According to the league, North Texas players have won each of the three categories this week:
Offense Mason Fine Defense Nate Brooks Special Teams Keegan Brewer
Via press release:
North Texas is the first school to win all three weekly football awards since WKU on Sept. 14, 2015. C-USA Football Players of the Week are voted on by a panel of the league’s media. All C-USA weekly awards are presented by Top of the World Headwear.
Brewer made arguably the special teams play of the season so far across all of college football. His fake-fair catch, turned 90-yard punt return for a touchdown in the win at Arkansas put the Mean Green up 14-0 in the first quarter and took the college football world by storm. Brewer caught the punt at his own 10-yard line and acted as if he had called a fair catch. As the punt coverage team pulled up and stopped, Brewer quickly sprinted to his left and took off down the sideline for the third-longest punt return for a touchdown in program history.
Brooks picked off a pair of passes in the first half during the Mean Green’s dominant win at Arkansas. He had two of North Texas’ six interceptions on the day, and the mark tied his career high (previously set in 2016 in a win over Southern Miss). Brooks also added six tackles and a pass breakup in the win. His two interceptions led to 14 Mean Green points, as North Texas built a 34-10 halftime lead over the Razorbacks. This is the second C-USA Defensive Player of the Week award of Brooks’ career.
Fine led the Mean Green to a dominating win at Arkansas, 44-17, Saturday to give North Texas its first 3-0 start to a season since 1989 and its first on-field win over an SEC opponent since 1975 at Tennessee. Fine completed 24-of-45 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He also added his first rushing touchdown of the season in the win in Fayetteville, a little over an hour from his hometown of Peggs, Oklahoma. This is Fine’s second Offensive Player of the Week honor in three weeks and his third all-time.
Yours Truly voted in the CUSA Report power rankings. Now that Miner Rush is a just reposting press releases from the UTEP website and not being a good and true blog any longer, this is where MGN will be submitting votes from now on. Also, we share publishers ;).
The “significantly more revenue” is double the last deal. That alone makes this a better situation. Beyond that there is still the possibility that old partner ESPN gets involved in the deal.
Over on CUSA Report, where more league coverage will be (including power rankings etc), I wrote a post breaking down the league’s new deal and the implications for everyone. For North Texas the increased revenue is a very big deal.
The cash influx will help the department achieve those goals they have been aiming for. Combine this with the student vote to increase, the money that Athletic Director Wren Baker has found through more efficient management of the department, and you can see why North Texas just might have the cash to host the next CBI game (great win by the squad, by the way).
Right now CBS Sports is the primary rights holder, but we will continue to see North Texas football and basketball on Stadium and mostly — it seems — on Facebook, where both CBS and Stadium will be putting some of the games they produce. It also means honest-to-goodness production values by professionals. The FAU broadcast last season was awful. Depending on the school doing the production, the quality would suffer.
BeIN SPORTS is still a media partner, although this is the final year of the deal. Given that ratings were godawful last season, that may be at risk. Still, BEIN is relatively rich, and is using the deal to enter the college football business not make big bucks. We’ll reserve judgement on that until later.
Although I would prefer ESPN to CBS because of the former’s streaming capabilities, CBS Sports does have streaming options that are simply not available to me as easily. So it goes.
Never trust arena pictures. A person’s eyes are much better able to process even the worst seating angle and enjoy the game than a picture can represent.
The Ford Center at Frisco is not an ideal basketball venue, but no ideal basketball venue is ideal for the men’s and women’s conference tournament. Couched in the public relations speak from the conference leadership is the fact that the league needed something that would draw attention, but also make it easier to run a conference tournament.
Frisco is the best spot for that of the available options. The city is approximately 1/2 the population of, say, Birmingham, but the Metro area is seven times that of the Birmingham-Hoover MSA. More importantly — the median income of Frisco is about 100K. If the goal is to bring in the average person-off-the-street interested in relatively cheap but quality sports entertainment it does not hurt to place it where there is disposable income.
