Date: Tuesday, December 27
Time: Noon EST, 11 a.m. CST
Location: Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX
Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: ESPN Radio
Betting Line: Army -11, O/U 48.5
Live Stats: CBS Stat Tracker
Series History: Army leads the all-time series 4-1. North Texas won their previous meeting this year 35-18 on Oct. 22.
Army Black Knights
The only current independent underdog that wasn’t always an underdog, Army was once upon a time a perennial power through most of the 20th century. The Black Knights saw a steady decline starting in the early 1970’s, and in fact before this year, had only two winning seasons since 1996. Much like their opponent in this game, 2016 wasn’t supposed to be a great year.
Coach Jeff Monken did a heckuva job at Georgia Southern, taking the Eagles to the FCS playoffs three times and then into FBS territory before jumping to Army for the 2014 season. He didn’t have much to work with, going 4-8 in year one and 2-10 the following year before finally surprising everyone and finishing this year 7-5 including a win over Navy. The Black Knights are, dare we say it, back.
“Back” is a relative term, however, as a return to a bowl game and making national headlines are two entirely different things. This squad was entirely uneven this year, beating eventual AAC champion Temple in week one and then losing to MAC doormat Buffalo three weeks later. They crushed two FCS opponents and eventual 6-6 Wake Forest, but lost to 4-8 Notre Dame, as well as this very North Texas squad in week eight.
The reason for Army's lack of consistency might perhaps be the defense. North Texas had an uneven season as well, but seemed to pounce on shaky quarterbacks. Ahmad Bradshaw was certainly that, finishing the regular season 38/88 for 657 yards, and a 43.2% completion rate. Of course, you can cover those numbers when you’re also the teams second-leading rusher, bolting 167 times for 697 yards. That’s second only to Andy Davidson, who racked up 905.
Through the air, Army has the fortunately named Edgar Poe, a standout receiver who finished with 321 yards over a mere 15 receptions. Those are some good numbers, but it means the opposing defense doesn’t have to do much guessing. Army is a running team first, but overall that seemed to work out pretty well for them in 2016.
North Texas Mean Green
Everyone who predicted a bowl game at the start of the season, take one step forward. I don’t know if you actually moved upon reading that, but I sure didn’t.
UDD’s prediction at the top of the season was simple: 5-7 and no bowl this year. How could we have predicted the rest?
Seth Littrell was the best football hire in over a decade at North Texas, an offensive-minded head coach looking to make a name for himself in a conference that just added two big and already-established names in Butch Davis and Lane Kiffin. Prior to Littrell, the last TWO head coaches were woefully inadequate and incompetent hires, reducing UNT’s national footprint to nil, despite four Sun Belt titles in a row, way back in 2001-2004. Momentum was lost, but not impossible to get back as Littrell proved this season, applying competence to an already well-funded program and producing immediate results.
After a shaky start with senior (and Alabama transfer) Alec Morris, the team found its rhythm in freshman Mason Fine, who went down with a shoulder injury against WKU, and is now done for the season. Lucky for the Mean Green, Morris found his rhythm when called upon, producing adequately in games against USM (a win) and UTEP (a loss). For one more game, he’s all the Green’ve got, but it got ‘em to the bowl game and it’s better to show recruits the film from this season than any other season for the last twelve years.
Star running back Jeffrey Wilson is back and there’s every indication he’s back at full strength, and the Mean Green will need him as Willy Ivery is out due to academic issues and Terian Goree has been dismissed from the team. Backing up Wilson will be Andrew Tucker, who had some nice numbers against WKU, and wide receivers Thaddeous Thompson (40 rec., 524 yards), Kenny Buyers (31 rec., 314 yards) and Turner Smiley (25 rec., 310 yards). This is a team better than their 5-7 record, if not for their quarterback issues, and those will almost assuredly be resolved come September. As for Tuesday? Well, that’s why we play the game.
Why should I watch this game?
Both these teams are hungry for a bowl and eager to shine on a national stage, such as it is. Despite the 35-18 final score back in October, Army is rested and fresh off a big win over a nationally-ranked team. North Texas, meanwhile, will make the best of their surprise bowl invite (they had the top APR of all 5-7 teams, but that was hardly a guarantee, until it was). A hard-fought game and some line-up changes on both sides will produce a high-flying result in front of the Dallas fans, the game played a scant 35 miles from UNT’s campus in Denton.
Why your friends won’t want to watch this game
“Didn’t these teams already play each other?”
“Doesn’t North Texas have a losing record?”
“This bowl doesn’t mean anything.”
What to tell those friends
The post-season is not the same as the regular season, as we noticed during a few of the other conference championship games. And North Texas went bowling with a losing record once before, in 2001 when they went 5-6 overall, but 5-1 in conference play, good enough for the inaugural New Orleans Bowl against Colorado State. The Mean Green lost that game, but here is their chance to not only right history, but to boost C-USA’s bowl record, now at 4-2 headed into this game.
Doesn’t mean anything? Bowl games aren’t about the national title, as there are over 40 bowl games and only one Championship Trophy. Bowl games are about loving college football and needing just a few more fixes before basketball season really starts. We’ve already seen six exciting C-USA bowl games and this looks to be one more as each team having taken a rebuilding year and turned it into a surprise bowl game for both.
Final Score? A tough call, but the six previous C-USA bowls this year have been point-fests, and this is the last of them. Why not complete the set?
Despite the 17-point victory, UNT is an 11-point underdog, due in no small part to a different Mean Geen quarterback and a few missing players. Is Morris shaky? Yes, but so is Bradshaw, and the North Texas defense has not only been on point, but will be playing what is essentially a home game. FINAL SCORE: North Texas 31, Army 27