ST. LOUIS — Coaches and media members in the Missouri Valley Football Conference don’t have high expectations for the University of Northern Iowa football team this season.

The Panthers, who reached the second round of the FCS playoffs a year ago and return 21 players who saw regular duty a year ago, have been tabbed to finish fifth in the MVFC.

Defending national champion North Dakota State was an overwhelming choice for first place even after the departure of head coach Chris Klieman, who is now at Kansas State. The Bison received 32 of 40 available first-place votes and 392 total points while South Dakota State received four votes for first and 348 points.

Illinois State was picked for third (289 points), Indiana State fourth (279) and UNI fifth (266 points). South Dakota, Youngstown State, Western Illinois, Southern Illinois and Missouri State round out the poll.

UNI finished 5-3 in MVFC games last season and 7-6 overall. The Panthers lost first-team all-MVFC performers Cal Twait, Rickey Neal Jr. and Austin Errthum, along with second-teamers Duncan Ferch and Bryce Douglas and honorable mention selections Marcus Weymiller and Elias Nissen.

The Panthers return first-team all-MVFC tight end Briley Moore, first-team defensive back Xavior Williams and honorable mention offensive lineman Jackson Scott-Brown.

UNI opens the season Aug. 31 at Iowa State.

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