(STATS) - Northern Iowa fans must have looked at the Panthers' 2015 schedule with delight… followed by anxiety.
"Great, we're playing Iowa State to open the season."
"Great, we're playing Eastern Washington."
"Great, we're playing Cal Poly, too."
"Wait, we're playing all of them?"
The difficulty of UNI's trio of non-conference games is something seen more regularly with FCS national powers than with any school on the FBS level. This year, the 14th-ranked Panthers are a common link to some other FCS contenders also taking on an especially competitive three-game slate outside their league, as No. 7 Eastern Washington and No. 18 Cal Poly put themselves in a similarly tough bind. So did No. 20 Montana, which lost to Cal Poly one week after opening its season with a victory over four-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
FCS fans can salivate that some of the national powers are willing to take on all customers and not overindulge on the cupcakes.
OK, maybe UNI fans are sweating a bit. Just three years ago, the Panthers took on too much too soon and opened 1-5 in a rare losing season.
Eastern Washington had a similar September in 2011 when it opened with four straight losses just nine months after winning the FCS national title. This season, the Eagles have sandwiched the UNI game between FBS power Oregon and a home matchup with nationally ranked Montana State.
But enough with the negative talk. Think about what winning enough of those games will do for a team's resume.
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=
The Matchup: No. 7 Eastern Washington (0-1) at Northern Iowa (0-1)
The Time: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
The Series: Northern Iowa leads, 5-0 (most recent meeting: UNI won, 41-38, in 2005 FCS playoffs)
The Skinny: All games in the series have been played at the UNI-Dome, including two in the postseason. Both teams were knocked out of last year's FCS playoffs by Illinois State.
EWU held its own offensively in a 61-42 season-opening loss to Oregon, and wide receiver Cooper Kupp (15 receptions, 246 yards, three touchdowns) proved again it doesn't matter who is throwing him the ball. He will continue to find rhythm with quarterback Jordan West. Considering the veteran secondary, the Eagles defense has to develop more of a pass rush than the one sack (by defensive end Samson Ebukam) and zero quarterback hurries it totaled a week ago. Northern Iowa must open up its offense more after relying on Aaron Bailey QB keepers and dump-offs to running back Darian Miller in a 31-7 loss to Iowa. The Panthers want to impart their physical will on the more-finesse Eagles and keep the action from being at a frantic pace. Iowa State struggled to run the ball as junior defensive tackle Karter Schult plugged the middle. If the Panthers take the run game away again, the all-senior secondary led by cornerback Deiondre' Hall and strong safety Tim Kilfoy will be opportunistic.
The Prediction: Yikes, somebody is going to be 0-2. Eastern Washington, 35-31.
WEEK 2 PICKS=
Last Week's Record: 81-9 (.900)
Overall Record: 81-10 (.890)
(All times Eastern, X-Predicted Winner)
THURSDAY, SEPT. 10=
Maryville College (1-0) at X-East Tennessee State (0-1), 7:30 p.m.
X-Southern (0-1, 0-0 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (0-1, 0-0), 7:30 p.m.
Bethel (0-0) at X-UT Martin (0-1), 7:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 11=
Bacone (0-1) at X-Texas Southern (0-1), 8 p.m.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 12=
No. 5 Jacksonville State (1-0) at X-Auburn (1-0), noon - Before winning the 2014 Ohio Valley Conference defensive player of the year award, Gamecocks D-tackle Devaunte Sigler played two seasons at Auburn.
X-No. 7 Eastern Washington (0-1) at No. 14 Northern Iowa (0-1), 2 p.m. - The FCS game of the week.
No. 15 Liberty (1-0) at X-West Virginia (1-0), 3 p.m. - FCS All-America place-kicker John Lunsford's 52-yard field goal against Delaware State made him 9-for-14 in his career from at least 50 yards out.
Weber State (0-1) at X-No. 2 North Dakota State (0-1), 3:30 p.m. - NDSU's 23-game home winning streak is the longest in the FCS. Thank you, Weber, for being another departing contestant.
X-Western Carolina (1-0, 0-0 Southern) at The Citadel (1-0, 0-0), 6 p.m.
Lafayette (0-1) at X-Delaware (0-1), 6 p.m.
No. 19 Eastern Kentucky (1-0) at X-North Carolina State (1-0), 6 p.m. - Instant impact: Ohio State transfer Noah Spence had five tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and forced a fumble in his EKU debut.
X-No. 3 Coastal Carolina (1-0) at South Carolina State (1-0), 6 p.m. - The Chanticleers, 20-1 all-time against MEAC opponents, are leaving the state of South Carolina only twice, and not until Oct. 24.
Saint Francis (1-0) at X-Towson (0-1), 6 p.m.
Franklin (0-0) at X-Butler (0-1), 6:30 p.m.
Southern Utah (0-1) at X-No. 9 South Dakota State (1-0), 7 p.m. - In an effort to raise awareness for Samaritan's Feet, an organization that has provided more than one million pairs of shoes to people around the world in the last two years, John Stiegelmeier (SDSU) and Ed Lamb (SUU) plan to coach their teams through pre-game warmups in bare feet.
Morgan State (0-1) at No. 4 X-Illinois State (0-1), 7:30 p.m. - In a meeting of teams which tied for 2014 conference titles, Illinois State will have no trouble against a MEAC squad which has lost six starters to academic ineligibility.
No. 18 Cal Poly (1-0) at X-Arizona State (0-1), 11 p.m. - National interceptions leader B.J. Nard of Cal Poly is on pace for 33 picks this season.