Northern Iowa Panthers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Northern Iowa Panthers (0-0) v. No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes (0-0) 12:05pm EST, September 5, 2009, Kinnick Stadium, Big Ten Network (Regional)
by Evergreen of

Point Spread: Northern Iowa +24/Iowa -24
Over/Under Total: OFF

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With a few notable exceptions, most of the early part of the NCAA football schedule is filled with top-25 teams getting fat off creampuff opponents. That can be said to some degree about this matchup as Iowa welcomes Northern Iowa to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday for the season opener. While in state games typically have some added sizzle, NIU is part of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, and although they are ranked fourth in the FCS polls, they should pose no real threat to the Hawkeyes, at least on paper.

Iowa has its sights set on a possible Rose Bowl berth, but will be dealing with the loss of junior running back Jewel Hampton who was supposed to fill the void left by Shonn Greene. Hampton is out for the year after a knee injury, leaving a quartet of inexperienced backs to shoulder the load throughout the season.

The Hawkeyes are coming off a 2008 season that saw them win five of their last six games to go 8-4 overall and took out South Carolina 31-10 in the Outback Bowl. They return eight starters to a defensive unit that will have to put up top-10 numbers like it did last year in case the offense struggles to find a rhythm. Kirk Ferentz will be able to rely on second year QB Richard Stanzi who is coming off a season in which he threw for 14 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos returns as the teams leading receiver and Marvin McNutt makes the transition to wideout after seeing some time under center last year.

Northern Iowa is among the cream of the FCS crop and the Panthers are looking for their third straight Missouri Valley Conference title. NIUs season came to an end last year in the semi-finals of the FCS playoffs. The team has 14 starters returning this season, including nine from an offense that ranked 3rd in FCS scoring at 29.2 points per game. Pat Grace will lead the Panthers. The dual threat senior play caller is coming off an all conference season where he threw for 2,041 yards, rushed for 618 more and accounted for 25 total scores.

Mark Farley enters his ninth season as the coach of Northern Iowa and brings a 75-28 overall record into 2009, including a 2-7 mark against FBS opponents. NIU has fared pretty well against tough opposition, going 9-17 overall against Bowl Subdivision teams, most recently beating Iowa State in 2007 and losing 41-17 to BYU last year.

Saturday will mark the 15th meeting between the schools with Iowa winning the last 13 after Northern Iowa took the 1898 series opener. The Hawkeyes won 45-21 the last time the schools met in 2005.

I havent heard anyone predicting an Appalachian State-like upset on Saturday, but given the running back situation for the Hawkeyes, there are some that are calling for the Panthers to win with the points. Its so hard to get a gauge on how an FCS team will fare against a ranked opponent, but Northern Iowa should get some points on the board, making it hard for Iowa to shake them early.

Evergreen’s Pick: There’s surely better value on the board on Saturday, but if ya gotta bet it, take Northern Iowa and the points.