I think (and here's the key) that UNI might be the best team in the state RELATIVE TO THE STRENGTH OF THE DIVISION THEY PLAY IN. Use the analogy of "per-capita." They are doing better in the D I AA (not Division II, by the way) Gateway conference than either the Cyclones or the Hawkeyes are doing in their conferences.
That being said, the Panthers do have a couple of shocking home losses this season that could keep them out of the DIAA playoffs.
1. UNI (1AA) came within a wide right field goal of beating ISU
2. Southern Illinois (1AA) won at Indiana........ remember Indiana beat Iowa
3. Illinois State (1AA) lost to Kansas State 24-23 because they tried going for 2 at the end.
4. New Hampshire (1AA) spanked Northwestern UNI beat New Hampshire in the playoffs last year.
5. I think there were something like 6 other 1AA victories over 1A and other 1 point loses.
I'm not saying UNI is a better program than ISU and I agree UNI shouldn't be able to compete with ISU considering the vastly different amount of resources. But the fact is right now this year I would say UNI is a better team and definetly has more to play for.
Also the differences between the mid-to-low 1A programs and the higher 1AA programs isn't that far off. 1A programs clearly have the advantage but we are seeing fewer blowouts. And at least 1AA does their post season the right way.
Wanna bees gotta play somewhere