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North Texas Mean Green at Rice Owls Game Preview

Rice has been playing below average. North Texas is playing above average. Anything could happen!

NCAA Football: Rice at North Texas
Rice receiver Dennis Parks (4) catches a touchdown pass against UNT last year. How will the new coach and new staff do against the Owls?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Start Time: 6:00 p.m. EST / 5:00 p.m. CST

Location: Rice Stadium, Houston, TX

TV/Streaming: ($6.95 for 24 hour access)

Radio: Mean Green Radio Network, Rice Streaming Audio

Live Stats: CBS GameTracker

Betting Line: Rice -7.5, O/U 51.5

Series Record: Rice leads, 4-2

Conference play begins this week, and this particular match up features two under-performing teams with two very different public perceptions.

In this corner, you have Rice, which challenged for the C-USA West title in each of the last three seasons, and in fact won it in 2013— the same year they last lost to North Texas. Meanwhile, here comes the Mean Green, coming off a ten-year slide that saw them go from bad to worse to basically high school football. Neither team is very good this year. Start your engines. Who’s the worst team in the West?

North Texas Mean Green

Let’s ignore the expected shellacking the Mean Green took last week (they covered the spread, okay?). Mason Fine was fine— the first and last time we’ll use that joke— comfortable taking out an FCS team in Week Two, before comfortably getting shut down for four quarters against Florida. For now, at least, it’s nice to live in a world where both of those can once again be taken as a given.

Fine currently sits at 45% completion percentage for the season, a number affected heavily by an SEC defense last week, but he was comfortable enough the week before that there is cause for optimism. Running backs Jeffrey Wilson and Willy Ivery remain near unstoppable on the ground, and receivers Thaddeous Thompson and Terian Goree were just starting to settle into their own before Florida screwed everything up. This is a team still growing and Rice is coming along at just the right time.

Rice Owls

Unlike UNT, this is a squad coming in 0-3, which seems definitive on paper, until you realize their first three opponents currently have a combined record of 8-1, and that lone loss was to Alabama. Last week against Baylor, they finally got something going on the ground, if by “something” you mean Darik Dillard rushing 14 times for 124 yards (avg: 8.9), and no other rusher going over 30.

Struggling coach Dave Bailiff said they “turned a corner” last week, and that may be true, but after a brutal first three weeks it’s difficult to tell. While UNT at least had FCS Bethune-Cookman to smack around, Rice has had a very good WKU team, a shockingly good Army team, and a still-ranked Baylor team. Rumors of their demise may indeed be premature, and it looks like North Texas is coming along at just the right time.

The Verdict

A final verdict is not easy, as a loss for either team would be devastating, when either team has shown in the first three weeks they’re certainly capable of winning THIS one. UNT senior and Bama-transfer Alec Morris still has better numbers than Fine despite not playing since Week One, but Rice hasn’t really been able to put up many points even in their losing efforts. A line of 7.5 is Vegas essentially saying, “We have no idea, either,” which makes it even harder for us to predict.

NT’s defense has been strong, and if they can stop Tyler Stehling, they can eke out a win. But whatever happens this game looks to be close, though the stigma for the loser will be far worse. We predict Rice finally comes away with the win, but we reserve the right to be surprised.

Final Score: Rice 28, UNT 27