2021 football preview: unprecedented season ahead for UNI


Courtesy Photo

The UNI football season kicks off on Friday, Feb. 19 in the UNI-Dome at 7 p.m.

COLIN HORNING, Sports Editor

For the first time in its history, the UNI-Dome will be hosting Missouri Valley Conference football in the spring. Due to numerous postponements, cancellations and schedule changes, the MVFC football season will begin on Friday, Feb. 19 and will be played through the final week on April 10. The UNI Panthers will kick off their season on Feb. 19 in the UNI-Dome, hosting a top-five matchup against South Dakota State.

Last season was largely a successful one for head coach Mark Farely and the Panthers. Consistently ranked in the FCS top-25 all season, UNI finished 6-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and 10-5 overall, losing to James Madison in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs last season. The season began on the road in Ames against Iowa State in a game which saw the Panthers take the 21st-ranked Cyclones into three overtimes before ultimately falling by the score of 29-26. All five of the Panther’s losses last season came at the hands of ranked opponents (Iowa State, Weber State, North Dakota State, South Dakota State and James Madison).

The Missouri Valley Football Conference will be returning one of its strongest brands of football in recent history. Three of the preseason top-five teams play in the Valley with North Dakota State coming in at No. 1, UNI third and South Dakota State ranked fifth. Five teams from the conference are ranked in the top 25 with Illinois State ranked ninth and Southern Illinois in at No. 24. Three of the Panthers’ first four games will be played against ranked Valley teams (SDSU, Illinois State and Southern Illinois).

UNI head coach Mark Farely enters his 20th season at the helm of the Panthers. During his time as the head man, he has won 159 career games and 99 MVFC games and is the all-time Valley leader in wins as a head coach. He is the active leader in FCS playoff wins with 17 and has led UNI to at least a share of the conference football title seven different times.

The Panthers will be returning redshirt sophomore quarterback Will McElvain on offense. Last season he threw for 2,778 yards and 20 touchdowns during his first year leading the UNI offense. Kansas University graduate transfer Dom Williams, sophomore Nick McCabe and redshirt junior Tyler Hoosman will look to split carries in the backfield, and Isaiah Weston and Deion McShane will look to be the featured wide receivers for UNI on the offensive side.

On the other side of the ball, UNI is bringing back a defense that was a top-five scoring defense in the country in 2019. Lead by defensive lineman Brawntae Wells and Jared Brinkman, linebackers Alfonzo Lambert and defensive backs Isaiah Nimmers and Korby Sander, the Panthers look to bring back yet another solid defensive lineup for the 2021 season.

The season kicks off on Friday, Feb. 19 in the UNI-Dome against South Dakota State. Other home games will be against Illinois State on March 6, Missouri State on March 20 and North Dakota State on April 10. The FCS playoffs are scheduled to begin on April 24.