Frisco is small enough to get around easily and not get lost, while providing all the big city-type amenities in restaurant and hotel options without having to deal with all the things a big city has — traffic, long lines, confusion. Obviously, if you are looking for those other big city benefits — museums, cultural attractions, history — Ikea and the Stonebriar Mall are not going to cut it. That is where having DFW just 40 minutes away comes in handy.
For the person coming to Frisco only for the C-USA tournament, this is a perfect spot.
The conference has a ready host school in North Texas and the league office a short drive away which makes managing the event much easier and cost-effective.
Aside from that factor, the venue is nice. In conversations with about 100 people ranging from students, band members, athletes, to administrators, retirees, non-college fans, and media members the consensus is that it is cool but there are some things that could be (and likely will be) improved.
Food & Shopping
“I like that I can walk across the street and there are restaurants.”
This was the most frequent praise point of the entire tournament. Everyone loved the shops surrounding the venue. Frisco has more than the Star complex and Your Favorite Blogger (YFB) did try a few of the spots.
Tupelo Honey Cafe
The Nest Cafe
Other attendees tried Raising Canes and the two restaurants directly facing the game had meet-up events for at least WKU and ODU fans at one point.
There is a good variety of dining ranging from casual to upscale so if your wallet was hurting you had options. You can eat and not be broke.
Hotels & Parking
“I had to drive around for a while but I finally found an old couple who were leaving and took that spot.”
The Omni looms over the Star, emblazoned with the Cowboys logo and provides an easy-access place to sleep after watching all of the basketball. If your wallet is thinner than the average corporate titan, you can stay at the Holiday Inn Express or one of the other surrounding hotels. You have options, folks.
YFB stayed at one of those options down Warren and it is literally a five minute drive away. The parking is free — woot! — and so the daily commute to cover this thing was short and sweet. For the NT fans that drove over from Denton, the media that came to produce Facebook streams and Stadium broadcasts, the same applied.
Once everyone figured out the layout by the second day, it was easy going. The first day there were a few lost souls but that is always going to be the case with an unfamiliar venue. Once this event is a regular occurance at the Star, there will be old pros that know how to navigate the area effortlessly and it all will be a little smoother.
On the busiest days there were some parking lot sharks — the people slowly trailing the lone pair of folks to their cars in hopes of stealing their spot quickly. The biggest games draw the biggest crowds. Frisco is an ever-developing spot, so I expect the area will be different with more places to choose very soon.
The surrounding businesses were not quite ready for the rush. The nearby café reported a slightly higher rush than a typical weekday, and the Rally House by Dr. Pepper arena was scrambling to rush over some Mean Green gear. Next year, they will presumably be ready to take full advantage of the tournament.
Ford Center and Views
“Oh yeah I can see just fine from here.”
I said not to trust the arena pictures and I cannot tell you how much I mean that. I sat in every section — in the football seats, both sections of the premium general admission, the court-side section, and also stood next to the suited conference folks to take it in from near the bands. I talked with some of each fellow visitors to get their feelings on things, also. No one complained — at least not directly to me.
The entrace to the Ford Center overlooks Court A and many took games in from that view.
“I think maybe the best spot might be up there in the second level.”
The above quote was referring to the off-limits second-level of the arena. The low angles for all the seats did obscure the court-side screens and so getting the score was a chore if the view was obstructed.
Even from press row, if you were seated from the free throw line extended and lower (lower to the baseline) the view of the scoreboard was limited.
While the free wifi was useful, and clever fans could use their favorite sports app to keep up with the score, fouls, and stats, it was not ideal.
“We need to get those higher, yes.”
The above came from an administrator about those scoreboards. While the criticism is valid, it is the good kind of criticism.
The first run is always important for finding bugs and making improvements. If next year’s tournament has the same issue? Well, then we will complain loudly.
“I think it is cool that they have all that stuff out front.”
The outside Fan Fest area was fun, if limited. There was music, random guys playing soccer, staff playing basketball, kids running around (one was my own) and well, fun. Oh and marketing. There was much marketing.
Underestimated is the unique prospect of the players queueing up before their game just under the bleachers. It is akin to the new NFL fad of having fan hallways where they can watch the players walk on and off of the field. Players left the court, in jubilation or disgust, and the distance from court to locker room door meant that everyone got to see a little bit more of the whole show.
