But it won't be easy and it certainly is not a given.
The University of Ohio Bobcats were a hard luck team in 2008 that lost a few games in the last minutes last year that they probably should have won. They went 4-8 last year, but probably could and should have gone at least 7-5.
Just like UNT, the Bobcats are trying to grow out of being snakebit.
In week one, Ohio was beaten by UCONN—an 8-5 team in 2008. Ohio was only down 14-7 at half time before the difference in depth between the MAC and the Big East came into play.
Ohio starts seven seniors on offense and another seven on defense. They are a tougher-minded team than UNT and one that probably won't quit. Head Coach Frank Solich has always been an advocate of a power running game, but he lacks the back to execute it so he has been forced to play more of a passing attack the last two years, which explains a lot of Ohio's inconsistency over that period.
Solich will roll out a senior laden team that will fight UNT to the wire. It is a flawed team in that it doesn't fit it's coach's philosophy, but has some good players on both sides of the line.
Boo Jackson is a very good, mobile, accurate passing QB with a good knack for making plays (he may end up having a CFL career down the road). He is an exciting player. He splits time with another solid QB in Theo Scott. Both are strong armed QBs who understand the passing game.
They have an assortment of good receiving options in WRs Taylor Price, Riley Dunlop, Terrence Mcrae, and Steven Goulet, TE Jordan Thompson, and HB Chris Garrett that should be a challenge for UNT's defense.
Ohio's running game is not as strong as their passing game. Against UCONN Ohio only generated 61 yards rushing at a 1.9 yard per carry clip. There is elusive talent in the backfield, but the halfbacks lead by Garrett and Donte Harden are small players (under 200 lbs) lacking the bulk and strength to break arm tackles vs. BCS-sized linemen and linebackers. Most are smaller than UNT QB Riley Dodge, to put that in perspective.
Those backs play behind a line that most would judge as just solid. LT Chris Rogers is a good athlete and an experienced player who will probably be able to control UNT's weakside DEs, but Cantly, Weber, and Owusu-Hemmeng might be able get around RT Colt Bunner for a sack, especially when the less mobile QB Scott is in the game.
In the middle, Ohio looks a little weaker to me. They seem like they were recruited to be good run blockers and now they are being asked to pass block. Additionally there is next to no proven depth.
I could see DT Kelvin Jackson power by one of these guys for a sack. I have been quite against the idea of Eddrick Gilmore playing DT, but this might be a game where he does pretty well at that spot. DT Draylen Ross and Jesse DeSoto who are fair pass rushers could also figure in in that regard.
I do think the Bobcats will run on UNT much better than they did vs. UCONN. I think they will have only a little less success than Ball State did (forgotten in the accolades for UNT's defense is the fact that Ball State averaged 7.0 per rush vs. UNT).
Against Ball State UNT would stop two runs for no gain and then give up 11 yards on the next run. UNT's defense has made major strides, but they still aren't as disciplined as the top units.
Ohio's run blockers are good enough to create the occasional hole and last week suggests UNT's defense will give up the occasional hole. So...there will be some holes this week for Ohio to run through.
The Ohio backs are fast and elusive, even if they aren't anywhere near the caliber of Ball State's MiQuale Lewis. I think UNT's feast or famine run defense will continue...but call it five yards per carry this week.
Ohio's passing offense—regardless of who is at QB—is much better than what UNT saw vs. Ball State. UNT's defense probably will not hold this team below 20 points.
Defensively Ohio is weakest up front. Their defensive line is big inside, but they aren't great players individually and they are not that deep. UNT, if it chooses to run, should be able to consistently open some holes for their backs.
This would be a good game to get G Gabe Hollivay a few more plays in relief. Drake may be quite strong, but the undersized combination of Drake and C JJ Johnson could probably use breathers this week.
The ends are better vs. the run than the pass so far. The Ohio linebackers are quite good, so I don't expect to get the "bonus yards" Cam Montgomery got last week. This would be a good game to get Micah Mosley more involved in the running game. UNT needs a pounder inside this week with those top notch linebackers and the other backs might not be sufficient.
Ohio has a very good and experienced back seven. They gave UCONN all they could handle. UCONN threw 24 passes and only completed 11 for 127 yards. Of those 24 passes, Ohio picked off three of them.
This will be a problem. Ohio has three good coverage corners. A top quarterback knows how to attack a good pass defense with good ball placement. They don't create the opportunity for interceptions.
I am not convinced Dodge has grown beyond a high school QB's tendency to be overconfident in his ability—I think he has a tendency to put balls when they can be picked off.
This is a game where Riley Dodge should be protected by the play calling. More running would be wise. Will it happen?
I am also not convinced the coaching staff will make the correct calls in scheming for this game. I think they need to run a lot and attack this team deep when they pass. If they attempt to short pass this team to death like they did Ball State, a 4-5 interception day may be the end result. That might be the worst thing for a young QB to go through this early in the year.
Overall, I think UNT SHOULD win this game based on the Mean Green having the talent to run on Ball State consistently and having enough good quality depth at receiver to get a few mismatches and Ball State not being able to consistently run on UNT—especially if they try to run out the clock.
Solich is playing a style outside of his comfort zone while UNT coach Todd Dodge is not. The coach who is able to dictate his style usually has the upper hand. I think the teams are quite similar in their strength's beyond that.
If UNT loses this game it will probably be due to bad coaching although the veteran leadership on Ohio will probably come into play if the game goes down to the wire.
How the game might end.
I see a couple different scenarios depending on how UNT's offensive staff design this gameplan and call this game.
1) In the event of a game plan that features heavy running and some deep passes by UNT, I think UNT might enter the fourth quarter with as much as a 14-point lead. Would they be able to hold off Boo Jackson? I think so, but I would not write it in stone. He is a heck of a playmaker.
Todd Dodge did show last week that he is willing to end a game his team leads with a series of running plays. He may be a passing advocate, but he isn't totally obtuse in that regard anymore.
In the event that UNT goes with the Ball State game plan and Riley Dodge throws 40+ passes he might be picked off four-plus times, at least two of which would probably lead to TDs. With that said:
2) UNT enters the fourth quarter down by 14. UNT's coaching staff might feel a need to call more aggressive plays in the fourth quarter, which is what I think is needed vs. Ohio. Riley Dodge proved in high school that he is a pretty good player down the stretch too. Could UNT come back and win it? That is a possibility.
Unfortunately for Ohio this kind of scenario might really work against them. Solich's instincts would be to run the ball, but UNT's defense may be able to stuff the run getting the ball back in short order. It sort of lays out well for the lead to disappear.
3) UNT enters the fourth down by 10 or less. This is an interesting scenario in that neither coach is likely to make the best decisions. Solich would still try to run out some time and may give the ball back prematurely to UNT.
At an 8-10 point lead, a single TD makes the game a last possession kind of game. UNT for it's part may not feel a need to deviate from the dink offense they run and you might see that create an opportunity for the Ohio secondary to make a big interception that puts the game away.
The more I think about this game, the more I think it will be a great game, regardless of who wins.