Plenty of similarities between McNeese, Northern Iowa

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

When McNeese State looks into the mirror, it could easily see a reflection of Northern Iowa staring back.

In many ways, the programs are the same thing in different parts of the country, making today’s 4 p.m. showdown between the

No. 9 Cowboys (4-0) and No. 5 Panthers (3-0) at the UNI-Dome all the more intriguing.

The similarities are almost uncanny.

Both teams are off to their best starts

since 2007 — the same year McNeese head coach Matt Viator finished

third behind UNI

coach Mark Farley in the voting for the Eddie Robinson National

Coach of the Year. The unbeaten starts include wins over Bowl

Championship Series automatic qualifiers in Week 1, with McNeese

trouncing South Florida and UNI topping Iowa State.

Both coaches are true to their schools. Viator is a 1986 McNeese graduate. Farley received his degree from UNI one year later.

The Panthers have made 16 Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) playoff appearances; the Cowboys 14.

Both have reached the national championship game — McNeese in 1997 and 2002, UNI in 2005 — but haven’t won it.

The past two seasons, both have watched a conference rival make it to the national title game.

Both are among the top 25 in FCS attendance on a yearly basis.

And that’s just the background information.

Though his team is built on speed and UNI is built on power, Viator said they share similar philosophies on both sides of

the ball.

“What we do offensively is very similar,” Viator said. “And, from a defensive standpoint, it’s pretty similar, too. They’re

an attacking style of defense that prides itself on sacks and turnovers. That’s kind of what makes them go, and it’s very

similar to what we do.”

This is indisputably a big game for both teams — the Cowboys are in a regular-season game with both teams ranked in the top

10 for the first time since playing Georgia Southern in 2003 — but both have tough challenges directly ahead. No. 1 North

Dakota State awaits the Panthers next week, while McNeese visits defending Southland champion Central Arkansas.

“It’s something you get excited about.

But you have to get excited about every game,” said Cowboys wide

receiver Ernest Celestie.

“It’s not the outside noise we live for. We live for the moments

inside the game, so we have to be ready no matter whether

it’s top 10 or how many people are there. You have to be mentally

ready no matter what.”

Neither team is looking ahead to its conference opener or beyond, for this figures to be as close to an FCS playoff atmosphere

as one can find in September.

“The excitement of the game is the

biggest implication,” Farley said. “It’s so early in the season I don’t

know how it will

play out (for playoff purposes). I do think Southland Conference

versus Missouri Valley Conference is an implication in this