2021 FCS Season Preview: Northern Iowa

CSJ Predicted Order of Finish: 4th

Coach: Mark Farley (21st Season, 162-87 @ UNI & overall)

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Offensive Coordinator: Shawn Watson
Defensive Coordinator: Jeremiah Johnson
Stadium: UNI Dome (16, 324 capacity)

Location: Cedar Falls, Iowa
2019 Record: 3-4 (3-4 MVFC)

Northern Iowa was just not on its game this past spring in finishing with a losing record for the first time since the 2016 season. That next season of 2017, the Panthers bounced back to make the playoffs. UNI hopes to duplicate that in the 2021 season.

All was not lost, though, as the Panthers were nearly there in all four losses, which were all to MVFC playoff squads by a total of 15 combined points. The Panthers return several players that missed the spring with injuries, and all 11 starters from the spring on each side of the ball are back this fall.

UNI used five different offensive line combinations in its seven games this past spring and All-America WR Isaiah Weston played in just four games with only seven receptions while battling multiple injuries. UNI also saw offensive coordinator Ryan Mehaffey leave shortly before its spring season-opener to take a job with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

The Panther defense is definitely the strength of the team with DE Jared Brinkman again led the way, who is the reigning Valley Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American earned first-team from a yea ago. Another All-MVFC performer in LB Spencer Cuvelier is also back to lead the defense after he led the MVFC in tackles in the spring.

LB Spencer Cuvelier

The secondary should also be solid with Omar Brown and Austin Evans back after all MVFC honors last year. Brown tallied five pass breakups, an interception and blocked a field goal against Western Illinois which he returned for a touchdown. He was a first-team honoree a season ago. Evans tallied 27 tackles, including 2.0 TFLs. He tied for the UNI-high with five pass breakups. He had an exceptional game against Western Illinois where he recorded both TFLs and two pass breakups.

The UNI offense welcomes back QB Will McElvain, who missed two games due to COVID-19 protocols this past spring. MCElvain threw for just over 900 yards in those five games with just one touchdown and two interceptions. The shakeup in the offense coordinator just happened before the season and he might have been the most effected by the change and now with a full season, he should return to similar numbers he had in his freshman 2019 season where he was named to the All-MVFC newcomer team.

Having a healthy WR in Weston would help as well with McElvain’s numbers to go along with fellow WR Quan Hampton, who led the Panthers in the spring with 32 receptions for 356 yards on the season. He averaged 50.86 yards per game and 11.13 yards per catch. 

The running game will be spearheaded OT Trevor Penning, who helped 2,095 yards of total offense. He has been named to several All-American teams and is a returning All-MVFC performer.

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