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North Texas aims to stake an early claim on C-USA West supremacy with a win against UTSA

A win for UNT puts them firmly in the driver’s seat for a division championship. If UTSA pulls it out? Things are going to get weird.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, Texas

Kick Off: 6:00 pm CT

TV: KDAF-CW33 & KCWX-TV

Stream: Watch ESPN

Live Stats: Gametracker

Audio: The Bull 92.5 & Mean Green Sports Network

Betting Odds: UTSA -3, O/U 58.5

Series History: UTSA leads the series 3-1 and won their 2016 meeting 31-17 in San Antonio.

Team Records: UTSA 3-1, UNT 3-2

There’s no better way to heat up a sports rivalry than playing games with championship banners on the line. That’s exactly what we’ll see this weekend as the 3-1 UTSA Roadrunners travel up I-35 to Denton. With UNT already boasting a 2-0 record in C-USA West, the Mean Green will become heavy favorites to win the division unless the Roadrunners can bounce back from a tough two-point loss to USM.


UTSA Outlook - Jared Kalmus

If humble pie was a real thing what would it taste like? Certainly bitter and harsh on the first taste but would it make every pie you taste after it a little bit more delectable?

That’s the hope for UTSA this week as they attempt to rebound from a disappointing home loss to Southern Miss to start conference play. While the Roadrunners squandered their chance at an undefeated season, a win against UNT puts UTSA right back in the hunt for a division title thanks to Louisiana Tech’s loss to the feisty UAB Blazers.

The Roadrunners came out flat last week and suffered injuries from the jump. While UTSA kept creeping back into the game, it never felt like the Roadrunners were in position to walk away with the win at the end of the fourth quarter. Sure enough that was the case as Dalton Sturm’s two point conversion attempt to Josh Stewart to tie the game with under two minutes remaining fell incomplete.

UTSA wasn’t their typical self in many ways last week. Injuries wrecked the offensive line, causing UTSA to play with a fourth-string left guard and a true freshman right tackle for the majority of the game. With Reed Darragh and Jordan Wright set to return to the starting line up, UTSA will seek to lean their mass on an undersized North Texas defensive line in order to get the Roadrunners’ rushing attack back and chugging along.

UTSA v Baylor
Jalen Rhodes will attempt to bounce back from a poor performance last week against Southern Miss.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Given UNT’s explosive offense, a slow tempo and long marches down the field might be the best defense UTSA could employ.

When the Mean Green does have the ball the Roadrunners will have to depend on UTSA’s aggressive defensive line to have a bounce back performance after only generating one sack against Southern Miss. Marcus Davenport and Eric Banks have been playing inspired football so far this year, leading UTSA to the second best havoc rate in the nation among all defensive line units.

Even if UTSA can consistently flush North Texas quarterback Mason Fine out of the pocket, UTSA’s secondary will need to play their best game of the season to prevent a blow out. The Roadrunners did a good job covering Baylors’ speedy wideouts in their season opener but they’ve allowed more and more long completions in each week since.

North Texas is a really strong team and it will take a great effort from UTSA to prevent them from jumping out to a 3-0 record in conference play. Will last week’s humble pie provide a rekindled fire in the start up program?

UNT Outlook - Adam Woodyard

It’s an easy and understandable mistake to think your team is only as good as their last game. The Mean Green pulled it out against UAB, then the next week they hammered the top defense in the conference, making Southern Miss look like rank amateurs. If the Mean Green go into this game with that attitude, they might find themselves in trouble.

Yes, Southern Miss had the best defense in the conference— but they racked up those numbers against FCS Southern, ULM, and a Kentucky team that’s currently 5-1 against an entirely backloaded schedule.

Yes, North Texas overcame UAB, but that was a UAB team playing in its fourth game in three years, a team that never even should have been in it, but wound up taking UNT to the wire.

The point is, despite the excitement of the last few weeks, North Texas has been far from perfect, and should take nothing for granted.

None of this is to take anything away from these other C-USA teams, who have played well and are both likely bowl teams. But you gotta look at every game, one at a time, and not get overconfident. Nothing is guaranteed here, and North Texas has to go into this game with the mindset that they’re 0-0.

Sure, Jeffrey Wilson stands at 666 (really) rushing yards headed into this game, and sudden standout receiver Jalen Guyton is now sitting pretty with 444 receiving yards. Sure, UTSA’s top rusher only has 366. Sure, UTSA’s quarterback has over 400 fewer passing yards so far than Mason Fine. So on paper, UNT should run away with this one down the stretch.

North Texas v SMU
Jalen Guyton has been a revelation for North Texas this season.
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The flip side of this is the sheer size and physicality of this Roadunners team. They were top recruiters in the offseason, and despite their (close) loss to Southern Miss, none of that has changed. Despite the weaker side of the stat line a year ago (save for UNT’s two turnovers), Frank Wilson and Dalton Sturm found a way to win, albeit in one of the better homefield advantages in FBS.

In short, the outlook is this: On paper, the Mean Green have been the stronger team this year. Even in games where Wilson was stifled, Mason Fine racked up huge numbers in the air, even in the loss to Iowa.

The Roadrunners don’t have an answer for UNT at running back, though they have twice as many reliable passing targets. After kickoff, “on paper” doesn’t mean anything— the better defense is going to win this game, as turnovers cost UNT a year ago, and the shaky Mean Green defense needs to stop eight receivers and a cyborg at quarterback. Barring injury, there’s no reason the winner of this game won’t win the West.

Predictions

Jared Kalmus: I have to be honest, I hate this match up for UTSA. I’ve been dreading the game all offseason. I was one of the few C-USA West fans that expected a strong season from UNT so I’ve had an uncomfortable feeling about this game for months. I picked the Roadrunners to drop this game in the preseason and my brain is still telling me that is likely to be the case.

My heart, however, is pulling me in an opposite direction. I can’t picture UNT already having the division practically secured in October and I also can’t picture this UTSA team losing consecutive games to underdogs. The Roadrunners have a moderate edge in the trenches in my opinion and I think they’ll ride that to a thrilling finish. UTSA 31 UNT 28

Adam Woodyard: Jared’s got some great points above, but remember the Vegas line has been consistently garbage in many of these C-USA games because no one really seems to pay close attention to these match-ups, or the huge strides being made by these programs. So don’t let the line fool you— USM was favored over UNT by nine.

On the other hand, UTSA has more and better tools to work with. Jared’s nervous? I’M nervous, and the Green smashed a team that only beat UTSA by two. We agree that it’ll be close, but I think UNT makes fewer mistakes than last year and we see the rivalry detonate in 2017. UNT 36, UTSA 34