Northern Iowa has been picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference this year after finishing as co-champs last season. Coach Mark Farley, who’s entering his 12th year as head of the U.N.I. program, has two big concerns about his team.
The first is replacing quarterback Tirrell Rennie, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season scoring nine touchdowns and throwing for 14 more. The second area of concern is on defense, where the Panthers have lost six starters including linebacker L.J. Fort and lineman Ben Boothby.
Farley says he’s trying to determine who will be U.N.I’s defensive leaders and what scheme will be used to “allow this group of players to be successful.”
Fort led the nation in total tackles last season. One bright spot for the Panthers heading into this season is the running back position. Senior Carlos Anderson is closing in on the 2,000 yard mark for his career while sophomore David Johnson recorded 100 or more all-purpose yards in seven games last season.
Farley says how Anderson and Johnson are utilized this year will depend on who emerges at quarterback. “It’ll hinge off of who the quarterback is probably more so than who the running back is, based off our scheme and it’ll develop as the season goes on,” Farley said.
The Panthers have a few holes to fill as they return seven starters on offense and just five on defense. Farley said it’s too early to name young players who might become standouts or fan favorites.
“We’re just too young and inexperienced in some places that it’s going to take some time and games to say who those people really are,” Farley said in conference call with reporters today (Thursday). The Panthers non-conference schedule includes Big Ten powerhouses Wisconsin (September 1) and Iowa (September 15).
“It’s the most challenging (non-conference schedule) that we’ve ever had,” Farley said. “There’s no question they’re not just BCS teams, they’re top 20 BCS teams and probably two of the greatest venues anyone could ever play in. They have home field advantage on top of the talent they have and the advantage they have over us, I mean, there’s no question there’s a huge challenge ahead of us.”
U.N.I. finished 2011 with 10-3 overall record and a 7-1 mark in the Valley. Defending FCS national champion North Dakota State is picked to finish first in the conference. The Bison received 37 of 38 first place votes in a poll of league coaches, media and sports information directors.
2012 UNI Football Schedule
Date / Opponent / Site / Time
Sept. 1 at Wisconsin / Madison, Wis. 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 8 Central State (Ohio) / UNI-Dome 6 p.m.
Sept. 15 at Iowa / Iowa City, Iowa 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 22 Youngstown State / Youngstown, Ohio 6 p.m.
Sept. 29 North Dakota State / UNI-Dome 6 p.m.
Oct. 13 Southern Illinois / Carbondale, Ill. 2 p.m.
Oct. 20 South Dakota State / UNI-Dome 4 p.m.
Oct. 27 Illinois State / UNI-Dome 4 p.m.
Nov. 3 Western Illinois / Macomb, Ill. 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 South Dakota / Vermillion, S.D. 12 p.m.
Nov. 17 Missouri State / UNI-Dome 4 p.m.