Head coach Mark Farley is heading into his 12th year at the helm for the Panthers winning at least a share of seven Missouri Valley Football Conference championships, advancing to seven FCS playoff appearances, 10 top-25 final rankings, three national semifinal appearances and one national title game appearance in 2005.
UNI won back-to-back MVFC titles in 2011 following a 7-1 run through league play. UNI sealed a part of the MVFC title with a 23-20 double-overtime win at Illinois State to close out the regular season. The Panthers also achieved Farley's sixth 10-plus win season since taking over in 2001.
During the 2012 season, the Panthers will be returning seven offensive and five defensive starters after finishing with a record of 10-3 to conclude the 2011 season. The team will also be returning two specialists and 42 total letterwinners to the squad for fall camp.
Returning to the gridiron this fall for the Panthers on offense includes key running backs Carlos Anderson and David Johnson along with wide receiver Terrell Sinkfield. UNI will have a strong and experienced offensive line when they return four starters for the 2012 season.
On defense, the Panthers will have a solid back-field with starters Garrett Scott and Wilmot Wellington returning accompanied by cornerbacks Varmah Sonie and J.J. Swain. Also returning to the defensive side of the ball will be defensive end Chris Jepsen.
The kicking and punting corps will have plenty of experience with Tyler Sievertsen returning to his place-kicking and kick-off duties with Kyle Bernard returning to punt for the Panthers. Sievertsen was selected to the 2012 College Sports Madness FCS Preseason All-America second team and to the Beyond Sports College Network FCS Preseason All-America first team.
In addition to the experience of the starters and key returners, the Panthers have added 22 new student-athletes to the roster including 20 freshmen, three junior college transfers and one transfer from Southern Methodist University.
Originally from Brunswick, Ga., Wes Smith will join the Panthers during the 2012 season after playing for Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He played in 11 games for the Reivers, catching 33 passes for 438 yards. He returned a combined 45 kickoffs and punts for 924 yards and two touchdowns.
Stephen Kaiser will join the Panther quarterbacks after playing his freshman season at Southern Methodist University. Kaiser, who is originally from St. Louis, Mo., was a three-star Rivals.com and Scout.com recruit in high school and was ranked the No. 17 quarterback in the nation by Scouts, Inc.
Along with the incoming freshmen and transfer players, Farley has also made additions to his coaching staff. Daniel Bullocks, Todd Blythe and D.J. Hord will become part of the Panther football family during the 2012 season.
Bullocks will begin his collegiate coaching career with the Panthers this year after playing safety in the National Football League for the Detroit Lions. Bullocks was drafted in the second round to the Lions in 2006 and played with the franchise until 2009 when he was placed on injured reserve.
Bullocks played college football for the University of Nebraska where he started 22 games for the Cornhuskers and served as co-captain during his senior year.
Blythe will become a new offensive assistant for the Panthers during the 2012 season after spending two seasons with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League as a wide receiver. In his first season with the Barnstormers, he caught 66 passes for 826 yards and 22 touchdowns and followed those stats with his 2011 performance with 87 passes, 1,181 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Blythe played at Iowa State and became one of the most prolific receivers in Iowa State history and for the Big 12 Conference. He started all 45 games he played in for Iowa State and he still holds the school career receiving records with 176 passes caught for 3,096 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Hord will make his return to the UNI-Dome this season as a graduate assistant for the football staff after finishing up his collegiate football career with the Panthers. Hord originally attended Notre Dame as a wide receiver for the Fighting Irish.
Hord played in 12 games for Notre Dame recording seven kick-off returns for 123 yards. He finished his collegiate career with UNI in 2008 and 2009. He played in 26 games for the Panthers accumulating 51 catches for 750 yards and five touchdowns.
The football team and coaches will host its Media Day on Sat., Aug. 4, from 9:30 a.m. to noon in the UNI-Dome. Farley and his staff, along with requested student-athletes will be present for video sessions, team photos and interviews with the media.
The Panthers open their 11-game regular season schedule against Wisconsin on Sept. 1 at 2:30 p.m. Wisconsin finished the 2011 season ranked in the AP Top-25 and USA Today polls. UNI will play the Badger's Big Ten foe Iowa in the third week of the season on the road at 2:30 p.m on Sept. 15.
There will be five home games played in the UNI-Dome this season, including four MVFC games. UNI will open the home season Sept. 8 against Central State. The Panthers will also play host to the defending FCS national champion North Dakota State Bison on Sept. 29 as a part of family weekend/hall of fame weekend. South Dakota State will come to Cedar Falls, Iowa for homecoming this year to take on the Panthers on Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. UNI will matchup with Illinois State in the Dome Oct. 27 in a White Out game. The Panthers will close out the regular season against Missouri State at home on Nov. 17, which will serve as senior night.
Key Returning Starters (Offense)
Terrell Sinkfield, WR, Senior: During the 2011 season, Sinkfield recorded 28 receptions for 464 yards and six touchdowns. His longest reception was for 40 yards against Missouri State and Southern Utah. He also notched 43 yards off of three kick returns.
Carlos Anderson, RB, Senior: Anderson accumulated 77 carries for 410 yards and four receptions for 33 yards during his 2011 campaign. His longest rush was for 57 yards against South Dakota State. He finished third on the team in rushing yards. He returned 24 kicks for 555 yards and recorded 1,003 all-purpose yards.
David Johnson, RB, Sophomore: Finished the 2011 season with 179 carries for 822 yards and nine touchdowns. He also recorded 33 receptions for 422 yards and three touchdowns. His longest rush was a 63 yard gain against Montana and he also garnered an 80 yard touchdown pass against Iowa State. He received All-MVFC honorable mention status and was also named to the MVFC All-Newcomer team.
Misha Danilov, OL, Senior: Started 13 games.
Dan Kruger, OL, Junior: Started 13 games.
Brian Palangi, OL, Senior: Started 13 games.
Tim Sauer, OL, Senior: Started six games.
Key Returning Starters (Defense)
Chris Jepsen, DE, Junior: During the 2011 season, Jepsen recorded 27 total tackles including nine solo tackles and 18 assisted tackles. He also notched six tackles for loss of yards and one quarterback hurry.
Garrett Scott, SS, Senior: Scott finished the 2011 season with 105 total tackles including 55 solo tackles and 50 assisted tackles. He also finished with three tackles for loss of yards, one quarterback sack, four interceptions and nine pass breakups. He had a season-high 13 tackles against Southern Utah.
Wilmot Wellington, FS, Senior: Wellington finished his 2011 campaign with 59 total tackles. He also notched three pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
Varmah Sonie, CB, Senior: Sonie finished the 2011 season with 17 punt returns for 147 yards and a total of 177 all-purpose yards. He completed the season with 70 total tackles including 37 solo tackles and 33 assisted tackles. He had 3.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, three interceptions and seven pass breakups. He had a season high 12 tackles against Stephen F. Austin. Sonie was named to the All-MVFC First Team for his 2011 season performance.
J.J. Swain, CB, Senior: Swain recorded 69 total tackles including 45 solo tackles and 24 assisted tackles. He finished the season with three tackles for loss of yards, three interceptions and three pass breakups. He had a season-high 12 tackles against Southern Utah.