It is a small thing, but not an insigificant thing.
The cost-effective hosting is lost on the average fan and frankly, that is not why we got into this fan game in the first place. You are forgiven if the budget of the league is not your top thought.
The primary benefit to the fan’s wallet of a single location is that the women’s tournament gets the benefit of better attendance and increased attention. No longer are you shuttling between locations a mile or so apart.
On Wednesday you could show up early, watch the women play, head out for dinner and return in the evening — a sort 2-minute walk — to watch the men.
Each session also allowed in-and-out privileges. You could leave and run to Raising Cane’s (as my friend did) and run back for the second half.
Oh, the concession stands have overpriced nachos and drinks as is usual for these kinds of things.
This is published before the league crowns the men’s and women’s champion but the tournament is all but done. Even if the nation only pays attention to a given non P5 league tournament on the final day or so, the diehards were here Tuesday.
Four and a half days are plenty to get a feel. To summarize the above for you:
Hoops At The Star was a success. Next season should be even better.
North Texas got a much needed win. The Mean Green took down FAU 59-53.
It was never pretty in this game. It was down right ugly basketball for most of the night, by both teams. Credit North Texas for finding a way to win without a serious contribution from Roosevelt Smart. Smart was saddled with 3 fouls early in the 1st half, and then picked up his 4th foul early in the second. Some how UNT found enough ways to score more than FAU.
From the get go Ryan Woolridge was more assertive on the offensive end. He needs to do that from here on out. He needs to be the second leading scorer for North Texas on most every night.
AJ Lawson provided some offense that I was not expecting. Lawson even hit a 3. I don’t encourage him shooting 3’s, but his offensive output was necessary with Smart being in foul trouble. North Texas had to get it from some where. Lawson got to the basket, and was able to finish on numerous occasions. Good for him.
Where has Shane Temara gone? He is a SR leader on this team, and NT needs him to step his game up. 18 minutes 0-11, 1 reb, 1 block. That isn’t going to cut it. If NT is going to have any chance at all of making some noise in Frisco they need their SR to play like one.
Zach Simmons and Tope Arkiawe are two nice players. Simmons has played well for a FR. He has had his moment on defense where you can tell he is FR. But he has also had key plays in a lot of UNT victories. Tope has really stepped up his game in conference play. His play off the bench has been very important.
North Texas had 16 offensive boards against FAU. Pretty great effort against a team that way a very good defensive rebounding team. Now the down fall is that NT was only able to turn that in 13 second chance points. North Texas is 4th in conference play with 11.4 offensive rebounds per game. Rebounding as a whole has been a pleasant surprise for NT this year. I think many believed that a guard heavy lineup would struggle to rebound. Woolridge, Smart, Holston, Lawson have all chipped in. Those 4 combined for 22 of the 43 rebounds against FAU. In conference play they are accounting for 46% of the rebounds.
North Texas continues to struggle around the basket. I stopped counting how many bunnies the Mean Green failed to convert last night. I really hope that’s a point of emphasis in practice. NT left at least another 10 points out there because they couldn’t finish.
70%. North Texas hit the sweet spot I set for them. 70 % from the free throw line was a welcome sight. The last time UNT shot 70% and above was against Rice, which happened to be the last time they won. North Texas has only shot around 70% 3 times in conference play. All 3 have been wins.
I think it was some sort of blessing in disguise that Smart had to sit for most of this game. As of coach you never want your best offensive weapon to be on the bench, but it forced this young NT team to focus on offensive execution. A guy like Smart can bail out a bad possession with a deep 3 or a drive to the basket. Last night NT had to find ways to score with out Smart. Guys like Lawson were able to step up to fill the void.
FAU is going to look back on this game and slap themselves in the face. FAU had every opportunity to take it. It seemed like North Texas was trying to give the game away at times. FAU failed to take advantage of Smart being in foul trouble. Instead of going to a zone and packing it in they stayed in man and let Woolridge and Lawson get to the basket. Then late in the game they fouled Smart when he wasn’t going to get it across halfcourt in time. The little things matter in all games. They really stand out in close games. NT will take a W no matter how it looks.
