UNI Panthers

Missouri Valley Football Conference 2020 power rankings: NDSU, UNI are 1-2

Panthers projected to be one of perennial FCS power Bison's top challengers this fall

Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Mark Farley walks off the field with his player a game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls
Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Mark Farley walks off the field with his player a game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls last season. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — With less than 70 days until the college football season begins Missouri Valley Conference preseason power rankings are here.

1.

North Dakota State

2019: 16-0, 8-0

There are no indications NDSU’s firm hold as the FCS’s elite program will take even a slight step backwards in 2020.

Waterloo native Matt Entz enters year two as the Bison head coach after leading them to a national championship in his first year. NDSU returns 14 of 22 starters and sophomore QB Trey Lance has established himself as a first-round NFL draft pick after a 28-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season.

Another trip to Frisco seems certain.

 
2.

Northern Iowa

2019: 10-5, 6-2

Better fortune avoiding injuries to key players and development from sophomore QB Will McElvain and his teammates on offense will decide whether or not the Panthers offer the Bison a serious challenge. The Panthers will also need to enhance their running game and special teams — specifically punting — if they want to challenge for a conference championship or advance beyond the playoff quarterfinals reached in 2019.

UNI’s defense should again be one of the FCS’s best as it returns eight of 11 starters and has been incredibly battle-tested.

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3.

South Dakota State

2019: 8-5, 5-3

The Jackrabbits have football’s biggest question hanging over them. Who will start at quarterback?

After suffering a season-ending injury late last season J’Bore Gibbs appears poised to recapture the starting spot despite fellow sophomore Keaton Heide showing potential in five starts.

Defensively SDSU will be tasked with replacing All-America linebacker Christian Rozeboom. However, it returns four All-Americans, including running back Pierre Strong Jr.

 
4.

Southern Illinois

2019: 7-5, 5-3

After being one the first five out of the 2019 playoffs the Salukis are hungry and fifth-year coach Nick Hill is compelled to prove he’s bringing the program back to prominence. SIU returns most of its defense and QB Kare Lyles. It would seem only injury or misfortune will keep the Salukis out of the 2020 playoffs.
 
5.

Illinois State

2019: 10-5, 5-3

The direction Illinois State’s 2020 season heads could be evident after its first few weeks. The Redbirds' ability, or inability, to replace All-America running back James Robinson will be critical to its playoff expectations. Thankfully for veteran coach Brock Spack his defense will again be capable of masking over many offensive deficiencies.
 
6.

North Dakota

2019: 7-5

The Fighting Hawks join the MVFC this fall and will likely spend a season or two getting adjusted to the rigors of the league. However, going 5-3 against Big Sky teams last season shouldn’t go overlooked.
 
7.

South Dakota

2019: 5-7, 4-4

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After an uninspiring 2019 the Coyotes are still looking for the heir apparent to former star QB Chris Streveler, who by himself made them competitive with the conference’s best teams. A tough 2020 schedule will make it that much harder for USD to contend for the playoffs.
 
8.

Youngstown State

2019: 6-6, 2-6

Bo Pelini couldn’t resist an opportunity to become LSU’s defensive coordinator and time may have been running out on him to win big in Youngstown anyway. The Penguins are positioned to take a step backwards in 2020 but still have the talent on defense to be in most games.
 
9.

Indiana State

2019: 5-7, 3-5

A season-ending injury to former Iowa QB Ryan Boyle in game four derailed the Sycamores in 2019 as they were looking to build off a seven-win 2018. Indiana State’s 2018 schedule was soft, so 2020 presents a legitimate test for where head coach Curt Mallory has taken the program in year three.
 
10.

Missouri State

2019: 1-10, 1-7

The hire of former Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino made a splash in the national news cycle back in January. Since becoming the Bears coach Petrino has brought in a compelling recruiting class and MSU will look much different than it did in its five seasons under Dave Steckel.

However, the rebuild job Petrino has stepped into is massive and the Bears are at least a year away from reestablishing themselves as a middle of the pack team capable of contending for an at-large playoff bid.

 
11.

Western Illinois

2019: 1-11, 1-7

The Leathernecks quickly displayed themselves to be in rebuilding mode last season and there are no indications they’re poised to turn things around in 2020. Quarterbacks Connor Sampson and Kevin Johnson struggled in 2019. Meanwhile, budget issues at WIU persist.
 

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