Key Matchups, What To Know About UNT’s 2018 Opponents
North Texas Enters 2018 With High Hopes
DENTON – Thursday marks 100 days until the 2018 season kicks off at Apogee Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1. Below, MeanGreenSports.com takes an in-depth look at the entire 2018 slate, looking at each matchup for North Texas from a variety of angles.
Week 1 – Sept. 1, 2018: vs. SMU (7-6 in 2017)
All-Time Series: SMU leads 31-5-1
Last Meeting: 9/7/17 - SMU 54, North Texas 32 in Dallas, Texas
Key Matchup: North Texas secondary vs. QB Ben Hicks
Snapshot: North Texas welcomes Metroplex rival SMU to Apogee Stadium to open the 2018 season, as head coach Seth Littrell faces a familiar foe in close friend Sonny Dykes. The Mean Green look to win their eighth straight at home (dating back to 11/19/16) and get 2018 off on the right foot. Both teams fell in their respective bowl games a year ago and each will feature third-year starters at quarterback in Mason Fine and Ben Hicks. SMU is without a pair of key offensive pieces from last year’s squad, in wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn who were each drafted this April.
Week 2 – Sept. 8, 2018: vs. Incarnate Word (1-10 in 2017)
All-Time Series: first meeting
Last Meeting: N/A
Key Matchup: RBs Nic Smith/DeAndre Torrey vs. ILB Mar’kel Cooks
Snapshot: Incarnate Word travels to Denton with new head coach Eric Morris, former offensive coordinator (and wide receiver) at Texas Tech. Morris was one of Graham Harrell’s favorite targets (along with North Texas receivers coach Joel Filani) during their time together in Lubbock, and familiarity from a schematic standpoint is sure to be a focal point, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Week 3 – Sept. 15, 2018: at Arkansas (4-8 in 2017)
All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 9-0
Last Meeting: 9/29/07 – Arkansas 66, North Texas 7 in Fayetteville, Arkansas
Key Matchup: QB Mason Fine vs. Arkansas secondary
Snapshot: For the third consecutive week, North Texas will face a program with a new head coach, as Arkansas opens the Chad Morris era in Fayetteville. Morris got the better of the Mean Green as SMU’s head coach in both 2016 and 2017. Arkansas will be looking to transition to Morris’ spread offense after several seasons in a power-run attack led by former coach Bret Bielema. Arkansas returns starting running back Devwah Whaley (127 att. For 559 yards and seven touchdowns) and leading receiver Jonathan Nance (37 rec. for 539 yards and five touchdowns). Leading tackler, linebacker De’Jon Harris also returns for the Razorbacks and will test the Mean Green offensive line (115 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 3.5 sacks).
Week 4 – Sept. 22, 2018: at Liberty (6-5 in 2017)
All-Time Series: first meeting
Last Meeting: N/A
Key Matchup: CBs Kemon Hall/Nate Brooks vs. WR Antonio Gandy-Golden
Snapshot: North Texas opens its home-and-home series at Liberty, which embarks on its first season as full-fledged FBS members. The Flames return a dynamic quarterback-receiver duo in juniors Stephen Calvert and Antonio Gandy-Golden. Calvert threw for over 3,300 yards with 29 touchdowns and just six interceptions, while Gandy-Golden hauled in a team-best 69 catches for 1,066 yards and 10 touchdowns. Redshirt senior receiver B.J. Farrow also caught 10 touchdowns and is a threat in the Liberty passing attack. The Flames scored 32.5 points per game, but also allowed 30.4 defensively through an up-and-down 2017 season that opened with a 48-45 win at Baylor.
Week 5 – Sept. 29, 2018: vs. Louisiana Tech (7-6, 4-4 C-USA in 2017)
All-Time Series: Louisiana Tech leads 9-7
Last Meeting: 11/4/17 – North Texas 24, Louisiana Tech 23 in Ruston, Louisiana
Key Matchup: WR Jalen Guyton vs. CB Amick Robertson
Snapshot: The Mean Green held the Bulldogs to just 23 points in a key 2017 win in Ruston and look to knock off Louisiana Tech for the first time in Denton since 1987 (0-3 in the last three meetings). The Bulldogs return senior quarterback J’Mar Smith and Conference USA co-Newcomer of the Year, WR Teddy Veal as well as sophomore corner Amick Robertson, who was an all-conference performer last season. This meeting marks the first C-USA opener played between the two schools since 2014.
Week 6 – Oct. 6, 2018: at UTEP (0-12, 0-8 C-USA in 2017)
All-Time Series: North Texas leads 15-8-3
Last Meeting: 11/11/17 – North Texas 45, UTEP 10 in Denton, Texas
Key Matchup: North Texas outside WRs vs. DB Nik Needham
Snapshot: UTEP enters 2018 looking for a fresh start after a disastrous 0-12 season, and does so with new head coach Dana Dimel. The Miners will have to replace second round NFL draft pick Will Hernandez, as well as its three leading tacklers from a year ago as they shift to Dimel’s multiple offensive philosophy. North Texas looks to pick up its first win in El Paso since 1980, after dropping two Conference USA meetings at the Sun Bowl in 2014 and 2016.
