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2017 New Orleans Bowl Preview: Troy vs North Texas

Two record-setting teams and two record-setting coaches. If you’re not planning on watching this game, you could be missing one of the top bowl games of the year.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Auburn vs Oklahoma Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA

Date: Saturday, December 16th

Time: 1:00 PM EST / Noon CST

TV/Stream: ESPN

Records: Troy Trojans (10-2), North Texas Mean Green (9-4)

Line: Troy -7, O/U 62

All-Time Series: Troy leads 8-2

Last Meeting: Larry Blakeney’s Trojans defeated Dan McCarney’s Mean Green, 14-7 on Sept. 22, 2012, UNT’s final year in the Sun Belt.

Get it out of the way first so you can kick back and relax in the offseason, and watch the other guys sweat it out. That’s the way to do it, in a matchup that may not have time to build up the same hype as some late December games... but promises to be every bit as exciting.

Troy Trojans Outlook

We’re at the time of year where coaches are shuffled around faster than a Vegas blackjack table, but one of the many names yet to answer the call is third year Troy coach Neal Brown.

Larry Blakeney famously took the Trojans up from D-II, then to FCS then later to FBS, winning Southland Conference titles along the way. But the Trojans hadn’t finished with double-digit wins in a seasons since 2000 until last year, and now Brown has gone and done it two years in a row.

This has resulted in new heights for the Trojans, who spent a week in the AP Poll last year, and very nearly pulled it off again this year. Quarterback Brandon Silvers finished the regular season with 2,985 passing yards, stopping every Sun Belt team they faced save for an inexplicable loss to South Alabama.

This Trojan team beat FIVE bowl-bound teams this season-- New Mexico State, Georgia State, Arkansas State, Akron, and in case you forgot, LSU. If Brown is still around next year, this is the most dangerous team in America, unless somehow FAU wins their season opener against Oklahoma.

What North Texas will face is a well-rounded team, capable of taking on anyone, and arguably as tough a test as any conference game UNT faced this year, save for those pesky FAU Owls, who are on a whole other level.

Senior running back Jordan Chunn will look to add to his mightily impressive 774 rushing yards this season (averaging 5.0 yards a carry), and Silvers has his choice of targets in Deondre Douglas, and Damion Willis, both of whom have over 400 yards receiving this year, with Douglas leading everyone with 628 receiving yards. The Trojans recently announced that Emanuel Thompson, also with 400-plus yards, will be out due to injury.

This is a great potential matchup for the Trojans, who still had some close games against teams that weren’t LSU, as they beat Idaho and NMSU each by a mere three points each. We eagerly await to see how they stack up against the Mean Green on Saturday.

North Texas Mean Green Outlook

While this is arguably the greatest Troy team of all-time, across the sidelines, it is without hyperbole that we say this may be the greatest Mean Green team of all-time as well. Only twice in program history has a Mean Green team won ten games, and they have another shot at it this week.

However impressive Troy’s numbers are, quarterback Mason Fine is only a sophomore and threw for 3,749 yards this season, over 760 more than Silvers, and good enough for eighth on the all-time UNT list if you didn’t even count his freshman season. If you do, he’s in sixth, and will overtake early 2000’s hero Scott Hall during this game. Fine is on pace to become UNT’s all-time leading passer by the end of his junior year.

You don’t get to a place like that on your own. Head coach Seth Littrell has been another name bandied about for another high-profile job but fortunately for the Mean Green, is still here come bowl season. He’s not only turned this team around statistically, but made them fun to watch in the process, putting up huge numbers on the field, to the point where a porous and problematic defense is almost an afterthought, because the unstoppable offense almost always overcomes the difference.

Sitting out this game, sadly, will be senior Jeffrey Wilson, who will finish this season with 1,215 rushing yards and 3,031 for his career. Littrell had previous stated they’d need a game “pretty deep” into bowl season to see Wilson return, so naturally the team drew the earliest bowl game possible.

With Wilson on the sideline, this game will be a preview of the Mean Green of tomorrow, as freshman Nic Smith tries to add to the 665 yards already amassed this season in limited play.

While the Mean Green don’t have the marquee win over an LSU this season, they played Iowa close— too close— earlier in the season, and have more than one highlight-reel, thrilling last-minute victory this year against the likes of UTSA, UAB and Louisiana Tech.

North Texas is not without its flaws, of course, having lost in blowout fashion to SMU early in the season, and then to FAU twice, albeit by a smaller margin the second time around. A strong defense is this teams kryptonite, but it’s only Littrell’s second year, and we’ll see how he rises to the challenge against a feisty Trojans team.

On the receiving side, be sure to keep an eye out for Jalen Guyton (764 receiving yards during the season), Michael Lawrence (749 yards), Rico Bussey, Jr. (613 yards) and Turner Smiley (575 yards). They’ll make big plays regardless, and all but Smiley are sophomores. The future of the Mean Green is strong.

Final Analysis

These teams match up really well, and despite either team’s desire for a higher-profile match-up, the first bowl of the season will be an excellent chance for each to show off their considerable talents, even if it’ll be at one in the afternoon on the east coast.

Troy doesn’t exactly explode with points, managing 40-plus against some truly awful teams, but averaging about 27 in most of their conference games. They didn’t play a C-USA team this year, however, and this will be the chance to showcase the differences between the conferences.

We have our prediction, but remember, it’s not the points, but the way they’re scored that will make this one an instant classic: North Texas 44, Troy 41