Panthers set to take on the Cyclones

COLIN HORNING, Sports Writer

Returning to the field for the first time since last year’s second-round playoff defeat, the Panther football team will look to start the season off strong against 21st ranked Iowa State in Ames on Saturday at 11 a.m. on Fox Sports One. 

Head coach Mark Farley knows the challenge that is ahead giving high praise to this year’s Cyclones. 

“We’ve played a lot of Cyclone teams, and this is the best one that we’ve played,” Farley said.  “It’s a challenge.  If you’re not experienced you’ll be experienced coming out of the game.  It’ll be a quick learning curve.  We have to go in there and find out where we’re at, but have our team prepared to take on some very talented players.”

The Purple and Gold are returning 16 starters from last season’s playoff campaign; eight on the offensive end and eight on defense. Pre-season All-American tight end Briley Moore led the Panthers in receiving yardage last year with 536 yards, and looks to lead a strong receiving core again this season. 

Each of the top six receivers from last season will be returning, which figures to make life a little bit easier for redshirt freshman quarterback Will McElvain, who is coming into the season with no experience as a starter. He will be replacing three-year starter Eli Dunne, and will look to usher in a new era under center for the Panthers.

The defensive attack starts up front on the line.  “Our defensive line is the strength of our defense going into the first football game,” Farley said.  “Our interior tackles [Tim] Butcher, [Jared] Brinkman and Christian Boyd.  I mean we’re strong inside.  They’re doing a good job.  Our perimeter is good with enough depth as well.  We have Elerson Smith, Seth Thomas and Brawantae Wells.”

First-team all-MVC cornerback Xavior Williams will anchor the defensive backfield with the season-ending injury of defensive back Korby Sander, who was second on the defense in tackles with 93 along with three interceptions.

The linebackers will have to step up to make up for the loss of Sander’s 93 tackles.  The Panthers may have what they are looking for in transfer linebacker Spencer Cuvelier from Iowa Central.  Cuvelier racked up 96 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles last season at Iowa Central.

“What came together for us this fall was the development of Spencer Cuvelier,” Farley said.  “If he can continue to remain healthy and continue the growth that I’ve seen in camp he can be a great addition to our football team.  We have [Bryce] Flater battling [Chris] Kolarevic when he comes back for the other position.  The one that really stabilizes our linebacker core is Cuvelier.”

While Farley is impressed with Cuvelier, pairing the transfer with Kolarevic, who had 65 tackles last season, will make for a strong linebacking core.

Should the Panthers pull off the upset on Saturday, Farley would rack up his 150th career win. Farley already holds the most wins in UNI football and Missouri Valley Conference history.  His next win would put him as one of only ten coaches in FCS football history to reach 150 wins.

“The fans want to come out and see us win,” Farley said.  “We’ve been fortunate winning three of the last six, so we split with them, but every year is a little bit different.  We go down with the same expectation every year.”