Depending on the person you talk to, any given game is important. No doubt Seth Littrell will tell you each and every week is the most important game of the season. This is true.
For fans, football is all entertainment and sometimes games are more entertaining than others. College football is experiencing an overall decline in attendance. Even the gold standard in fandom (to some) the SEC has trouble filling out the stadium each and every week. We are in a golden age of entertainment and spectator-sport-as-pastime does not hold the monopoly on fun any longer.
Spectacle is enhanced by television and even live sport is competing with technology’s ability to deliver nearly any and every kind of spectacle on demand to your hand wherever you may be (unless you have a crappy connection, then you have to listen to your uncle talk about space aliens).
This is a big game
Each and every CUSA team is especially vulnerable to the waning interest in both the sport and spectator sport in general. (I don’t know that a 20K seat stadium packed with fans would not be more intimidating than a 30K seat one filled with 21K.)
That aside, in the last decade North Texas Football has not given the casual observer much reason to choose to come to Apogee/Fouts over staying at home and watching the ABC Game of The Week. Only crazy folks like me who are perfectly willing to fight with terrible streaming services to get a glimpse of the green and white were watching.
This is fine.
You are forgiven for not diving deep into the details of a losing NT squad. This team, however, is not that. This team is actually pretty damned good. North Texas leads the conference in various categories of offense — scoring, yards per game, pass yards per game. Back when Ricky V and Todd Dodge told us NT Football was going to be Wide Open they were thinking of this kind of result.
The often misdiagnosed detail of Air Raid teams is that they are only half of a good team: all offense and no defense. That is not by design, just circumstance. A mediocre teams hires an Air Raid guy and that guy with the Midas touch produces an offense that is light years better than their mediocre defense can handle. With a good coach this eventually reaches some kind of balance. Mike Leach, offensive guru, has a really good defense in Pullman, for example. His best Texas Tech teams had really stout ones also.
This North Texas team has an explosive offense and a pretty solid defense. So while you may have thought that NT was going to be one of those Big 12 squads that can score 60 but allows 55, that is not necessarily the case. Troy Reffett, the Defensive Coordinator, has built an attacking, aggressive defense that is still finding itself. The worst performances this season — SMU, UAB, Iowa — look a little better as those teams show they are really good in their own right.
SMU has continued to score, UAB just beat La Tech, and looks stout. Iowa gave Penn State a scare.
UTSA has been a big thorn in NT’s side for four years running. In 2013, the best NT team in a decade had a chance to go undefeated at home but instead dropped the ball and came out flat against a Roadrunner team that had nothing to lose. It was very similar to an earlier conference loss at Tulane.
Last season, NT entered the Alamodome in San Antonio coming off a very good win in NY against Army. The hype was similar and the good feelings were there. The major difference between this and last year’s team is that the 2016 team was as not ready for the big moment. Mason Fine was a true freshman and not quite ready to carry a team. UTSA wisely put the game in Fine’s hands and benefited from three turnovers from him.
This season, the fact that NT boasts the best offense in the league is a testament to the improvement from Fine over last year — he is better in literally every passing category — but also to the weapons around him. Jalen Guyton is the deep threat we wanted Tee Goree to be. Tyler Wilson left but here we have Jaelon Darden. Turner Smiley is better as the second option. Rico Bussey can make plays without the focus of the entire defense on him.
Meanwhile, Jeff Wilson has had his best start in no small part because the pass game has been threatening. He is good and has been even better with room to run. The only team to hold him was SMU and that was because the NT pass game was not effective enough in the second quarter. By the time they got unstuck it was a bit too late to run the ball. He’s been phenomenal against all other competition.
This is a big game.
North Texas has an opportunity to take control of the division with a win. There are six games against conference foes remaining. They are in bold below.
|11/04/17||@ Louisiana Tech|
It seems silly to even write that if North Texas wins out it will win the division. That is the case, however. FAU is way better than expected, La Tech is still probably the most complete team in the league and the division (from coaching staff, to talent depth etc).
While every game is important, this one is the only one of the three most challenging opponents at home.
A win will stop the skeptics from repeating one of their favorite phrases: “Same ol’ North Texas”.
North Texas fans may not all consider UTSA a rival, but this is the kind of game that can pivot the series into rivalry territory either way. An NT win puts NT at 2-3 against UTSA and will return the favor in beating their very best team in a decade. A loss increases the sports hate.
There is a lot of football to be played no matter the outcome here. The great thing about having a good team is that there is always something to play for. There is always another, bigger game than the last. This is how it is supposed to work.
Who knows, maybe if NT does enough winning, the marketing staff will not have to pull all the stops to get people into Apogee. They will just do it on their own.