After years of high expectations both in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and nationally, Northern Iowa's reputation as an FCS power seems to have diminished heading into 2017.
The Panthers, who fell to 5-6 last year despite opening the season with a win at Iowa State, were picked fourth in the Valley's preseason poll- and without a single vote for first.
Northern Iowa figures to have another tough schedule in 2017, starting when it opens its season Sept. 2 with a rematch against the Cyclones on the road.
"This team will find its course. We have a lot of youth, speed and depth," coach Mark Farley said Wednesday. "Depth is the challenge to meet the challenge of the type of teams that we play."
It could be argued that last season's subpar record, a rarity at a school where playoff appearances are expected, wasn't as bad as it looked.
The Panthers lost to subdivision powers Montana and Eastern Washington and fell to North Dakota State and at Youngstown State by just four points apiece.
Still, missing the postseason led to some big changes on UNI's coaching staff. The Panthers will have seven new assistants in 2017, including co-offensive coordinators John Bond and Mike Simmonds.
With its offense up in the air, Northern Iowa will likely look for its defense to anchor the team in the early part of the season.
The Panthers should be strong in the secondary, led by defensive backs Malcolm Washington and Elijah Campbell. But the star of UNI's defense should be Jared Farley, the coach's son.
Farley, a senior this fall, had 80 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of fumble recoveries in 2016.
"It's about finding ways to win, and not worrying about what you don't have but finding a way to win with what you do have," Mark Farley said.
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