Northern Iowa Preview: A Fresh Perspective

Although No.12 Wisconsin has beaten up on FCS opponents over the years, the coaching staff has been adamant that Northern Iowa - ranked No.7 in the FCS coaches poll - is different. With the Panthers starting a freshman quarterback, they'll also have the element of surprise.

MADISON - Even though his players were focused on adjusting to two new defensive assistant coaches and learning the integral parts of his scheme, defensive coordinator Chris Ash was already starting to develop scouting reports on Wisconsin's first opponents back in April.

Four months later, the majority of his work hasn't changed as No.12 Wisconsin prepares for its season-opening opponent, Northern Iowa, this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

"They have a great coaching staff and they are very creative," said Ash, who went 4-0 against Northern Iowa during his seven-year stint at Iowa State. "They do a good job of studying defenses and finding ways to attack. They do a good job of calling plays, mixing things up and keeping you off guard.

"They have enough things in their tool box to attack you with. This is a great opener for us, both in terms of their talent, ability, winning tradition and scheme they run, which is different from what we see every day and will prepare us for the season."

Like many teams around the country in college football's opening weekend, both teams have a new weapon at quarterback. But while Wisconsin will hand the keys to its offense to Danny O'Brien and his 17 career starts, Northern Iowa is going considerably younger with redshirt freshman Sawyer Kollmorgen.

"What I like about him is he seems to be a very stable, confident young man," said Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley, entering his 12th year at the school. "He doesn't get rattled. He's got a calmness about him. He's got a competitiveness about him, but it's balanced in a way that he doesn't let the emotions get the best of him."

The Panthers – rated No.7 in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches preseason poll – had an open competition in fall camp to find a replacement for redshirt sophomore and presumed starter Jared Lanpher, who is sidelined with a sports hernia.

With an open competition between Kollmorgen, redshirt sophomore Stephen Kaiser (a SMU transfer) and true freshman Justin Black, Farley said Kollmorgen emerged as his best option, and will become just the fifth freshman in school history to start at quarterback.

"Probably the most consistent (candidate) over the course of camp," Farley said, referring to his stable of three available quarterbacks. "I decided to name a starter two weeks out from the game so he could prepare himself mentally and not just throw it on him the last week."

The 6-2, 215-pound Kollmorgen led Jenks (Okla.) High School to a 33-3 record and three consecutive state titles. He threw a school-record 38 touchdowns and only three interceptions during his 2,602-yard senior season.

Kollmorgen set school records with 6,716 passing yards, ranks second in school history with 74 touchdown passes and completed 73.4 percent of his passes, but never received a scholarship from a Division 1 school.

"We don't know anything about him because he hasn't played," said Ash of Kollmorgen. "Our game plan isn't going to change at all. Based on what we've seen on film, that's what we have to prepare for. We'll adjust, like we always have to, once the game gets here if we see something.

"We'll find out if he's a runner or thrower or what he is. We'll see how they tailor the offense to his skill set. They're going to do what they do."

Wisconsin has played a FCS opponent in all seven seasons under head coach Bret Bielema, recording a perfect 6-0 record and outscoring those opponents 288-to-103, but the Panthers aren't the typical pushover.

Finishing in a tie for first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Northern Iowa returns seven offensive and five defensive starters from a team that finished 10-3 last season after losing to Montana in the second round of FCS playoffs.

The Panthers also have come close to pulling a BCS upset. Iowa had to block two field goals in the final seven seconds to win 17-16 in the 2009 season opener and UNI lost 20-19 in last year's opener when Iowa State scored with 40 seconds remaining, dropping their record to 20-64-5 record against FBS opponents.

Although Farley says his team is, ‘too young and too inexperienced in places to really know who we are,' the Panthers averaged 334.5 yards of total offense and 167.8 rushing yards per game a year ago, running an offense that combines an Oregon-like spread attack from the shotgun with power plays with the quarterback under center.

"We didn't have to tell our guys twice that this is a very good football team," said Bielema. "Obviously Coach Farley had a long-standing tradition and history of playing well against FCS schools.

"I think the part that is very critical for us is to have success early … They're going to do certain things we've never seen on film based off his abilities. They're very strong up front, offensive line. That's probably their strongest position, four out of five back starters, and they're big people … They'll do some things very, very well."

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