Date: Saturday, October 6th, 2018
Kickoff Time: 7:30 p.m. EST / 6:30 p.m. CST
Location: Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX
Streaming: beIN Sports
Line: North Texas -27, O/U 53
Series Record: North Texas leads all-time, 15-8-3
Last Meeting: North Texas won 45-10 in 2017
The same weekend two other high-profile rivals are meeting in Dallas in some obscure rivalry game, North Texas heads to El Paso to face off against the Miners on their home turf. While OU and UT are in different states and are separated by 372 miles, North Texas and UTEP are in the same state and separated by 638 miles. Ah, Texas.
This game has never been a rivalry, as the teams didn’t generally play each other during the 20th century, ending the series after 1968, with UNT leading 9-5-3. They met again annually from 1977-1980, and North Texas won all four contests. They wouldn’t meet again until 2013, members of the same conference at last. Since they began their cohabitation in Conference USA West, UTEP has won three games out of five.
It’s not that UTEP has gotten worse, it’s that just a few years ago — hard as it is to believe — North Texas was as bad as UTEP is now, if not worse. If the Mean Green can turn it around, there’s hope out there in El Paso. We propose they meet every year in Austin and call it the “Four River Rivalry,” since that’s how many major rivers you gotta cross to get from Denton to El Paso. Texas is big, y’all.
The Mean Green play the Miners for the sixth year in a row, the first time this has happened since the Lyndon Johnson Administration. We’re saying this game is historic, see?
Way Up North - North Texas Mean Green
No one had a bad thing to say about the Mean Green the week after they thoroughly dominated Arkansas, an underperforming SEC team that was already having a historically bad year. Enthusiasm was so high that it was easy to miss the obvious warning signs— the poor running game, the way the offense went catatonic when Mason Fine didn’t have time to throw.
Two weeks ago against Liberty, Fine was stifled for a mere 185 passing yards, but that was okay, because RB Loren Easley finally distinguished himself from an unremarkable roster of running backs, rushing for 177 yards on 27 carries. Not all-star numbers, but good enough when the opposing defense was shutting down your passing game. Turns out there was a team better than Liberty on UNT’s schedule: Louisiana Tech.
Those weaknesses were exploited last week by the Bulldogs, and Mason Fine still managed to pass for 296 yard and three touchdowns. Easly ran for 110 yards and a touchdown, but that turned out to be his last game of the season, as it was announced this week he will not return in 2018 after a leg injury.
It’s now or never for any North Texas RB to step up, and show they’re the next superstar for this squad. If there was a week to break in some fresh meat, it’s against this hobbled UTEP team. The rest of the conference will be watching.
Way Out West - UTEP Miners
The Miners are having a bad time. After five years in El Paso, Sean Kugler was finally and mercifully fired last year, but replacement Dana Dimel has begun his first season 0-5, heading into this weeks matchup against one of the top offenses in the conference.
The Miners have been getting better in recent weeks, losing a close one to NMSU two weeks ago, 27-20, then on the road against UTSA 30-21 last week. The Miners actually out-rushed the Roadrunners last week, 154 to 91, the week after leading the Aggies in total offense. There’s a glimmer of hope to be had yet, though when we write next weeks preview, this may not be the game we point to.
Through five games, QB Kai Locksley has been... adequate, coming into this game 48 of 99 passing on the season with 536 total yards (or roughly 1.5 Mason Fine games). Locksley also remains the teams leading rusher, now up to 363 yards on 98 carries. Next down the list is RB Quardraiz Wadley, at 293 yards on 53 carries. That’s a big gap, but a good enough running game that the Miners should be able to pound the ball through whatever holes in the Mean Green defense they can find.
This is good, because the North Texas pass defense is serious business, effectively shutting down previously explosive quarterbacks at SMU, Arkansas and Liberty. It’s tough to have much hope in this one, but the Miners should be able to at least not embarrass themselves. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Kugler era can’t be fixed in a single season.
North Texas will come into this one hungry, a week after losing 29-27 to the Bulldogs in a game where UNT missed two field goals and uncharacteristically lost two fumbles. This could hold particularly true if Fine sits this one out, since Fine is still being evaluated after possible injury and as of press time no final decision had been made on this weeks starter for the Mean Green.
UTEP, meanwhile, will no doubt be eager to take their home field after an encouraging couple of weeks. Still, the line is what it is, and even without a proven RB, the Mean Green should still take this one easily with one hand tied behind their back.
Final Score: North Texas 49, UTEP 14