Preparations for the 2014 football season are underway at UNI, with 18 starters returning from last year’s 7-5 team. Coach Mark Farley and the players met with reporters on Wednesday (August 6, 2014) during the team’s annual media day at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.

There is plenty of excitement and optimism in the Panthers’ camp this fall. Expectations are high, as well. Some pre-season Football Championship Sub-Division (FCS) polls have UNI ranked as high as 15th in the nation.

“Every season takes its own life. It goes its own direction,” Farley said. “We’re set to go on this journey.  In this particular season, there’s probably more depth than what we’ve had in years past and probably more talented depth.”

The Panthers built their depth experience last year, when mid-season injuries to several key players forced many reserve players to fill starting positions. UNI lost all five games consecutively in 2013, including three-straight in overtime.

Now as preparations get underway for 2014, the Panthers are hoping to meet or exceed pre-season expectations and end a two-year absence from the FCS playoffs. Of the returning starters, 10 are back on offense and eight on defense, along with punter Logan Bieghler.

Running back David Johnson is among the key veterans returning on offense. The senior from Clinton, Iowa, enters his final season fourth on UNI’s all-time career rush list with 3,129 yards. He’s currently 10th in school history with 4,327 all-purpose yards.

Farley says there is competition at every position, which includes quarterback. Sawyer Kollmorgan has started each of the past two seasons for UNI, but an injury forced him to finish the 2013 season as the back-up to Brion Carnes. They are competing to be the starter, along with sophomore quarterback Justin Black.

When talking about the competition between Kollmorgan and Carnes, Farley told reporters: “They both bring some intangibles to the table besides their talent. I think I have an idea which direction (the competition) is going, but I’m not ready to name a starter.”

The top player returning on defense is senior tackle Xavier Williams. He will be anchoring a unit that lost the most players in 2013. Most of the seven starters who graduated played mainly on the defensive line and at the linebacker position.

The Panthers open their 2014 season against two Football Bowl Sub-Division (FBS) teams, playing at Iowa on August 30th and Hawaii on September 13th.  Three of their first four Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) games are on the road.

Farley says after just three days of practice, he can tell what type of team UNI will be this fall.

“Great teams are consistent and great programs are consistent. Right now, I’m worried about being consistent from start to finish. So, we put the time into the plan to fit the players we have with the anticipation that should something happen that’s out of our control, we can still move forward in an aggressive way.”

Farley is entering his 14th season guiding UNI’s program and is the MVFC’s all-time coaching leader with 67 league victories.