Despite it seeming like North Texas is everyone’s upset special, the Mean Green are still underdogs.
I saw three relatively prominent picks this morning:
Upset Special: North Texas (+7) at Arkansas, 4 p.m. ET, SEC
The Hogs struggled against Colorado State last week, and I think Mason Fine and a very potent UNT offense will be too much for them this time around. North Texas 38, Arkansas 31
Rex Nelson picked NT to cover the spread but to lose outright.
The majority of perception is that North Texas is facing a stiff challenge in DW Razorback stadium this Saturday. NT has an offense that is making noise but the concern is with the Razorbacks. All these predictions are just a way to say that Arkansas is struggling in Chad Morris’ first season.
The confidence in NT (combined with the lack of it in Arkansas) is part of the experience of being a good team.
The work that NT has put in over the last three years has meant that people see the team as capable and quality. While some people were complaining about the level of national coverage over the last two years when NT was winning games, the truth is that it takes a year or two before anyone comes around to notice. Three years of the same storyline — Littrell and North Texas are doing some impressive things — means that NT gets a little shine even after thumping two poor squads. Their reputation precedes them.
So what does this mean? Well, it means NT has an opportunity. As I wrote in the preview, opportunity does not always come as you expect it to. Arkansas is an SEC team and has a powerful run game, but is beatable. To make a name for yourself you have to win games that are not perfectly in your favor.
The good news is that the Mean Green do not have to win the game to get the good feelings. While the staff and the players will tell you that they do not like or appreciate moral victories, the truth is that at some level they will be proud of how they play if they give a good account of themselves.
We still discuss the Georgia game from 2013 with good feelings despite the fact that the box score shows a very one-sided event. If Mason Fine and company go out and nearly pull it off, that will be enough to continue the program’s development. The truth is that winning would be useful and definitely desirable, but not absolutely necessary for the program’s continued development.
C-USA is very winnable, and FAU at their best is a better team than Arkansas is right now. Louisiana Tech is a deep team that comes to Denton at the end of the month.
That said, we could not set up a better situation. Arkansas is very beatable, but that assumes that North Texas plays as we know they can. Mason Fine has been good but not perfect — he and his coach have mentioned the things that he can fix throughout the young season. He is a supremely diligent worker and there is little doubt that he will focus on those things. The staff is capable and boasts a the deepest roster we have seen here in some time.
Keys to an upset:
- Ingenuity on the part of the underdog
- Lethargy on the part of the favorite
- Some luck
How they match up here in these areas:
NT is not so much an underdog in the pass game, but the Arkansas defensive line is the concern. If NT can get he ball out quickly and with some unpredictable throws they will be successful. This is where some creativity is key.
There is some built-in lethargy on the Arkansas part. They have talent, but it is not a cohesive whole at the moment. Morris is building the program in his image and there will be some disjointed play. NT has to take advantage of this.
I always say I would rather be lucky than good. A fortunate bounce in the North Texas direction will do wonders and can make the difference between wins and losses. Of course, fortune favors the bold, and you make your own luck, and [insert other clichés here]. They are trite because they are true. If North Texas is bailed out by a fortunate pass-interference call or border-line challenge call it will be because they fought for every inch. Last year at Iowa, the Hawkeyes drove 75-yards but fumbled at the goal line. That piece of fortune came about in part because the defense played hard for every inch.
It is best to enjoy this thing and not freak out. Fandom of college football is a past time, and should be a good thing rather than a weekly exercise in stress.
Favorite Hog-related recipe:
I’ve made these twice and they were delicious both times. I do not do the wet brine, but did a salt-and-pepper dry brine for an hour before cooking. I also skipped the sauce application. My wife made a sweet side — apples and something else — but you can go with whatever you prefer. The pork chops are the star here.