The anticipation continues to grow as North Dakota State gets closer to kicking off the 2020 season.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference has sat atop the Football Championship Subdivision as the top league in the country for the last ten years. It's hard to find a bigger game to start a conference season than the one that the Bison have on September 26th. NDSU opens conference play in Cedar Falls, Iowa against the Northern Iowa Panthers.

This game is always one of the most anticipated on the schedule no matter when it is, but when it's the first game that adds a little spice. This isn't the first time this has happened. NDSU and UNI opened league play in 2010 and 2012 both times in Iowa.

The Panthers enter 2020 with plenty of expectations. That comes after a breakout 2019 that saw UNI reach the FCS quarterfinals for the first time since 2015 and showcase a defense that gave national runner-up James Madison a run for its money. Mark Farley brings back plenty of talent to a team that always produces good football players.

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This series has turned in the last decade. UNI won the first three games in the Division I era, but everything changed in 2011. The Bison beat the Panthers at the Fargodome and since then NDSU has won nine of the last ten games, including a tremendous 2015 playoff game.

UNI has talent on both sides of the ball, starting at quarterback with sophomore Will McElvain. As a freshman, he won the starting job and progressively got better as the season went along. He's got weapons to throw to, namely Isaiah Weston, who racked up ten touchdowns last season and Deion McShane, a 2018 all-league newcomer, who missed a majority of 2019 with an injury. The Panthers did lose all-league tight end Briley Moore, who has transferred to Kansas State to finish his collegiate career.

On defense, they have some tremendous talent. Elerson Smith on the defensive line is a force, joined by Omar Brown and Xavior Williams in the secondary. This defense is poised to have a big year in 2020.

Northern Iowa Panthers

  • 2019 record: 10-5, lost in FCS quarterfinals
  • Will McElvain: 2,778 yards and 20 TDs in 2019
  • Lost six straight to NDSU
  • First four games (Iowa, Idaho State, Weber State and NDSU)

North Dakota State's Adam Cofield breaks away from Northern Iowa's Xavior Williams on a 37-yard touchdown run at the Fargodome on Saturday, Oct. 12. David Samson / Forum News Service
North Dakota State's Adam Cofield breaks away from Northern Iowa's Xavior Williams on a 37-yard touchdown run at the Fargodome on Saturday, Oct. 12. David Samson / Forum News Service