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Conference USA Championship Game Preview: FAU vs North Texas

Will the rematch be a lot closer or is FAU destined to win another rout?

North Texas v Florida Atlantic

Kickoff: 12:00 PM ET

Location: Boca Raton, Florida, FAU Stadium

TV: ESPN 2

Stream: WatchESPN

Line: FAU -11.5

Series Record: FAU leads the all-time series 7-4, and won earlier this year 69-31


North Texas Outlook

Adam Woodyard: If there was a tagline for this matchup on a t-shirt or TV graphic, it might be, “How the hell did this happen?”

North Texas was supposed to need another year or so of rebuilding. FAU, with their relative lack of history, was supposed to need even more. And just as suddenly, 13 weeks later, we find ourselves with two C-USA divisional champions that even the national media has scarcely had to pay attention to before. Though we’ll enjoy the attention while we can get it.

What in the world, one has to wonder, can we expect differently from North Texas in this game, a rematch of a 38-point blowout earlier this season? A blowout that was their worst loss of the season, a season which included SMU and Iowa?

Look. It’s an honor just to be nominated, okay? You definitely want to watch this game, that much is certain. October results or nah, FAU’s QB Jason Driskel brings a mere 1,708 passing yards into this contest, compared to Mason Fine’s — WAIT FOR IT— 3,393 yards in practically the same amount of games.

Sitting this one out will be senior RB Jeffrey Wilson, thanks to a foot injury against Army -- and in his stead, the pressure is on Nic Smith to perform well enough to get a bowl far enough out that Smith and Wilson can share a field again one last time.

Smith, a freshman, has big shoes to fill. Wilson is on pause at 1,215 rushing yards this season, a reliable enough go-to back that Smith didn’t get much to do for much of the season, so only has the 615 yards so far. Don’t let that deceive you — his 178 yards against Rice are a sign of things to come. Wilson, though brilliant, was recruited by long-gone coach Dan McCarney. Fine and Smith are Littrell’s guys, and one gets the sense that their ceiling isn’t even in sight yet.

In the air, four Mean Green receivers have over 400 receiving yards this season. We’ve never seen a North Texas team like this, ever. In the Joe Green days, it was the defense that earned the Mean Green nickname, and in the Darrell Dickey days, it was the ground game that dominated in conference play. This is an explosive team, and has improved all season long, to boot. Problem is, so has FAU.

FAU Outlook

Cyrus Smith: With FAU defeating North Texas earlier in the year by a ridiculous margin it’s easy for FAU fans to expect the same result in C-USA Championship Game. But after rewatching the game, UNT could have easily made turned this game into a shootout.

Jeffery Wilson’s uncharacteristic fumble ended an opening drive in which UNT was moving the ball. On the next possession Mason Fine forced a pass where the receiver was never open. 14 Points later, the route was on.

While I don’t expect those string of events to happen again, FAU enters this game better than the team we saw in October. The emergence of Kalib Woods has made the passing offense more explosive than before. Over the last three games Woods recorded 12 catches for 295 yards and three touchdowns.

For an offense that already possesses explosive playmakers in Devin Singletary and Willie Wright, FAU should be more than fine on offense Saturday.

Defensively FAU missed arguably their best corner in Raekwon Williams in the first game and held UNT’s best receiver Jalen Guyton without a catch. Williams is still out, and FAU has been using just four scholarship corners since his injury.

Shelton Lewis and Chris Tooley have more than held their own but depth is thin right now. Especially this late in the season. Guyton is slated to return from a concussion suffered two weeks ago against Army, and after being held without a catch I expect UNT to feature him in their offense throughout the game.

Since the Mean Green will be without star running back Jeffery Wilson, freshman Nic Smith and former receiver Turner Smiley will be in his place. While Smith had an excellent game as the starter against Rice where he rushed for over 150 yards, I think UNT will lean a lot on Mason Fine’s arm.

Prediction

Adam: It’s easy to get swept up with this many yards and this many wins, but one need only to look back at the losses to SMU and this same FAU team to remember this Mean Green team is still maturing, albeit at a faster rate than anyone predicted. One hundred years of North Texas fans want this conference title so bad, but there’s nothing on the field that points to anything other than a repeat performance. FAU 55 North Texas 30.

Cyrus: While rematches in college football tend to favor the team who lost the first game, FAU should win this game again. Given that Seth Littrell downplayed how good FAU played the first game and blamed the poor performance on UNT being cocky after defeating UTSA, there’s ample motivation for FAU to beat them down again. The one constant from the October matchup is that UNT’s defense is still average, while FAU’s offense has actually improved. FAU will not score 69 points again, but they will be able to move the ball effectively. As long as the Owls finish drives, they should win by at least two scores. FAU 49 North Texas 33