Looking to rebound from a 7-5 campaign, the University of Northern Iowa football team has been picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll.
The perennial FCS power received 324 points and seven first-place votes in a poll conducted by league coaches, media and sports information directors.
Defending national champion North Dakota State is the conference favorite earning 24 of a possible 39 first-place votes and totaling 370 points. The Bison have won 24 straight games and 43 of their last 45. South Dakota State is second in the poll with 330 points and eight first-place votes after claiming runner-up in the MVFC and advancing to the FCS playoffs a year ago.
Youngstown State (240 points) and Southern Illinois (237) rounded out the top half of the preseason poll. A preseason favorite has captured the league crown 16 times in 28 previous polls including North Dakota State's title last year.
The Panthers also had four players selected to the MVFC preseason first team. Running back David Johnson and offensive lineman Jack Rummells join fellow senior defensive lineman Xavier Williams and junior defensive back Makinton Dorleant.
Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen and wide receiver Kevin Vereen each earned honorable mention. North Dakota State had a league-high eight total selections, followed by UNI and South Dakota State with six apiece, while Missouri State had five.
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. North Dakota St. (24)370
2. South Dakota St. (8)330
3. Northern Iowa (7)324
4. Youngstown St.240
5. Southern Illinois237
6. Illinois St.197
7. Missouri St.180
8. South Dakota121
9. Western Illinois96
10. Indiana St.50
Johnson also has been named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List, given to the top FCS offensive player each year. He also was named a preseason All-American by The Sports Network and was added to the College Football Performance Awards Running Back Watch List. Johnson finished the 2013 season with 1,286 rushing yards and 393 receiving yards for 1,679 all-purpose yards.
The Panthers open the season against Iowa on the road at 11 a.m. They open their home slate against Northern Colorado on Sept. 20 at 4 p.m.