB, 938 yards
Receiving: Quan Hampton, WR, 356 yards
Tackles: Spencer Cuvelier, LB, 71
Sacks: Brawntae Wells, DL, 4.5
Interceptions: 3 tied with 1
Other Key Returnees: RB Dom Williams, QB Justin Fomby, WR Deion McShane, WR Logan Wolf, LB Riley Van Wyhe, DB Korby Sander, DL Jared Brinkman. DB Benny Sapp III, DB Omar Brown, DB Austin Evans, K Matthew Cook
Key Losses: None
Will McElvain returns to lead the offense. In his first season as a starter in 2019 the redshirt sophomore signal caller threw for 2,778 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions. In the seven games in the spring McElvain completed just 51.1 percent of his passes for 938 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Justin Fomby did well when he was given the opportunity, but this is McElvain’s job and he is a dangerous quarterback who can do a lot of damage with his arm and his legs. Quan Hampton, Deion McShane and Logan Wolf are all experienced wideouts. They just need to help out McElvain a little more and get into the end zone on occasion after all three failed to record a touchdown in the spring. Tyler Hoosman will again lead the ground game after rushing for 373 yards and six scores. Dom Williams added 245 yards and a couple scores.
The defense picked up right where they left off from 2019. They ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense in 2019 and sixth in the spring of 2021. And with a roster loaded with talent and experience, they could be even better. The front line is led by Jared Brinkman, the reigning MVFC Defensive Player of the Year. Brawntae Wells will spend plenty of time in the backfield and benefit from the opposition having to key in on Brinkman. Linebacker Spencer Cuvelier totaled 71 tackles in the seven spring games and he will again team up with Riley Van Wyhe, who was second on the Panthers with 54 tackles. The secondary is loaded with All-Conference talent. Austin Evans, Omar Brown and Benny Sapp III lead an impressive group, but they will need to make more big plays in 2021.
The Bottom Line:
As usual, this is a Northern Iowa team that can win the MVFC. Or with their difficult schedule, they could lose a handful of close games and miss out on the playoffs. The tough schedule starts with road trips to Iowa State and Sacramento State. That could be an 0-2 start very easily. And conference play is not any easier. Three of Northern Iowa’s first five conference games are against North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Southern Illinois. Those are three teams many expect to not just make the playoffs, but make a run once they get there. If Northern Iowa cannot find a way to win one or two of those games, they will again be one of the best teams who miss out on the playoffs.
Projected Postseason:  None
2020-21 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 105.3 (76th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 198.0 (50, 5)
Total Offense: 303.3 (70, 8)
Scoring Offense: 19.6 (68, 6)
Rushing Defense: 108.3 (16, 2)
Pass Defense: 176.6 (25, 4)
Total Defense: 284.9 (17, 2)
Scoring Defense: 15.3 (6, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.14 (41, 5)
Sacks: 2.43 (37, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 2.14 (54, 5)