UNI Panthers

A.J. Allen keeps working hard while advocating for UNI's playoff chances

Even with 5 losses, Panthers could sneak in

Northern Iowa's A.J. Allen runs back an interception just short of a touchdown in a 2016 game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (Waterloo Courier)
Northern Iowa's A.J. Allen runs back an interception just short of a touchdown in a 2016 game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (Waterloo Courier)

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s 31-10 loss to Youngstown State last Saturday moved the Panthers’ (5-5, 4-3) playoff fate from their proverbial hands to the FCS Playoff committee’s.

However, UNI’s playoff chances may actually lie in Macomb, Ill., where Western Illinois (5-5, 4-3) hosts Indiana State (6-4, 4-3) on Saturday. Other than No. 1 North Dakota State (10-0, 7-0) and No. 5 South Dakota State (7-2, 5-2), the Sycamores are the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s only other team without at least five losses.

Should the Leathernecks deal Indiana State its fifth loss, the Panthers would have arguably the FCS’ best five-loss resume. The Panthers beat Indiana State 33-0 on the road and have wins over No. 2 South Dakota State and No. 13 Illinois State. Neither the Sycamores’ nor Leathernecks’ strength of schedule measures up to the Panthers’ and neither team has as many quality wins.

Senior safety A.J. Allen, similar to his coach Mark Farley, advocated Wednesday for five-loss MVFC teams as at-large playoff qualifiers.

“The Missouri Valley is strong, from bottom to top,” Allen said. “That’s why you see so many shockers or upsets, because in this league you just don’t know what to expect. We feel that, you know, a five-loss team is nothing to look past.”

Allen is no stranger to the circumstances the Panthers are in currently. UNI has been a bubble team each of the past two seasons when he was a starter, and despite last week’s costly loss to Youngstown State, the Waukee native says his teammates’ intensity has him confident headed into Saturday’s tilt against Missouri State in the UNI-Dome at 4 p.m. (NBC Sports Chicago).

“We’re still preparing just as we would for any other game,” Allen said. “I feel that’s because we have a lot of seniors who contribute a lot. (We’re) still having high-intensity practices.”

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The Bears (4-6, 2-5) offer a different challenge than what the Panthers have become familiar with this season. Variations of spread and pro-style offenses have dominated UNI’s previous 10 games, but its final regular season matchup comes against Missouri State’s option offense.

“Just a different offense (than) what we’ve seen in the past few weeks,” Allen said. “Little bit more (option) offense, but we’ll adjust to it and we’ll be fine.”

Whether it’s this Saturday evening or a few weeks away, Allen is in the midst of putting the finishing touches on an outstanding career. The fifth-year senior has overcome injuries to both shoulders and plays with screws in each while managing to appear in 41 career games. Since his sophomore year in 2015, Allen, alongside his younger brother Trevor, has added to a family legacy that began with their father Andre, a former UNI All-American.

“Respect is definitely earned (at UNI),” Allen said. “UNI is a workhorse school. You have to come here and work. Once you get to that point where you establish yourself (and) you’re still putting work in (and) you’re grinding everyday that’s when you reap that benefits.”

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