This week, the FBS Iowa Hawkeyes will face the FCS Northern Iowa Panthers.
Under normal circumstances, that should mean an easy win for the Hawks, and a lot of playing time for the second and third string players.
However, this year hasn't been a "normal" year so far.
Iowa is off to a 1-1 start, which, in itself, is not surprising—that was my prediction two months ago—but the way it has taken place has been surprising.
The Hawks are averaging 12 points-per-game and are currently the No. 114 scoring offense in the country. They are also the 110th rushing offense (yards-per-carry or YPC), No. 115 in total offense and No. 119 in passing offense (passer efficiency).
And the Hawkeyes' schedule thus far, while not too shabby, also hasn't exactly featured two world beaters—Iowa State and Northern Illinois.
Nevertheless, it is pointless comparing the two teams man-for-man, because, despite Iowa's issues and the fact that Northern Iowa is consistently one of the best FCS teams in the country, if the Hawks can manage to score more than 24 points, they should take home a victory.
If the Hawks can't manage more than 24 points, then the issue lies more with the Hawkeyes than the Panthers.
As for UNI, the Panthers have won the Missouri Valley Football Conference Championship five of the last seven years. They have also had double-digit win seasons three of the last five years.
More recently, they almost beat defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin, though the Badgers, who are facing offensive issues of their own (per Fox Sports Wisconsin), were not the imposing foe that they seemed at the time of the game.
This year, UNI returns only 10 starters, but much of that returning experience is on the offensive line, where UNI returns four starters. As Iowa fans well know, the team that controls the line controls the point of attack and thus, controls the game.
In effect, the UNI line will arguably be the best O-line the Hawks have faced so far this year, and the best line it will face until at least mid-October.
The new quarterback, redshirt freshman Sawyer Kollmorgen, while solid, has not been spectacular, completing only 55.8 percent of his passes this year. On the other hand, he has taken care of the ball, having yet to throw an interception. He is not a threat to run, but having only taken one sack this year, he gets rid of the ball quickly.
Iowa will have to commit itself to stopping the run game in the form of talented running backs David Johnson and Carlos Anderson, though the Badgers had no trouble squashing both of them. Against UW, Johnson and Anderson averaged 2.13 YPC on 16 combined carries.
Also, the Panthers have a dangerous receiver in senior Terrell Sinkfield.
On defense, UNI lost five of their front seven to graduation.
The Panther linebackers are nowhere near as good as Iowa State's talented Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, which should help the Iowa rushing game get going.
Again, one could read into UNI holding Wisconsin to a 3.57 YPC, but the Badgers currently have more issues than Iowa.
In short, Iowa should be able to run the ball with some success against the Panthers.
The bigger question concerns the Hawkeye passing game, which has been horrific thus far this year.
UNI returns three in the backfield, though they couldn't keep UW quarterback Danny O'Brien from completing over 80 percent of his passes.
The key wildcard could be emotions, as UNI has had a number of recent near misses against FBS foes. Over the last four seasons, the Panthers have almost beaten Wisconsin, Iowa State and Iowa in 2009.
As the Des Moines Register's Mark Emmert pointed out, the Panthers are "tired of recent 'almosts' against FBS foes."
This could be their best chance to beat an FBS foe since 2007's win over Iowa State. It is also a chance to beat Iowa for the first time since 1898.
All of this isn't to diminish UNI's chances against Iowa this weekend.
However, man-for-man, the only area where the Panthers might hold an advantage is their offensive line vs. Iowa's defensive line.
In effect, if Iowa is to lose this game, it will be more a failure on Iowa's part than a great game played by UNI.
And given the way Iowa eked out six points against Iowa State, that is a distinct possibility.
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