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***ARTICLE*** On the Prowl: The Anatomy of a Winning Program

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  • ***ARTICLE*** On the Prowl: The Anatomy of a Winning Program

    On the Prowl: The Anatomy of a Winning Program

    As UNI prepares for another semifinal game, the anticipation builds. That all-too-familiar sense of excitement is rising, and now everyone calling themselves a Panther fan from the most loyal to the most recently curious are trying to find a way to get to the Dome if at all possible.

    It's safe to say that this program is built for longterm success. Here in 2008 very few expected UNI to be in the semifinals, with a home game no less. The Cats finished 10-2 in the regular season, something that few would honestly say that they expected. It's true though: this team may be just as solid as the team that took the field in 2007.

    Enough talking about stuff that people already know, though. Here's the real question: how does a school like the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa become an undisputed FCS elite? This question should be posed in the wake of UNI defeating another rising program in New Hampshire. It should also be posed as Richmond comes to the Dome for the first time ever with an undeniable sense of expectations for a game already won.

    New Hampshire is the only game in town in the state. Before the comparisons to Montana are made, however, let's reel it back. New England never has been and likely never will be a hotbed for college football. That doesn't mean that there can't be a couple of bright spots. UNH might as well be one of them.

    As for Northern Iowa, the Panthers' success likely stems from a couple of factors. First and foremost, Head Coach Mark Farley. This is a man who is clearly dedicated to seeing UNI consistently be the best. It's not enough for him to have a couple of good seasons, he expects a great team every season. "No one thought we could run the ball when we lost two NFL tackles. They didn't think we could throw it because we lost Eric Sanders. They didn't think we could run or play any defense because BYU threw the ball for some good yardage against us early in the season."

    "This team has progressively gotten better and it hasn't listened to the critics. It's listened to the coaches and what we've tried to get done during the week, and that's what I credit them for. That's easier said than done. It's our coaching staff and it's our players... this has been a unique group from the beginning.

    "We had the golden group last year and this year's kind of like the ugly duckling. This is the team that's starting to show up and starting to blossom a key time in the year."

    Every group is unique here at UNI, and that's what makes it a consistent winner. It's helped along by other factors, too. It helps that UNI is the only scholarship FCS program in the state, and it has the undeniable support of the community that it has its base. It's becoming clearer every year that the City of Cedar Falls truly is Panther Country. It would be even greater if ESPN broadcasted that fact to the entire nation on Saturday. A full house, cheering a program. Not just a team, but a program.

    As Coach Farley said Saturday following the game, "If you've got a good program you can keep coming back and contend every year."

    "Once it starts, it never ends."
    -Eldon Miller