Week 7 – Oct. 13, 2018: vs. Southern Miss (8-5, 6-2 C-USA in 2017)
All-Time Series: tied 6-6
Last Meeting: 9/30/17 – North Texas 43, Southern Miss 28 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Key Matchup: WR Jalen Guyton vs. Southern Miss secondary
Snapshot: Head coach Seth Littrell is 2-0 thus far against Southern Miss, including a 43-28 road win that seemed to be a turning point for the Mean Green in 2017. Both teams are replacing big-time production from the running back position, with UNT losing Jeffery Wilson and Southern Miss losing Ito Smith. Golden Eagles’ quarterbacks Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard split playing time last year, with Griggs getting the majority of the snaps. Griggs had 16 touchdown passes to just two interceptions and likely has a leg up in the quarterback competition this season. Defensively, Southern Miss allowed just 24.5 points-per-game in 2017, but lose a handful of key contributors. A major component of the defense, redshirt sophomore linebacker Racheem Booth does return however, and was a member of the C-USA All-Freshman team after ranking second on the team in tackles.
Week 8 – Oct. 20, 2018: at UAB (8-5, 6-2 C-USA in 2017)
All-Time Series: UAB leads 2-1
Last Meeting: 9/23/17 – North Texas 46, UAB 43 in Denton, Texas
Key Matchup: LB E.J. Ejiya vs. RB Spencer Brown
Snapshot: UAB had a tremendous first season back as a program in 2017, and nearly caught the Mean Green early in Denton. They return quarterback A.J. Erdely, who was an honorable mention all-conference performer a year ago, as well as second-team all-conference running back Spencer Brown, who made a huge impact with 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. UAB returns nearly its entire roster of key contributors, which is not as surprising given the unique circumstances surrounding the program, though it provides a pretty good look at what to expect from that group under head coach Bill Clark. The last time the Mean Green ventured to Legion Field in Birmingham, the Blazers took care of business with a 56-21 win over the visitors from Denton.
Week 9 – Oct. 27, 2018: vs. Rice (1-11, 1-7 C-USA in 2017)
All-Time Series: tied 4-4
Last Meeting: 11/25/17 – North Texas 30, Rice 14 in Houston, Texas
Key Matchup: North Texas OTs vs. DE Roe Wilkins
Snapshot: Rice enters this week nine tilt with a new head coach in Mike Bloomgren, and are looking to defeat Seth Littrell for the first time after the Mean Green won road games over the Owls in back-to-back seasons. Bloomgren will be looking for consistency out of the quarterback position after Jackson Tyner (who appears to be the frontrunner out of the spring), Miklo Smalls (who sat out the spring) and Sam Glaesmann all split time in a difficult season for Rice. They will compete with incoming quarterbacks Parker Towns and Wiley Green as well as Vanderbilt graduate transfer Shawn Stankavage. Bloomgren, who arrives after seven seasons at Stanford, is expected to run a Cardinal-esque pro-style offense.
Week 10 – Nov. 3, 2018: Bye
Week 11 – Nov. 10, 2018: at Old Dominion (5-7, 3-5 C-USA in 2017)
All-Time Series: North Texas leads 1-0
Last Meeting: 10/28/17 – North Texas 45, Old Dominion 38 in Denton, Texas
Key Matchup: North Texas kick coverage team vs. KR Isaiah Harper
Snapshot: The Mean Green travel to Norfolk for the first time to take on the Monarchs. Old Dominion’s keys will be for sophomore quarterback Stephen Williams to take care of the football (11 interceptions and two fumbles lost in 10 appearances), and defensive end O’Shane Ximines to replicate his first-team all-conference performance from 2017. Ximines posted 14.0 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks from his defensive end position. Linebacker Marvin Branch also returns after leading the Monarchs in total tackles with 96. The Mean Green will need to keep the Old Dominion return game in check after Isaiah Harper took two kickoffs back for touchdowns in their meeting last year in Denton.
Week 12 – Nov. 17, 2018: vs. Florida Atlantic (11-3, 8-0 C-USA in 2017)
All-Time Series: Florida Atlantic leads 6-2
Last Meeting: 12/2/17 – Florida Atlantic 41, North Texas 17 in Boca Raton, Florida in the C-USA Championship Game
Key Matchup: North Texas LBs vs. RB Devin Singletary
Snapshot: North Texas gets a shot at Lane Kiffin’s Owls in Denton after falling twice in Boca Raton last season. There is a question as to who will be the quarterback for FAU this season after the unexpected departure of last season’s starter Jason Driskel. DeAndre Johnson (a junior college transfer who started his career at Florida State) and Chris Robison (an Oklahoma transfer) are expected to battle it out during fall camp. The winner of that quarterback race will likely be giving the ball to the reigning C-USA Player of the Year, Devin Singletary, who is getting some darkhorse Heisman buzz heading into the season. Singletary ran for 1,920 yards and a program-record 32 touchdowns on the ground, and scored three touchdowns apiece in the two meetings between the two schools in 2017. Leading receiver Willie Wright is also back for his sophomore season, and this November meeting may go a long way in deciding how the pair finish in their respective quests to reach the conference title game.
Week 13 – Nov. 24, 2018: at UT San Antonio (6-5, 3-5 C-USA in 2017)
All-Time Series: UT San Antonio leads 3-2
Last Meeting: 10/14/17 – North Texas 29, UT San Antonio 26 in Denton, Texas
Key Matchup: WR Michael Lawrence vs. UT San Antonio nickel defenders
Snapshot: These rivals face off to close the season, potentially with a lot at stake in the C-USA West race. One of the biggest moments of the Seth Littrell era thus far, “The Drive” took place the last time this pair met in Denton, when Mason Fine led an improbable 98-yard touchdown drive in the final 1:07 to lift the Mean Green to victory. UT San Antonio will have a new quarterback under center after Dalton Sturm’s graduation and defensive end Marcus Davenport’s exit to the NFL, but return key players in running back Jalen Rhodes, linebacker Josaia Tauaefa and safety Carl Austin III. Each team has won at home in the two seasons since Seth Littrell and Roadrunners head coach Frank Wilson have gone head-to-head.