Breaking Down Iowa-UNI

Northern Iowa visits Kinnick Stadium for the third time in six seasons when the 2014 campaign kicks off Saturday. Can the UNI slay the heavily-favored Hawkeyes? HI breaks it down in this game preview with prediction.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - The narrative for this week's Iowa and Northern Iowa game will be a cautionary tale. It's college football's version of David and Goliath.

Opening week features FBS programs attempting to pad their records by paying large sums of money to FCS schools. Occasionally, there's an upset. Often it's a forgettable blowout.

When it's close, it's memorable. Block two field goals in the closing minute as the Hawkeyes did to top UNI in 2009, no one forgets.

In reality, Iowa's 17-16 victory five years ago was an aberration. It came back to beat the Panthers 27-16 in '12 in a season where the Hawkeyes went 4-8. In the three other meetings in the modern era, Iowa won by an average score of 48-11.

Heading into 2013, Big Ten teams held a combined 126-11 record against FCS schools. Eight of the conference schools, including Iowa (9-0), have not lost to a lower division opponent.

It's not to say Iowa will stroll past UNI, the No. 9-ranked team in the FCS. But if the Hawkeyes play well, at home, a win should not be in question.

Time, TV, Announcers: 11:01 a.m. CT on BTN with Eric Collins and Chuck Long.

The Series: Iowa leads 15-1 with the loss coming in 1898.

Betting Line: listed Iowa as a 16.5-point favorite Tuesday morning.

Betting Trends: Hawkeyes are 8-3 Against the Spread in their last 11 games overall. Hawkeyes are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 home games.

Match-up to Watch: UNI DT Xavier Williams (6-4, 309) could line up over Sean Welsh, a redshirt freshman playing in his first college game. Williams racked up 12 tackles for loss and six sacks last fall.

Take Note: On the 2014 roster, the Panthers have 70 student-athletes from the state of Iowa. The University of Iowa has 27 athletes on their current roster from Iowa while Iowa State has 36.

Take Note, Take Two: Iowa returns its leading passer, rusher, and receiver for the first time since 2010. QB Jake Rudock (2,383 yards), RB Mark Weisman (975 yards), and WR Kevonte Martin-Manley (388 yards) led Iowa in those three respective offensive categories last season. In 2010, QB Ricky Stanzi, RB Adam Robinson, and WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos returned to the Hawkeyes after leading the team in passing, rushing, and receiving yards the previous year. The Hawkeyes also return their leading punter (Connor Kornbrath, 40.0) and punt returner (Martin-Manley, 15.7).

Non-Sports Related: Authors Robert Waller (The Bridges of Madison County) and Nancy Price (Sleeping with the Enemy) graduated from UNI. They attended the school at the same time in the early 1960s.

Did You Know?: UNI tight end/tackles coach Frank Verducci was on Iowa’s coaching staff from 1989-98. Iowa played in eight bowl games, including two Rose Bowls, with Verducci on staff.

Did You Also Know?: Iowa has two former Northern Iowa players on its roster. Senior WR Drew Zaun joined the program as a walk-on in 2013 after spending the 2011-12 seasons with the Panthers. Senior LB Chad Gilson played in 17 games for UNI from 2011-12. Northern Iowa has a pair of former Iowa running backs on its roster. Sophomore RB Barkley Hill and Sophomore RB Michael Malloy played for the Hawkeyes from 2012-13. Neither player saw game action.

UNI Wins If… Hell freezes over. I kid. The Panthers must stop Iowa's running game. The Hawkeyes wore down UNI two years ago by pounding the ball 43 times on the ground for 201 yards and all three of their touchdowns. Northern Iowa also lost the turnover battle, 1-0, in that game. An advantage in takeaways could be a key for the visitors.

Iowa Wins If… It shows up for the game. I kid. Well, kind of. If the Hawkeyes play well, they should win without a great deal of difficulty. Run the ball, take care of the ball, stop the run, rinse and repeat.

Overview: I don't want to be that guy that dumps on the FCS, especially since I like Mark Farley and have gotten to know a lot of the Panthers through recruiting, but I will. There's a reason that it's a lower level of football. The players, as a whole, are not as good and the resources pale in comparison to their FBS counterparts.

Ohio State has only played FCS schools twice. Ever. And as much as I like how this helps an in-state school finacially, Iowa should not be playing FCS schools.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has asked that his member schools stop scheduling lower-division schools. So, this could be the last meeting between Iowa and UNI for quite some time, perhaps ever.

The Panthers return 18 starters from last year's team, including ultra-productive running back David Johnson and quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgan, both of whom played well at Kinnick Stadium in '12. Johnson totaled 154 yards of offense and Kollmorgan completed 20 of 33 passes for 245 yards.

This game could come down to how the UNI offensive line handles an experienced Hawkeye defensive front. The Panthers only replace one starter in Dan Kruger, but he was all-conference and a proven leader. Sophomores start at center and right guard.

UNI starts three seniors and a junior on a defensive line that goes against two seniors, two juniors and a freshman on Iowa's offensive front. The Panthers will give up size there.

This game could stay close for awhile as the teams work out the opening week kinks and feel each other out. The Hawkeyes will wear down UNI and pull away in the second half.

Prediction: IOWA 31, UNI 13

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