Tennessee vs. North Texas
When: Saturday, November 14th, 2015
Where: Knoxville, Tenn. (Neyland Stadium)
Odds: Tennessee has an 98% chance of winning, per ESPN’s FPI simulations
North Texas at a glance:
Head Coach: Dan McCarney (22-27 through 5 years at North Texas)
Conference: Conference USA
All-time record: 493–478–35
2014 results: 4-8 (2-6 C-USA)
Returning starters: 12: 6 (offense), 6 (defense)
Coming off a nine-win season in 2013, the Mean Green looked like a team heading in the right direction under Dan McCarney.
In 2014, North Texas learned that one successful year doesn’t guarantee another, however, and the Mean Green returned to the uncomfortable four-win mark that it experienced in 2012 as well.
Finding the bright spots is somewhat of a futile effort. A 4-2 mark at home is respectable, but those four wins came over an FCS opponent and three FBS foes that had a combined eight wins in 2014. The road was an absolute disaster for North Texas. The Mean Green lost all eight contests aways from Apogee Stadium by an average of 21 points per game.
Their two games against Power 5 schools came against programs that were mediocre, at best, in 2014 in Texas and Indiana. UNT didn’t put too much resistance up in those games either, falling 38-7 to Texas in the opener and 49-24 to Indiana.
The final numbers were a reflection of UNT’s struggles. The Mean Green finished 11th in Conference USA in total offense, eighth in scoring offense and seventh in scoring defense.
Three early questions for the 2015 matchup:
1. Will Tennessee be focused?
It’s natural to think that Tennessee, coming off six SEC games, and with a potentially important game in the SEC East race against Missouri coming up the next week, could have a hard time getting up for this one. This will be the first time since 2012 that Tennessee has played a non-conference foe in the second-half of the schedule – a time that, if Tennessee is as improved as many predict, the Vols will be thinking about their positioning in the SEC East. There’s a lot of margin for error in this one, but it will be interesting to see if UT goes out and slams the door early or lets North Texas stick around a bit.
2. What young players will take advantage of their opportunities?
I’ll make the assumption that this isn’t a four-quarter game, and if that’s true, which young players will see more game action and take advantage of it? Tennessee will want to rest as many starters and veterans as possible in this one once the Vols can secure a comfortable lead, and at this point in the season, it’s time for freshmen to grow up and be able to contribute. Some young players should have the opportunity in this game – which ones will step up and show they can be trusted the rest of the season and into 2016?
3. Will the North Texas pass rush bother the Vols?
That will be a question all year for Tennessee, regardless of opponent, after 2014. UNT averaged nearly three sacks per game in 2014. The top two pass rushers from 2014, Chad Polk and Tillman Johnson, return in 2015 for North Texas and the Mean Green thinks that it could be a strength of the team. After seeing UTC get to the quarterback on a consistent basis in 2014, no pass rush can be ignored until the Vols prove that they can consistently protect the QB.
How do we expect it to play out?
Not all non-Power 5 conference opponents are created eqaul. As we highlighted at the beginning of this series, a team like Bowling Green, for example, can do some things that should scare a major opponent.
I just don’t see that with North Texas at this point. Maybe the Mean Green can get back to 2013 form and make this game a little more competitive than it looks on paper right now, but that’s tough to predict. Tennessee should be in control throughout in this one. Anything less than a 30-point margin of victory would likely fall short of expectations.