CEDAR FALLS — With two sub-.500 opponents lined up to cap their regular season schedule, the red carpet was essentially rolled out for Northern Iowa to make its way into the 24-team FCS Playoff field.
But, in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, there are no givens.
Panthers (6-4, 5-2) head coach Mark Farley said this week his team needed to prepare “even stronger” for winless Indiana State (0-10, 0-7) than it did last week for Missouri State,
“(Indiana State is) very aggressive on defense with some things that they do,” Farley said. “On offense they’re throwing the football around. They have a couple really fast receivers and they’ve actually done a good job. They’ve struggled in areas, as we all know by their record, but when you look at some of the games they’ve played when you’re watching scores into the third quarter they’re right there with these people.
“I think they’re a good football team that’s in a very good conference. So it’s hard to measure what you’re up against because the people they’ve been playing are top quality teams.”
While the Sycamores enter Saturday as the MVFC’s only winless team, there’s a logical argument to make they could have a few wins, or even be near .500, if they didn’t play in the FCS’ toughest conference. They narrowly lost a Week 3 matchup against Liberty — which currently sits third in the Big South at 6-3 — and took No. 17 Illinois State to the brink in a 24-13 Week 5 loss.
“There’s no rest for anything right here. That word is not in my vocabulary,” Farley said. “We better get this thing lined up. We cannot afford to even take a hesitant step if we’re going to improve. Otherwise we’re not doing this for the right reasons. These guys ain’t coming in here just to play the game. I watched them and Illinois State, that was 24-(13) and they’re driving the field at the end of the game. Last I looked Illinois State is pretty good.”
Besides their matchup against the Sycamores, the Panthers also are dealing with a number of injured players. Should something go wrong Saturday, this would be the last game for 15 seniors who have been key to making it through a gauntlet schedule after a 2-3 start.
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“Our seniors, I’ll tell you what, it takes great leadership to go through what we went through,” Farley said. “I think that speaks for itself of a Daurice Fountain, Adam Reth, Jared Farley, Preston Woods, Sam Kuhter. For all the seniors for that matter. You see a lot of unselfishness. You see a lot of determination, and you see a lot of good football players. Then, how the team has kind of done a 180 for us, you need an internal force to do that and that’s where you credit your seniors.”