Date: Saturday, October 21, 2017
Kickoff Time: 5 p.m. EST / 4 p.m. CST
Location: FAU Football Stadium, Boca Raton, FL
Streaming: Watch ESPN
Line: FAU -3.5, O/U 66
Series Record: FAU leads the all-time series, 6-4. As members of C-USA, UNT leads 1-0.
Last Meeting: North Texas won in Denton, 31-10 in 2014, their 4th consecutive win in the series.
For the second week in a row, Conference USA’s Game of the Week involves North Texas. For the first time this season, FAU faces some serious conference competition.
In conference play so far, FAU has faced a Middle Tennessee team plagued with injuries, and an Old Dominion squad facing injuries and youth at quarterback. This may help explain why this game has been hyped as the biggest game in FAU Stadium history.
The winning team will remain undefeated in the conference with an inside track to the conference title game, where there’s a chance these teams might meet again anyway. The losing team falls into a tie with at least one other team for second place. And on top of that, both coaches are big names from the top conferences in college football.
This is the kind of game where even ESPN might notice it exists.
The Visiting Team
North Texas comes into the game at 4-2 (3-0) after last weeks last-minute drive against a tough UTSA team. The Mean Green remain the most explosive offense in the conference, scoring 118 points in two conference games, and 223 overall. FAU is right on their heels, with 96 in only two conference games, 205 overall.
A casual observer might predict a lot of points in this one, and they’d be right. The defenses, while hardly the top in the conference, get the job done, with UNT allowing 97 points in conference play, or over 30 a game. This is not ideal, but when you’re scoring nearly 40 a game, the math works out.
Seth Littrell was OC/AHC at North Carolina in 2014-15, where they never met the Crimson Tide but did play Clemson a couple times, losing handily. Kiffin, of course, has stated publicly that had he still been OC for Bama during the National Championship Game last year, Bama wouldn’t have lost.
Well. Time to put your money where your mouth is, Lane, as the Owls will be coming up against Mason Fine, who after least weeks heroics is up to 1796 passing yards on the season, 5 TD’s and a 61.9% completion rate. The five INT’s on the year aren’t the most encouraging stat, but just under one per game is the cost of doing business. From last year to this year, Fine has been steadily improving, culminating in last weeks “The Drive.”
Fine will be joined by senior Jeffrey Wilson, arguably the best player on the team, though Fine has been challenging that designation since conference play began. Wilson now stands at 749 rushing yards and nine TD’s, averaging nearly 7 yards a run even a week after getting stuffed by UTSA all day. While the FAU defense is a shade better than what UNT is used to, that’s a fast RB with three seasons of experience behind him.
Between Wilson and now WR Jalen Guyton (32 receptions for 626 yards so far), North Texas has a lot to feel good about. It always feels great to escape with a win, but it’s also important to remember that UAB victory was earned solely in the 2nd half, and the UTSA victory literally at the last minute. This is the strongest North Texas team in over a decade, but they’ll need to stay vigilant and avoid past mistakes if they don’t want to fall too far behind too early. UTSA is one thing; if you slip up against this Owls team, you’ll find yourself down by 20 at halftime.
The Home Team
FAU has had an odd history with North Texas.
A later addition to the Sun Belt, a conference North Texas dominated from 2001-2004, FAU won that first match-up as a transitional non-conference opponent in 2004, Howard Schnellenberger’s squad defeating Darrell Dickey’s eventual conference champ, 20-13. It was the first of six wins in a row for FAU, before North Texas finally beat the Owls for the first time in 2010, with high school coach Todd Dodge at the helm. That was the first of four wins in a row, as what can only be described as underwhelming UNT coaches still managed to beat the likes of Schnellenberger, Carl Pelini, and Charlie Partridge.
Whatever the future of this series holds, it begins here. The jury is still out on what kind of coach Lane Kiffin will be for FAU over time, but through half a season he’s done the kind of job we saw Littrell do at UNT a year ago— fast turnaround, big offense, great recruiting, and a fun team to watch.
In conference play, these Owls put up an impressive performance against a Middle Tennessee team struggling with injuries, before obliterating an ODU team that’s just struggling. This will be their first test, in front of a homecoming crowd, no less (this must’ve seem like a great idea during the offseason), as FAU tries to hold pace with Marshall for Eastern dominance.
Jason Driskel remains an ample backup at this point in the season, with one-time starter Daniel Parr now backing him up, instead. Through 3+ games, Driskel is still playing catch-up with 449 yards passing to Parr’s 588. His completion percentage is a bit better though, at 65.1%, no doubt helped by conference games against comparable talent. Still, he’s got only a single TD pass and two INT’s this season.
By the numbers, Driskel isn’t much compared to Mason Fine, but that brings us to Devin Singletary. Six games into the season, the sophomore RB has already piled on 106 carries for 686 yards, plus 11 TD’s, putting him a shade behind Wilson and Smith for yardage, but still scoring two more TD’s than Wilson. While the Mean Green were able to contain Smith for the most part, this will the toughest test of their defense since the Iowa game last month.
On the ground, Gregory Howell Jr., Kerrith Whyte Jr., and Driskel have been racking up plenty of yards too, all with 150+ that will be a balanced attack for a Mean Green D used to seeing one superstar and a couple of sidepieces. This kind of balance is likely to keep the defense guessing in conference play, as few C-USA teams are this deep.
In the air, DeAndre McNeal will look to add to his 323 passing yards, with Harrison Bryant on his heels at 229 (both have two TD’s each). Total, that’s 552 yards between them, compared to Guyton’s 626, to give an impression of where each teams strengths are.
Defense-wise, as mentioned, FAU has been stingy when it comes to giving up points. But they haven’t seen an offense like the Mean Green.
Despite FAU being favored, North Texas has absolutely faced tougher conference games so far and has found a way to win. No matter who’s playing, this will be a fascinating chess match between two of the finest offensive head coaches in C-USA.
This game could quite literally hinge on a single play, a single mistake, or a single missed call. And yet, Kiffin has only had one year to recruit, and Littrell is back for year two. Another match-up we hope happens every year, but in 2017 we have to call it: UNT 45, FAU 35.