The Re-Rematch: North Texas vs FAU

This game does not have the stakes we anticipated in preseason. Both squads have gone through some soul-searching in the weeks before this game. FAU found that they missed the departed Driskel a bit more than they perhaps thought they would. The very talented Chris Robison is still very talented, but he is very much a young college football player and has displayed that in all of the losses thus far. Still, he is showing signs of improvement and FAU still has the talented roster that can do damage to even the most prepared of CUSA squads. They have shown recently what could have been, dispatching an overmatched WKU in the second half of that game and destroying FIU in the Shula Bowl. FIU will likely win the East division.

North Texas is 3-3 in league play, just like FAU, and all three losses came in heartbreaking fashion. The Mean Green led each of their losses by scores of 21-6, 21-10, and 28-0 to Tech, UAB, and ODU respectively. The good: getting big leads is hard and NT can do that. The bad: losing big leads is very bad and NT has done that. There is plenty of blame to share and Seth Littrell spent time this week doing the public relations version of that story. He said the team did not take success well. That is one way of deciphering things. I do not know how much that has to do with getting a first down on 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 but sure.

What Is There To Play For?

As Littrell mentioned this week — and we mentioned on the podcast last week — NT has not won 10 games in the history of the program and only has four 9-win seasons, last year included. This is one of the more talented teams in NT history, and winning nine goes a long way toward demonstrating that fact.

There is also the matter of revenge, as much as can be had. North Texas was frankly embarrassed twice by FAU in two meetings in Florida last season. The first in October, saw FAU light up the scoreboard and the record books. We knew this team would be talented but have some challenges. That has proved to be the case this season. Here is what we wrote this summer:

The Owls were the only CUSA team to beat the Mean Green and did so by a combined 110–48 on a combined 1436 yards. That said, they lost both coordinators along with a couple of position coaches. There will be challenges in Boca Raton, Heisman campaign notwithstanding.”

—“2018 MGN Season Preview.”

Athletes are proud and everyone knows that FAU kicked some behind last season. At the very least, that should be the primary motivating factor outside of the usual “going 1-0 each week” stuff.

FAU, Who Are They?

Well, if you are completely unfamiliar, they are the defending CUSA champions coached by former coaching wunderkind Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is known for his twitter account, tendency to be a great quote, and for his controversial exits at the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers, and USC. He can coach, and has produced capable, solid offenses wherever he has been. His FAU team last year set program and league records for offense.

Devin Singletary is shooting up the all-time college football charts and is a Doak Walker semifinalist (a running back award). He is a bit off the pace of his 2017 137 ypg mark to go with 32 TDs. This season sees him at 116 ypg and 20 TDs. So while he has struggled relative to the previous year, he has been great again. His backup Kerrith Whyte Jr is talented and has produced 700+ yards and 7 TDs himself, many of the very long variety.

The entire roster has talent — again, something Lane Kiffin is good at finding — and while they’ve struggled, it has had more to do with the coordinator changes, untimely injuries (star LB Azeez Al-Shaair is out for the season), and inexperience at QB.

They lost a game at Middle Tennessee in September (same day as NT’s Tech loss) where Middle converted multiple 4th downs on the final drive to seemingly tie, only to go for 2 and steal the victory at home. They turned the ball over a ton of times against Marshall — QB stuff — and then lost at home to Tech in late October thanks to a couple of poor decisions down the stretch.

They still have all the talent to be dangerous, even if they are not as polished and not as much of a well-oiled machine as the 2017 version.

Our Squad, How We Looking?

Well, not great. Again, this is relatively speaking. Last year we were super excited to see North Texas average 35.5 a game and produce 6.14 yards per play on the way to an historic offensive season.

This season North Texas is averaging 37.2 per game and putting up 6.20 yards per play and everyone is a bit upset with the offense. Of course it is all contextual. North Texas won four close games last season that could have easily gone a different way: UTSA, UAB, Army, and ODU. This season they lost three games that could have gone differently. If you squint, there is progress. That would require being a bit reasonable, however.

Mason Fine is having an incredible year — again. Last season he threw for 4052 yards on 289.4 per game, 31 scores against 15 interceptions all on 36.5 attempts per game at a 63.4 completion rate.

This season he is at 3119 yards with three to play (311.9 per game), 23 scores against only 2 interceptions on 38.8 attempts per game at a 63.7 completion rate. Pretty good stuff, y’all.

Rico Bussey, Jr. has been great, averaging 90 yards per game and leading the team in receptions by some margin (61 grabs to Jalen Guyton’s 41). He has 12 scores on the season, tying Casey Fitzgerald for scores in a year.

If you are box-score watching, you see DeAndre Torrey’s 12 rushing TDs and 5.03 yards per carry average and think that the run game is doing well. It has been for the most part, but in short-yardage it has struggled, which has brought down the entire offense.

Last year North Texas converted 47% of third downs in conference play, including 56% in the month of November last year. This season the number is down to 39.5%, and 35% this month.

Similarly, 4th down conversions are down. NT was at 55% conversion rate in league play in 2017, and is down to 40% this season. Simply put, when NT has to make a play offensively, they have struggled.

Defensively, things are much improved. Those same 3rd down numbers are flipped, essentially. The Mean Green are only allowing 45% conversion in conference play against a 50% rate last year. A slight improvement to be sure. Overall, however NT improved from 56% allowed overall to 36% this season. There were some bad plays in the ODU game but the defense has for the most part been impressive.

What is the Line?

North Texas is a -4.5 favorite and opened as a -2.5 favorite. FAU has not played well on the road, and that is typical of young QBs. De’Andre Johnson has played recently in place of Robison and brought another dimension to the Owls. Still, FAU struggled for a while against WKU, a terrible team, and that should bode well.

Really, North Texas has to get out of their own way and things will be fine. NT has the better QB by some margin, and that should make all the difference.

Line: NT -4.5, OU: 63.5
Pick: North Texas 34 FAU 28