Date: Saturday, September 1st
Kickoff: 7:30 P.M. EST/6:30 P.M. CST
Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, Texas
Betting Line: North Texas -4.5, Over/Under 71
Series Record: SMU leads, 31-5-1
Last Meeting: SMU won on 9/9/17 54-32
I wish this one was later in the year so we could see the offenses firing on all cylinders. The game should still be terrific however, due to the great veteran leaders at QB in Ben Hicks and Mason Fine. From SMU’s standpoint, this is a chance to prove that Sonny Dykes’ offense can keep up with one of the better scoring teams during last year’s season. This game, from my perspective, also proves that SMU can be a contender in the AAC. I have been skeptical of this game for SMU and that if they lose, they’ll be 0-3 to start off the year. Let’s take a look at the offensive and ofensive side to see if they can match up against North Texas.
Offensively, SMU returns without his two top receivers and brings in a new coach. Usually, this tends to be a recipe for disaster. Sometimes it takes a bit for offenses to begin to click to start off a year, let alone trying to implement a new offense at the beginning of the year. While I do have my doubts about the offense, there are some things to be excited about.
Despite the loss of Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn, SMU still has the players to compete offensively with Hicks, Xavier Jones, and James Proche as the trifecta of weapons at Dykes’ disposal. Sorry UNT fans, Ben Hicks is still the quarterback at SMU. UNT fans may remember that Hicks threw for over 300 yards in last year’s game and has grown even more since that contest. In addition to Hicks being back, Doak Walker preseason watchlist candidate Xavier Jones returns. Jones is an all-around solid back and is just one of three backs that the Mustangs will use. The other big player is Proche, who is slated to be the deep threat of the group. When Sutton and Quinn had a tough game, Proche stepped up and would have a 100 plus yard game. Thus, any of these weapons can make an impact.
However, UNT fans, this offense is going to look a tad different as Sonny Dykes is changing the offensive scheme. The new air-raid offense will not differ completely from what Chad Morris ran a year ago. But overall, there are will be a few similarities. The main similarity is seeing Ben Hicks drop back 30 plus times a game. The big key offensively is: can SMU be successful in the passing game, and if not, will they be stubborn and continue to throw the ball?
The defense has many of the same faces UNT fans have seen last year. There were a couple losses such as Anthony Rhode and NFL Draft pick Justin Lawler. However, the core is similar. The leaders, despite the bad passing defense last year, are Jordan Wyatt (a 1st team American Athletic Conference player) and upperclassmen Mikial Onu. Another big player is Tyeson Neals on the defensive line, as he will have to step up and try to fill the shoes of Lawler, in pressuring the quarterback.
Another important point that I detailed in my season preview was the switch of defensive schemes. SMU will be led by new defensive coordinator Kevin Kane, who will be implementing a new 4-3 defensive approach. By taking out a DB, and adding a defensive lineman, SMU’s goal will be to get more pressure on the QB at the expense of having an extra DB as a safety net. Personally, I think from the defensive point of view, that this game could be a nightmare for SMU. Mason Fine has proven to be an excellent QB and taking out a DB will most likely lead to more passing yards. The big key defensively will be: can SMU get enough pressure on Fine in order to slow down the North Texas offense?
I have so many mixed emotions about this game. SMU should be better on defense this year, but down offensively. UNT still has Mason Fine leading the way, but lose their top tailback in Jeffery Wilson. However, I think this may be UNT’s chance to show up SMU right out of the gate and prove that SMU still has some things to figure out. I’ll trust that Ben Hicks can keep this game close, but I’ll take UNT early on in the season due to the continuity with coaches and schemes. Adam and I both agree the game will be relatively close, but ultimately, I believe UNT should win this game.
Final: UNT 30-21
North Texas hasn’t won this game since 2014, which means they’re currently on a 3-game losing streak, but if it helps ease the pain, SMU only leads 6-3 since their infamous two-year death penalty in the mid-1980’s. Under Chad Morris, the Mustangs repeatedly had UNT’s number, but SMU is breaking in a new offense and might make the mistake of underestimating their opponent. Meanwhile, North Texas is coming off a record breaking season and a whole mess of returning receivers. and is expected to compete for the C-USA West crown once again. SMU competing for the AAC crown is... less likely.
As in our preview, UNT is returning three of its top four rushers from last season, and despite threats from Ben Hicks, let’s take a moment to remind the Mean Green faithful (and SMU fans) that Ben Hicks was not the problem a year ago. UNT fans do indeed remember that Hicks passed for over 300 yards in last years contest, but they also surely remember that Mason Fine threw for 424 yards and three touchdowns. That air attack is back this year, and if Fine can keep mining that experience and avoid turnovers (he also threw a pair of INTs last year), we’re in for a thrilling contest on Saturday.
Of course, there is a flipside to that coin. Superstar Jeffrey Wilson, now graduated, was absolutely stifled last year by SMU’s defense, carrying the ball only 13 times for a paltry 36 yard total. With Wilson gone, multiple rushers will have to step up, because of all the praise heaped on the air attack, you gotta remember we must have a running game to pull this one out. We trust the UNT coaching staff has improved this area, and we will see how far they’ve come this Saturday, as well.
The UNT defense last season had some room for improvement. After sharing DC duties in 2016, Troy Reffett became the sole head of the defense last year and the nicest thing we can say about the results was “okay.” It doesn’t matter, after all, how porous your defense is when your offense is averaging 36 points a game, but that same defense let SMU get away a year ago, and was a contributor to those key losses the Mean Green saw last year (FAU twice and Troy in the bowl game, sure, but remember how close they got to taking down Iowa?)
None of this is meant to be pessimistic, particularly with DT Bryce English finally taking the field, a transfer from Kansas State who sat out in 2016 due to transfer rules, then 2017 due to injury. This will be our first look at what we hope is an improved defense, built around English, and if they can hold SMU’s new offense through their growing pains, expect to kick off 2018 with a W.
For the same reasons as Nick listed above, this is SMU’s first game out of the gate and that will most likely be a problem. This is a talented squad that UNT will face, and an experienced coaching staff, but while Chad Morris jumped to a Power Five school, Dykes was fired from one. If the defense holds, expect a UNT victory and a couple of rough years in Dallas.
Final: UNT 35-24
What do you all think will be the result of the game? Vote in the poll or comment below!
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