Players with 10 minutes + get graded.
Next up for North Texas is FIUon Saturday, January 27th in Denton.
This has been related to the complaint of the North Texas fan: what kind of reward should we expect from a 9-4 season? Many NT fans have been disappointed with the New Orleans Bowl opponent — Troy — because of a perceived feeling of superiority over the Sun Belt.
For the upper tier — and that is where North Texas hopes to be within the half-decade — the CFP is seemingly out of reach without a multi-year campaign of consistent improvement like Boise and TCU managed in the BCS era.
Even then, there is not telling if the circumstances will line up perfectly in our favor. Still, the programs (meaning the ADs and the coaches) should prepare their programs as if a 4-year success project is a resume-builder for a CFP berth.
It may be difficult and even unreasonable but if it is there, it can be done. UCF topped out at 12th this year and I cannot help but think that the 0-12 year two years ago played some part in that. Reputations need to be built slowly over time and unfortunately, this is how this system works.
North Texas is not the only team bowling from CUSA. NT was one of 10 league squads that reached bowl eligibility this season.
Unlike 2016, when a 5-win North Texas team went to the Heart of Dallas bowl because there were not enough bowl teams available, this year there were too many.
There was some weirdness in the selection process as the league champ seems disappointed, the runner-up has the best bowl, and the third best West division member has a P5 matchup. Without full knowlege of the process we cannot know what deals were made. It seems like the league traded one bowl or two for another to allow Middle Tennessee to get in to a game, but again we cannot know.
In the end of a crazy day, UTSA was the only team left out.
Given the Roadrunner’s poor league record (3-5) and poor record against winning teams outside of Marshall, the pick of Louisiana Tech, WKU, and MTSU over UTSA was understandable. While UTSA fans do travel relatively well, the Runners were boring on offense and fired offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo. Frank Wilson reacted to the news and Inside Runner Sports interviewed him.
On a pure entertainment level, there was little reason to invite UTSA to a bowl.
“We’re kind of told what to do and where to go,” Chun said. “We are going to embrace this and see all the positives in it.”
Who is doing the telling? That part is unclear. Obviously, every stakeholder has some say and it is likely that ESPN, owner and operator of several bowls, has the largest say in who goes where.
While the league can advocate for a destination, the politics involved in pushing back too hard are obvious.
For the league, the situation was as good as it can get and there was no doubt some horse trading involved to maximize that situation. Nine of the league’s fourteen members are going to a bowl.
For FAU, UNT, and UAB the non-P5 opponents are a disappointment to a vocal part of the fans. The same argument is being made on the other side. Troy followers have expressed disappointment in facing North Texas as an opponent. That everyone wants a P5 matchup is exactly why the P5s wield so much power.
The most vocal complaints are about the prestige of the bowl, the opponent (everyone wants a P5) The date does not work as well for a good number of fans, as this conflicts with graduation for a lot of people. Still, of the destination bowls, this combines a good city (New Orleans!), a good opponent, and a decent day of the week. This is the best opponent not named Florida State but is by far the best destination for North Texas fans to reach.
WKU is lucky to be bowling and is looking to salvage the season with a win.
New Mexico Bowl
Marshall is bowling in the far west. This is a fun matchup but for the green-on-green action.
May be tough for Middle Tennessee, a team that was up-and-down all season, to face the Sunbelt’s runner-up. This is a nice little bowl for both teams.
Boca Raton Bowl
The good: The lone bowl on the TV schedule is good for publicity. The bad: Staying home is not the reward for a league champion, and the opponent could be sexier. The league does not have a really good destination bowl for the champ and this will be a problem going forward. Rumors suggest FAU wanted FSU in the Independence Bowl. If Florida State nixed that idea it makes sense as there is no upside to giving a potential recruiting competitor some shine. FAU looks to have swung and missed.
Debut bowl in a small stadium will pit La Tech vs SMU in the Metroplex. This is a fun matchup of Red White and Blue squads and I fully expect La Tech to outnumber SMU fans in this one. This is also the only game on this date.
