North Texas and Troy seem to be two of the Group of Five programs that will actually be keeping the same coaching staff going into next season. Some extra practices and a trip to a bowl game should really provide a big boost for these two programs going forward. The coaches and the players, however, aren’t worried about the future. They are worried about the present and that is the first FBS bowl game of the bowl season in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Troy is a 5.5-point favorite with a total in the low 60s for this Conference USA vs. Sun Belt clash.
North Texas lost the Conference USA championship game 41-17 to FAU, but that was a bad matchup from the start for the Mean Green. Bad spot or not, the 69-31 beating that North Texas suffered in the first meeting was a sign of things to come. It shouldn’t detract from what North Texas accomplished this season in going 9-4 with an 8-5 ATS record. UNT was 8-5 to the over. Neal Brown is doing an excellent job at Troy. The Trojans, who became the first ranked Sun Belt team ever last season, won 10 games again and are in consecutive bowl games for the first time since making three straight from 2008-10. The Trojans wrapped up the regular season 10-2 with a .500 record against the spread and a share of the Sun Belt Conference title. The Trojans were 9-3 to the under.
The strength of this North Texas team is clearly the offense under a couple of brilliant offensive minds in Seth Littrell and Graham Harrell. Littrell found Mason Fine, a small quarterback of Cherokee descent and aided in the process that turned Fine into a Group of Five star. Fine completed 64 percent of his passes this season with a 28/13 TD/INT ratio. Fine averaged more than eight yards per pass attempt and was a big reason behind the 6.3 yards per play for this offense. Unfortunately, North Texas will enter the bowl game without all-time leading rusher Jeffery Wilson, who suffered a season-ending foot injury late in the year. Nic Smith had five yards per carry and the depth for the Mean Green is solid, but Wilson, who had 6.5 yards per pop and 16 touchdowns, is a big loss. This is the second straight bowl appearance for North Texas, a feat that has not been accomplished since 2003-04. The Mean Green are 2-6 lifetime in bowl games and haven’t won a bowl game since 2013, so there is a lot of motivation on that sideline and in the room for film study. North Texas has never won 10 games in a season and had 10 wins over the last three seasons combined.
On the defensive side, the Mean Green did struggle. They have improved greatly from the 2015 version that allowed 6.7 yards per play and gave up 66 at home to Portland State, in a game that got previous head coach Dan McCarney fired in the locker room. North Texas allowed 6.1 yards per play last season under Troy Reffett and dropped that number down to 5.9 yards per play this season. Conference USA is an interesting conference, with some excellent offensive teams and some absolute dregs. This defense allowed 38 points to Army in last year’s bowl game with plenty of time to prepare for the option. Will things go better against a physical Troy offense this season?
That is the big advantage for Troy in this game. Their power running style and advantage in the trenches led to a lot of Sun Belt success. Troy’s style of play also traveled well with a 5-1 straight up record and a 5-1 mark ATS on the road for those that got in early on the number against Boise State in Week 1. Neal Brown and his co-offensive coordinators Matt Moore, who has an offensive line background, and Kenny Edenfield have built an offense that has only allowed 40 sacks over the last three seasons. Veteran quarterback Brandon Silvers gets the ball out quickly. He completed 62.9 percent of his throws with a 13/6 TD/INT ratio. Silvers had a 23/12 ratio last year. Troy slowed down the tempo this season and only had 374 carries and 429 pass attempts after having 485 carries and 492 pass attempts last season. Jordan Chunn had five yards per carry and led the team with 10 touchdown scampers. He went from 4.6 yards per carry last season to this year’s production and got some help from Josh Anderson and Jamarius Hendernson. Henderson had 8.3 yards per carry. Troy was more efficient this season with 6.2 yards per play compared to last year’s 5.7. The Trojans can exceed last year’s 10-win total with a victory here and win a second straight bowl game after last year’s 28-23 win in the Dollar General Bowl over Ohio.
This Troy defense is quite good. It will be tested by North Texas, though. Troy’s opponents collectively averaged just 5.3 yards per play and just 3.7 yards per carry. North Texas is arguably the best offense that Troy has faced this season. This defense played well in its stiffer tests against Boise State and LSU, including that outright upset win in Baton Rouge. The Trojans allowed just 4.9 yards per play this season and held opponents to three yards per carry. Troy allowed 5.0 yards per play last season and 3.4 yards per carry. Getting defensive coordinator Vic Koenning in a spot where he needed to prove something was a coup for Brown and that has contributed greatly to the team’s success. His name hasn’t been brought up for any vacant DC jobs just yet, but you can bet that teams are following Troy’s defensive progress.
College Football Free Pick: North Texas Mean Green +5.5
My raw power rating number on this game is Troy -2 and I don’t see any reason to go overboard with adding to the number. Both teams should be sufficiently motivated. North Texas can use the downtime to get healthy. Both programs have played in the New Orleans Bowl before, but before any of the current players got there. The nature of bowl games may help North Texas, since they want to run with a little more tempo and Troy wants to slow the game down. Players are so excited to get between the lines and show something, especially if it is their last collegiate game. The total in the 60s suggests that we could see some points, which should benefit North Texas since that is the style they like to play.