In an effort to bring you the best in Badger football coverage during the football season we have a tradition of getting journalists and bloggers that follow and cover our opposition on our site and radio program to talk about what to expect from them. Well, in that spirit we're extending that look to the Spring football camps with our post-spring interviews.
Up first is our first opponent of the season the Northern Iowa Panthers. Joining us to talk about the team that's up first on the Badgers schedule is Doug Newhoff of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, the hometown newspaper for the Panthers. He was kind enough to answer a few questions and will be back to help us break things down this fall as well.
With that, here is our interview focusing on the Northern Iowa Panthers:
MTB: Wisconsin fans may not be the most familiar with the Northern Iowa program, could you describe how they fit in at the FCS level? Are they an upper echelon team, middle of the pack, or how would you describe them?
Doug: UNI would have to be described as an upper echelon FCS program. The Panthers are consistently ranked among the FCS Top 25, frequently among the top 10 and make the FCS playoffs more often than not. Historically, they've also represented themselves well against FBS competition.
MTB: One thing I know is that this is a team that's very familiar with playing BCS level competition and has pulled an upset or two over BCS teams. Coming out of spring football do you see them being intimidated by a likely top 15 BCS program?
Doug: I don’t see this UNI team being intimidated by any opponent or stadium atmosphere. They went into Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City a couple of years ago and gave a good Hawkeyes team a good battle. They've also been to BYU, Iowa State, Boise State, etc., etc.
MTB: Offensively this has been a powerful team in the past, what was the bright spot and what was the area of concern coming out of spring?
Doug: Bright spots would be the promising play of the team’s two young quarterbacks, Sawyer Kollmorgen out of Oklahoma and Jared Lanpher out of Missouri. Kollmorgen is a redshirt freshman and Lanpher a redshirt sophomore. Neither has much experience, so their development was an important emphasis of spring practices. The run game looks solid with a versatile mix if size and speed and players who can also contribute in the passing game. The receiving corps is young but capable, and head coach Mark Farley likes the size, strength and mobility he has up front. Most of the questions surrounding this team are on the defensive side of the ball where the front seven must be rebuilt.
MTB: Looking at the matchup on paper it's going to come down to the defensive line vs. Wisconsin's offensive line, is that the biggest area of concern on the Panthers defense coming out of spring?
Doug: That may not be the biggest area of concern to UNI, but it’s got to be a big concern for anyone who plays the Badgers. UNI can’t match Wisconsin’s o-line physically.
MTB: What was the main theme coming out of spring camp for UNI?
Doug: The focus through spring drills was sorting out some depth, finding some players to fill some of the holes on the depth chart, putting some new players into the fire to see what they can do when the lights come on and experimenting with some position changes to find ways to get the best athletes on the field. That was especially important this spring because of all the defensive players who are gone from last season.
MTB: I see that Head Coach Mark Farley doesn't want his players focusing on the games against Wisconsin or Iowa, what's behind that choice of words and do you believe that's really the case?
Doug: I think that’s exactly the case. Given the schedule UNI faces with Wisconsin and Iowa among the first three games followed by two FCS opponents that will be Top 10 teams in Youngstown State and North Dakota State, Farley has challenged his team to prepare itself for the physical demands it will face next season during its offseason workouts. When you play at the FCS level, it’s always true that winning your league and earning that automatic playoff qualifier is more important than your results against FBS competition. That’s not to say that every player and coach on that team won’t do everything in their power to defeat Wisconsin or Iowa, those simply aren't the most important games on UNI’s schedule.
Thanks to Doug for all of his help and make sure you check out the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier for all the news on the Panthers leading up to our matchup.