AMES, Iowa (AP) Losing to Northern Iowa in last year's opener wasn't acceptable for Iowa State.
Falling to the FCS Panthers yet again on Saturday would be a disaster for the Cyclones.
Iowa State (3-9 in 2016) and new coach Matt Campbell were still trying to figure each other out when Northern Iowa beat the Cyclones 25-20 . Iowa State rallied to win two of its final three games last season.
A talented set of skill positions players, combined with some intriguing new pieces on defense, have many in Ames thinking about a bowl bid.
But Northern Iowa is long past the days when simply setting foot inside a Big 12 stadium signaled defeat. The Panthers are 3-7 against the Cyclones in Ames under coach Mark Farley.
''We were soul searching early in the (2016) season,'' Campbell said. The fact of the matter is that they beat us. Their kids played really well that night.''
Here are some story lines to follow as Iowa State prepares to host the Panthers:
The opener will be Iowa State junior quarterback Jacob Park's first chance to show what he can do after a full offseason in the program. After stints at Georgia and a community college, Park won the job last fall despite not arriving on campus until late last summer. Park completed 58.8 percent of his passes in 2016 and threw for at least two touchdowns five times.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS
Northern Iowa is typically a strong bet to make the FCS playoffs. But beating Iowa State proved to be the highlight of last season for the Panthers, who slipped to 5-6 and posted just their third losing season in 16 years under Farley. Northern Iowa is expected to bounce back this fall though. The Panthers have 17 starters returning, led by quarterback Eli Dunne, and are 18th in the preseason poll.
''There's going to adversity, challenges and excitement. It's going to be a four-quarter football game, so it'll be a battle. It should be fun,'' coach Mark Farley said.
SEVEN MORE FOR LAZARD
Iowa State senior wide receiver Allen Lazard needs just seven receptions to pass Todd Blythe (176) as the school's all-time leading receiver. Lazard averaged seven catches a game over his last five in 2016 and led the Big 12 with 54 receptions that resulted in either a first down or a touchdown.
One of Northern Iowa's top threats on offense is sophomore Jalen Rima - the grandson of UNI play-by-play man Gary Rima. Jalen scored four touchdowns last season, including two in the return game, to earn a spot on the All-MVFC Newcomer team. But he'll need to do a lot more than in 2017 to match the popularity of his grandfather, whose enthusiastic calls during Northern Iowa men's basketball games have made him a fan favorite in Cedar Falls.
Saturday will mark the debut of freshman tight end Chase Allen, one of the most highly-touted prospects at that position in recent memory for Iowa State. Allen's father Terry was the starting quarterback at Northern Iowa from 1976-78, and he served as their head coach from 1989-96. ... Campbell's only losing season as a head coach came in 2016. He began his career with 35 wins in 50 tries at Toledo. ... Iowa State's Joel Lanning is expected to make his first career start at linebacker after moving from quarterback in January.
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