Panther face big test at Iowa State in week 1


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UNI quarterback Will McElvain takes the snap against Iowa State during the last time the two in-state rivals met back on Aug. 31, 2019. Iowa State eventually prevailed in the game, 29-26. The Panthers will look to pull off the upset this time on Sept. 4.


For the first time since 2019, the UNI Panthers football team is set to begin a fall season. Of course, last season the Missouri Valley Football Conference made the decision to postpone their season to the spring, and there was no college football in Cedar Falls for the entire fall semester. In their shortened spring season earlier this year, marred by injuries and COVID-related protocols holding players out of games, the Panthers finished with a disappointing record of 3-4. However, they showed that they are clearly still a team to contend with in the MVFC, staying close in every game and losing their four games by a total of 15 points. The Panthers will be tested in a big way in their season opener, traveling to Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 4 to take on the 7th ranked team in the nation, the Iowa State Cyclones.

The Panthers will face a big challenge on opening day against Iowa State. After going 9-3 a year ago in a season that included an appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game as well as a win over perennial powerhouse Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, the Cyclones return nearly all of their starters from their previous campaign. ISU is also one of only two teams in all of college football, alongside Notre Dame, to have three players listed as preseason first-team All Americans. “They’re a great football team with a system and a structure that makes them a great football team,” said UNI head football coach Mark Farley. “They are a huge challenge.”

While the Panthers may be in for a tough challenge, they should have a good team in their own right, as they come in ranked as the preseason No. 21 team in the FCS. With an offense led by quarterback Will McElvain, returning for his third year at the helm of the offense, and a defense that gave up just 15.3 points per game last season, UNI expects to be a contender in the postseason later this year.

The key player to watch for the Cyclones is junior running back Breece Hall. Hall is one of the three Cyclones listed as a first-team preseason All-American and is expected to be taken somewhere between the late first round and early second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

A couple key players to watch for the Panthers include McElvain. There was a noticeable difference in the spring season between the UNI offense when McElvain was on the field and when he was forced to sit out due to COVID quarantine, and it’ll be critical for the Panthers that he remains healthy and on the field this season. On the other side of the ball, junior linebacker Spencer Cuvelier will be a huge factor for the Panther defense. This past spring he led the team in tackles, finishing with 71, and was named to the All-MVFC First-Team. After a breakout spring, Cuevlier will look to lead one of the best defensive units in FCS football.

These two teams last met two years ago in the season opener of the 2019 season. This game was also played in Ames, and UNI nearly pulled off the big upset, finally falling to the Cyclones in triple overtime, 29-26. This was McElvain’s first career start, and he had a very nice game for a true freshman playing in such a big environment, throwing for 228 yards and a touchdown. In his return to Jack Trice Stadium, McElvain will attempt to lead the Panthers to take a step further than they did last time, and pull off a big upset over Iowa State. The game is scheduled for a 3:30 PM kickoff on Saturday and will be available on ESPN+.