(STATS) - An attractive lineup of nonconference games stand out with Northern Iowa's 2016 schedule that was announced Thursday, but the Missouri Valley Football Conference matchup against North Dakota State is the biggest of the season.
NDSU beat UNI in two tight matchups this season, including 23-13 in the playoff quarterfinals on the way to winning its fifth straight FCS championship.
The Panthers are expected to return a standout team next season and are 3-1 under coach Mark Farley when playing NDSU inside the UNI-Dome. The Panthers hold a 26-22 series lead and the national powers will meet again Oct. 29 in Cedar Falls.
"I feel as though the Northern Iowa-North Dakota State matchup each year always is the national championship, no matter what," said former UNI cornerback Deiondre' Hall, who is training for the upcoming NFL Draft. "That rivalry just mean everything to the guys on both sides."
The Panthers, who finished 9-5 and with a No. 8 ranking in the STATS FCS Top 25,will host Big Sky Conference power Montana on Sept. 10 and also visit Big 12 member Iowa State (Sept. 3) and Eastern Washington (Sept. 17) from the Big Sky prior to their Missouri Valley schedule.
In addition to NDSU, the Panthers will host Southern Illinois (Oct. 1, Homecoming), Missouri State (Oct. 22) and South Dakota State (Nov. 19) within conference play.
UNI will return such standouts as quarterback Aaron Bailey and running back Tyvis Smith, both 1,000-yard rushers, along with defensive end Karter Schult.
2016 Northern Iowa Schedule
Sept. 3, at Iowa State
Sept. 10, Montana
Sept. 17, at Eastern Washington
Oct. 1, Southern Illinois* (Homecoming)
Oct. 8, at South Dakota*
Oct. 15, at Youngstown State*
Oct. 22, Missouri State*
Oct. 29, North Dakota State*
Nov. 5, at Indiana State*
Nov. 12, at Western Illinois*
Nov. 19, South Dakota State*
* - Missouri Valley Football Conference game