Start Time: 7 pm EST, Saturday Sept. 3
Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, TX
Stream: American Sports Network
Betting Line: SMU -9.5, O/U 69.5
Series Record: SMU leads the all-time series, 29-5-1
BEHOLD. An early favorite for “pillow fight of the week,” SMU severely underperformed last year despite a legendary OC-turned-HC, while North Texas infamously finished dead last in a conference that includes Charlotte and Old Dominion— teams who’ve been FBS for less than 1⁄3 as long.
But 2015 is over, and can we really judge these squads based on the past, when they’ve worked so hard to build themselves back up into something respectable?
Today we find out.
Chad Morris went from high school coach to Clemson OC in about two years, which indicates that he’s either a genius or excessively lucky. Clemson’s recent successes would indicate the former. SMU’s 2015 would indicate the latter.
Though “changing the culture” at SMU is exceedingly important, considering how their last 30 years have gone, that culture did not translate to the field last year as the Mustangs finished 2-10, their only two wins coming against North Texas in Week Two, and Tulane in Week 12.
QB Matt Davis, formerly of Texas A&M, returns for his senior season and will likely spend it throwing to Courtland Sutton and handing off to returning sophomores Xavier Jones and Braeden West. It was Davis who led the team in rushing last season, though expect more changes as Morris continues to tweak a system that saw upgrades and adjustments from week to week last year.
Despite SMU’s less-than-stellar 2015, they still beat UNT last season 31-13, in a series unofficially titled the “Safeway Bowl.” But as easy as it is to write this one off, there’s no film on UNT’s offensive scheme and Seth Littrell has dabbled in some offensive coordinating himself.
North Texas Mean Green:
North Texas has been so bad for so long that previewing anything intersecting with “hope” seems completely alien, like snow in the summertime or a winning basketball team in Philadelphia.
But if there were any time to be excited over the last ten years, that time is now. A new head coach with an actual, respectable FBS resume (unlike the last two), and a completely revamped offensive scheme that sees all-new QBs, which is kind of a given when both 2015’s starters finished the season at under 50% completion.
New HBC Seth Littrell is a North Carolina guy, who graduated from Oklahoma, and his starting QB in this game is Alabama transfer Alec Morris. That one sentence has more experience in it than UNT’s last four years combined, and that’s before we get to standout RB Jeffrey Wilson, who ran for 855 yards last season, good for 6th best in the conference.
On defense, every single starter has at least a year of experience, though we’ll find out just what that means early on as new Co-Defense Coordinators Mike Ekeler and Troy Reffett make their own adjustments to what will surely be a high-flying offensive attack from SMU Coach Morris.
A highlight-reel of Texas talent, these two teams from the Dallas metroplex will have strong local interest, but haven’t exactly generated the same buzz nationwide as other Group of 5 Texas teams we could mention. Whatever the outcome, it’s early enough in the season that this one will be erased from memory by the time fans are picking out their Halloween costumes.
Who do you go with? The guy who’s had a year to work out his system, or the blank slate with a fancy resume? As we said in our season preview, “nobody knows anything,” and a 9.5 point-spread only serves to nail that home. Whatever the final score, nothing will surprise us, and shouldn’t surprise you, either. This game will set the tone for the entire season, for both squads, and will be an explosive offensive match-up no matter what.
Also in our UNT preview, we picked a North Texas victory. Anything less than an 18-point loss is a moral victory, so that still counts, right?
FINAL SCORE: SMU 27, UNT 21