UNI Panthers

UNI football snubbed for top-8 seed, will host San Diego in FCS Playoffs

Panthers would face South Dakota State in second round

Northern Iowa Panthers players take the field before their game against the Youngstown State Penguins at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers players take the field before their game against the Youngstown State Penguins at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — After Saturday’s chaos involving top-10 teams, optimism was at a fever pitch for Northern Iowa football. Its chances of receiving a first -ound bye and top-8 seed in the 24-team FCS Playoffs for the first time were better than ever before.

Then, less than 10 minutes into Sunday morning’s selection show on ESPNU, UNI (8-4, 6-2 MVFC) was dealing with the disappointment of not seeing its name show up among the bracket’s top-8 seeds.

Instead, Missouri Valley Football Conference rival South Dakota State (8-4, 6-2 MVFC), grabbed the league’s second national seed — North Dakota State received the No. 1 overall seed — two weeks and a day after its 38-7 win over the Panthers in Brookings, S.D.

“To me that’s for other people to do,” Farley said of disputing the selection committee choices. “I was surprised. It’s our job now to get ready for this game. It’s kind of like an official’s call; once it’s made, it’s made.”

The Panthers will host San Diego (9-2, 8-0) — winner of the non-scholarship Pioneer League — in the first round next Saturday at the UNI-Dome for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

The Toreros (No. 159) rank 44 spots behind UNI (No. 115) in the Division-I Sagarin Ratings and went 0-2 during non-conference play against scholarship opponents — losing at Cal Poly and at home against UC Davis.

A win next Saturday against San Diego would set up a rematch for UNI against No. 7-seed South Dakota State in Brookings on Dec. 7 at 1 p.m. Should the Panthers have the fortune of making it to the quarterfinals, they’d likely face No. 2-seed James Madison (11-1, 8-0 CAA).

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“Really don’t know a lot about (San Diego),” Farley said. “I know they’re in Drake’s league, because I’ve seen them before. We’re trying to dig up what we can.”

The Jackrabbits — who lost 24-21 at unranked South Dakota (5-7, 4-4 MVFC) Saturday — finished fourth in the MVFC, two places behind UNI. However, SDSU ranks 16 spots above UNI in the Sagarin Ratings and two spots ahead in the Massey Ratings.

UNI’s three FCS lossesall came on the road while its opponent was ranked inside the top 10. The Panthers’ other loss was in week 1 in triple overtime to FBS No. 22 Iowa State (7-4, 5-3 Big 12).

“I just thought that when you’re the second-place team and the lone team in the league with the people that we played — strength of schedule playing into and those types of things — that I thought our team did a great job of earning that (seed),” Farley said.

Asked whether a philosophy change is in order for UNI’s tough scheduling habits Farley gave a measured response.

“I think that’s something that needs to be decided behind closed doors for us,” Farley said. “Scheduling does matter. It matters a lot in FCS football. It matters a lot at the University of Northern Iowa. So, we really have to look at that.”

Illinois State received the MVFC’s only other at-large playoff bid to bring the Valley’s total of teams in the field to four. Meanwhile, Southern Illinois (7-5, 5-3 MVFC) was listed as one of the field’s first four out.

The Valley’s four selections tied the Big Sky and was one more than the Southland and CAA.

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