FIU stole a nice little destination bowl close enough for fans to travel to. Projections and rumors were that FIU was going to the Boca Raton bowl before they swapped (both teams!) to St. Pete. A better bowl than league champ FAU is “going” to. The lone game on the schedule.
We knew this destination before selection Sunday for good reason. The logistics of this bowl require the most heads-up. This is a tough bowl to attend, but has to be the most fun for the players. This is an awful TV time slot, however.
This bowl game was the most desired because of the prestige and the opponent. Southern Miss finds themselves with the most well-known matchup and the toughest challenge. Sure, FSU had a rough season and just lost their coach but this team was once ranked 3rd in the nation this season.
USA had a moment this week. North Texas and UTSA provided the kind of drama that could be clipped and posted all over the place and it was. CUSA helpfully shrank the video for ease of sharing and all enjoyed the Fine Moment.
North Texas have made their way to the top of this week’s power rankings by winning the Game Of The Week.
1. NT (2)
Mason Fine drove his team 98 yards in 57 seconds — the second time in two game weeks where NT has gone 95+ yards for a score. Having beaten two of the preseason division favorites in back-to-back games, NT has shown enough defense to compliment the league’s best offense to take the top spot.
2. Marshall (1)
Marshall drops because NT soared, but Marshall took their turn beating ODU. This game was close for three quarters until Marshall scored 21 in the fourth. Marshall has a good defense but really needs to show more offensively. They visit MTSU on Friday and should really handle the Blue Raiders.
3. So Miss (3)
USM dropped a game they led against NT, then beat a good UTSA, and then handled things against UTEP. UTEP had a 12-play 50 yard drive that ended in a punt but took up 7 minutes and USM had three turnovers (and one on downs) in the first half. They controlleld this game despite having a poor offensive game. This week they will need a good all-around game to compete with the guys in Ruston.
4. LT (4)
The Bulldogs had a week off to recover from the upset in Birmingham, and will host a very good USM team in this rivalry game. It may be weird seeing LT up here but, again, they barely lost to UAB in a game they probably win were it played again. This is a power ranking not a league table. If LT is the team I think they are, they take care of USM in Ruston.
5. FAU (6)
FAU was resting on Boca Raton. Lane Kiffin was building hype and recruiting new players for the surprising Owls as they prepared for North Texas.
6. UAB (8)
UAB is ahead of schedule, beating MTSU 25-23 late. They take on a poor Charlotte and should win that ahead of a huge game against USM. Depending on what happens with North Texas in Florida, the 10/28 game against the 9ers might see UAB tie NT atop the division.
7. UTSA (5)
UTSA drops not because they lost. No, they played well enough to win — even sporting a 99% win probability at one point. No they drop because they do not believe in themselves — calling a players only meeting and Frank Wilson disallowing post-practice player interviews.
8. WKU (7)
WKU is still being penalized for their poor performance against UTEP although this was a nice return to form against Charlotte. Still, this was Charlotte.
9. FIU (10)
Tulane looked really good last week and FIU looked unready for prime time last week. Now? Well FIU got a big win at home 23-10. Still, this looked like an anomoly. We are waiting and seeing with FIU. They travel to FIU next and that should be very telling.
10. MTSU (9)
Middle Tennessee is reeling. UAB is good, but MTSU should be better. They should get handled by Marshall but Friday nights are strange.
11. ODU (11)
The Monarchs host WKU in a big Friday night game. The top of college football has seen crazy happenings on Fridays and this might be the CUSA version. ODU has no business beating WKU and that is why it could happen.
12. Rice (12)
Rice travels to UTSA in what should be a get-right game for the Roadrunners. Rice is coming off a bye and they might have a few tricks up their sleeves but that will not be enough. Still, Rice played UTSA really closely last year, requiring a late drive by UTSA to win.
13. UTEP (13)
UTEP was handed more than a few chances to upset USM and could not capitalize. Two weeks, two golden opportunities and two losses.
14. Charlotte (14)
Charlotte are the punching bags of every CUSA squad now, and faces a really good UAB team in North Carolina.