Start Time: 4 p.m. EST, 3 p.m. CST
Location: Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX
Radio: Mean Green Radio Network, UTEP Football Radio
Live Stats: CBS Stat Tracker
Betting Line: North Texas -3, O/U 52.5
Series Record: North Texas leads, 14-7-3
We said it at the start of the season and as we head into the last regular reason game, we’ll say it again: North Texas is a mess.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you’re winning— and even if UNT doesn’t win this game, they’ve still quintupled last seasons win total, and we’ll take it. The kind of rebuilding job Seth Littrell had in front of him was UAB level. He has taken it and done a near-heroic job, mixing just one recruiting class with players who went 1-11 last year. All things considered, he might be a miracle worker in line with SMU’s Chad Morris, who is also currently 5-6 this year with similarly bleak expectations going into the season.
C-USA has seven bowl tie-ins, and headed into this weekend, four bowl eligible teams with three 5-6 squads. If UNT wins they’re a lock, but after the inconsistency and QB rollercoaster that is starting a true freshman, literally nothing would surprise us. Still, it’s nice to see UNT favored, for a change.
North Texas Mean Green
Alec Morris finally proved he could control a game last week, having his best (albeit third) start of the season against an extremely underperforming Southern Miss. Morris finished last week with 267 yards passing, 2 TD’s and 1 INT— not exactly putting him next in line for the NFL draft, but a performance like that should hold the fort down nicely against flailing UTEP (3-8). We hope the desert air doesn’t get to him.
Mason Fine was still suffering from a shoulder injury last week, and Jeffrey Wilson took a few weeks off, following knee surgery after the Louisiana Tech game. The Mean Green overcame all of this against USM, but then this week Littrell announced wide receivers Terian Goree and Willie Robinson had been suspended for the remainder of the season, reported by the Denton Record-Chronicle as a violation of team rules. Neither played in the USM victory.
The upshot of all this? Short-handed and handicapped, UNT beat Southern Miss, the once and future contenders for the conference title. Despite preseason chatter, UTEP’s winning season never materialized at all, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep on the Miners.
Despite the overall team record, QB Ryan Metz is having a helluva year.
With one game to play, he’s 118/184 with 1204 yards passing, and a 136.3 QB rating. That rating is good enough for 8th in the conference, but interestingly, his completion percentage of 64.1 is good enough for 3rd. Perhaps this is a result of Sean Kugler’s play calling, but whatever it is, Metz has a good eye and was supposed to be the chosen one for the Miners in 2016.
Meanwhile, RB Aaron Jones actually is the chosen one, leading the conference in rushing yards and yards per attempt. With a combo like that, UTEP should actually run all over UNT, as they clearly have the superior QB and the league’s best rusher. So where did they go wrong?
Despite the tremendous upside, a quality WR for the Miners just never materialized. Cole Freytag enters the game with 33 receptions and 475 yards, good for 18th in the conference— one yard shy of FIU’s second most productive receiver. When you can’t throw, your opposing defenses don’t really have to guess much, resulting in a 66-14 loss to Army (a team UNT beat), a 34-7 loss to USM (vanquished by UNT last week), and a 44-24 loss to Rice (defeated by UNT in overtime). Not only is UTEP having the worst luck, all signs point to starting up a coaching search in the offseason.
It’d be nice to think UTEP would put up a fight and finish the season on a high note, but the North Texas defense has been playing out of their minds even on days when the offense was having trouble getting started (see: the MTSU box score). A run game and no passing game is what the Mean Green faced against Army, and Army was crushed 35-18.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much success you had in your last job, being a head coach is its own monster and Kugler doesn’t have what it takes. Fortunately for UNT, Seth Littrell does. UNT has a year head start on the rebuilding, and will show it on Saturday as the Mean Green clinch bowl eligibility.
Final Score: North Texas 42, UTEP 10