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Around the Valley: Northern Iowa gunning to get back to contending for title

Panthers won't have a say in how NDSU does because the two teams don't play each other

Northern Iowa’s Theo Day jumps into the arms of his teammate Isaiah Weston in celebration of Weston’s second-quarter touchdown against North Dakota State on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in the Fargodome.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

FARGO — Both North Dakota State and Northern Iowa have been perennial contenders for the Missouri Valley Football Conference title over the years. The Bison had the upper hand, but UNI was always knocking on the door.

This year, neither will have a say against the other. The two teams don’t play each other because of the eight-game rotating schedule in the 11-team Valley. It’s something UNI head coach Mark Farley doesn’t like.

“That’s the one I didn’t want off the schedule,” Farley said. “That’s the part I don’t like about our league, you don’t play everybody.”

The Panthers are coming off an average year in almost every respect starting with the 6-6 overall record, 4-4 in the Valley. They never had more than a two-game winning streak and never had less than a two-game losing streak, with the season ending in a 19-9 first-round FCS playoff loss at Eastern Washington.

There were changes in the offseason, including new coaching leaders on both sides of the ball. Offensive line coach Ryan Clanton was elevated to offensive coordinator. Randall McCray, a 30-year veteran in the coaching ranks, was named defensive coordinator with his latest stops being linebackers coach at Florida International and special teams coach with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.


“He understands what we do and has good ideas to complement what we’ve done in the past,” Farley said.

Helping UNI coaches is a new practice facility that has left the Panthers scrambling for football field space the last two seasons — the 2021 spring season and again last fall.

“We haven’t practiced on a football field at our facility,” Farley said. “You kind of forget that but that is all about continuity, consistency and an efficient use of time.”

The Panthers are looking for consistency at quarterback. Sophomore Theo Day played in 11 games last season completing 56% of his passes. He threw for 16 touchdowns, but also had 11 interceptions.

Redshirt freshman Matt Morrissey played sparingly in two games, but is in the hunt for the starting job this fall. Those two didn’t separate themselves in spring practice. Day started his career at Michigan State and Morrissey transferred from Trinity Valley Community College (Texas).

“We’ll take a good, solid two weeks to install and make sure everybody gets the knowledge they need to show the talent they have,” Farley said. “We’ll see who separates themselves.”

Two of UNI’s top three receivers are back in seniors Deion McShane and Quan Hampton. The Panthers also have one of the top kickers in the FCS in Matthew Cook, who was successful on 19-of-22 tries last year, including 9-of-10 from 41-49 yards. He was 2-of-3 from beyond 50 yards.

“That means the world,” Farley said. “He’s a gem. He’s awesome. It’s hard to try to be a leader from a kicker, but Matt has.”


Day 1: Illinois State Redbirds

Day 2: Indiana State Sycamores

Day 3: Missouri State Bears

Day 4: North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Today: Northern Iowa Panthers

Day 6: South Dakota Coyotes

Day 7: South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Day 8: Southern Illinois Salukis


Day 9: Western Illinois Leathernecks

Day 10: Youngstown Penguins

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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