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A football season like no other is about to begin at UNI.

For the first time in school history, the Panthers are kicking off a spring campaign that features eight games against Missouri Valley Football Conference competition. On Friday, UNI hosts South Dakota State in a meeting of nationally-ranked top-five teams at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Kick-off is at 7 PM.

With the 2020 fall season being canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, this week's game will be the first for the Panthers since their loss to eventual runner-up James Madison in the quarterfinals of the 2019 NCAA FCS playoffs. The 434 days between games is the third-longest span in program history.

UNI -- which was formerly named the Iowa State Normal School (1876–1909), Iowa State Teachers College (1909–1961) and State College of Iowa (1961–1967) -- didn't play any games in 1906 and 1907, or during World War II in 1943 and 1944. Adding 2020 to the list, they are the only years the football program has been idled since the school began playing the sport in 1895.

Friday's game will be the sixth meeting between the third-ranked Panthers and No. 5 South Dakota State since 2017. UNI came from behind to beat the Jackrabbits 13-10 in the second round of the 2019 FCS playoffs. The Panthers are coming of their fifth playoff appearance in six seasons.

UNI athletic officials announced earlier this week that just over 27-hundred fans will be allowed inside the UNI-Dome. The number of spectators being permitted to attend is 15-percent of the facility's 16,324-seat capacity and does not come close to including all the season ticket holders. ESPN-plus will televise the game.

The Panthers are hosting a Friday night regular season game at the UNI-Dome first time since the facility opened in 1976. The last time UNI was known to play a Friday game during the regular season was Sept. 30, 1955, a 21-14 victory against Drake in Des Moines (team records prior to 1964 are incomplete).

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