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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 26 2012

Northern Iowa's tough schedule doesn't get easier against No. 1 Bison

FARGO – There is no award for the toughest schedule in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision. If there was, Northern Iowa would be a landslide winner with no campaign commercials needed.

It’s not unusual for an FCS team to play two teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision, which UNI did when it played at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Iowa in the first three weeks of the season. But it followed that with a road game at No. 3-ranked Youngstown State (Ohio) and will play top-ranked North Dakota State on Saturday.

“The hard part was coming right back and going to Youngstown,” said UNI head coach Mark Farley. “But that’s football. That was the schedule that we were given and we’ll line up and try it again this week.”

The Panthers scheduled two teams from the Big Ten Conference for financial reasons.

They received guarantees of $450,000 at Wisconsin and $500,000 at Iowa to help make up for a reduction in allocated funds from the Iowa Board of Regents.

What once was $5.5 million from the general fund in 2008 was cut to $3.8 million, according to the Des Moines Register newspaper.

“No. 1, your university needs and athletic department needs always override individual programs,” Farley said. “We had a need so in analyzing it, first and foremost, simply said it was the right thing to do. Budgetary wise and financial wise, we were a strong enough program to handle it.”

The Panthers have shown over the years they’re strong enough to go toe-to-toe with area FBS programs losing to in-state teams Iowa and Iowa State by one point on three separate occasions. Iowa State won 28-27 in 2006 and 20-19 last season. Iowa edged UNI 17-16 in 2009.

The Panthers had their chances at Wisconsin in a 26-21 loss. They had the ball in Badgers’ territory late in the game when a fourth-and-1 pass got batted down. Against Iowa, UNI was within one possession late in the third quarter, but couldn’t mount much of an offensive threat in the fourth.

But the Panthers responded with quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen throwing for 333 yards in a 42-35 loss at Youngstown.

“They have tremendous skill kids on offense,” said NDSU defensive coordinator Chris Klieman. “I know the level of skill kids they have and now they have the offensive line playing well – we’ll have our hands full.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia