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CEDAR FALLS — The Missouri Valley Football Conference held its annual media day Tuesday and there was an unmistakable theme among the league’s coaches.
A welcome return to normal football circumstances.
It’s how Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley, and his MVFC peers, see their teams reaching their potential after an unprecedented and disruptive spring season.
When it comes to UNI — picked fifth in the MVFC preseason poll (South Dakota State was first) — and everything it endured in the spring, Farley didn’t mince words when asked about the perseverance it took to play each week.
“We had to fight through practice facilities and all the different things that we went through just because of our circumstances here, so it was very frustrating. You couldn’t get rhythm at anything,” Farley said. “I’d call it a disaster. Our guys played hard, they played well, but for how we want to run our program and what we are, there was really no consistency to do it, to nobody's fault.”
The aftereffects of playing in the spring could still linger this fall, though. Winter conditioning and weight training, a critical element of UNI’s development-based program, were lost. Also, any injuries players suffered in the spring disrupted their summer conditioning and weight training, when in a typical year most would have already completed their rehabilitation.
“My frustration comes from trying to take a young player and build them and develop them in the time slot they have in their prime,” Farley said. “It’s their opportunity that’s getting delayed.”
Getting back to a normal schedule will help every FCS team, but after busing to practices this spring off-campus and doing so in previous years to safely prepare outdoors for late-season games, UNI’s new outdoor practice facility will finally level the playing field with peer programs who already boast similar facilities.
“The (practice) field will affect teaching, which in turn will affect play,” Farley said. “The field is going to give us an opportunity to get some consistency in our scheduling.”
Consistency, rhythm and timeline were Farley’s buzzwords throughout his speaking time Tuesday. He says they’re going back to a traditional fall camp schedule, and when discussing the Panthers offense, he emphasized those words as the path toward moving the ball better than they did in a 3-4 season this spring.
“We need to get consistency,” Farley said. “We need to get the repetitions that guys need to get good. The only way you do that is get a consistent practice schedule that people know what they’re doing. They can be efficient within their time slot and they can get the job done day-to-day to get better.”
Perhaps the biggest headline from Tuesday was news that none of the conference’s teams have yet reached an 85-percent vaccination rate.
MVFC commissioner Patty Viverito says vaccination rates have been improving recently, but added that canceled games this fall are likely to be forfeits.
“More and more conferences have come out saying that (forfeits are) the decision they’ve made (or) that’s the direction they’re leaning,” Viverito said. “There are very few conferences that I think are going to be treating these games as anything other than forfeits.”
2021 preseason Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll
First-place votes in parentheses
1. South Dakota State (24) 454
2. North Dakota State (18) 435
3. North Dakota 357
4. Southern Illinois 345
5. Northern Iowa (1) 311
6. Missouri State 256
7. Illinois State 196
8. South Dakota 163
9. Youngstown State 126
10. Indiana State 112
11. Western Illinois 83
11 Panthers named to All-MVFC preseason teams
UNI’s preseason all-conference first-team selections included defensive lineman Jared Brinkman, linebacker Spencer Cuvelier and placekicker Matthew Cook.
Second-team selections included offensive lineman Trevor Penning, defensive backs Omar Brown and Austin Evans and Deion McShane in the all-purpose category.
Quarterback Will McElvain, running back Tyler Hoosman, wide receiver Isaiah Weston and defensive back Benny Sapp III were honorable mentions.