The world loves Middle Tennessee State University this week.
They have beaten a Conference USA school and an ACC school in their offseason slate and come to Denton to face a team they destroyed, 52-13, last year and, 48-28, the year before.
The University of North Texas is coming off an absolute demolition by No. 4 Alabama, 53-7. UNT didn't have any real catastrophic breakdowns and they still were never in that game.
I am calling the upset.
The Blue Raiders are a very good and sound squad and I fully expect them to challenge for the league title, but they are riding high and, from their perspective, they have owned UNT coach Todd Dodge.
They will probably underestimate North Texas.
UNT, on the flipside, has a lot to prove after the Alabama game. Alabama made them look impotent. A team that enters a season with a better squad and on a mission to prove that they have improved usually bounces back strongly from those kinds of games.
UNT is that kind of team.
The emotional position for each team is right for a possible upset.
Last year's game featured MTSU being essentially spotted 35 points by UNT's awful defensive line. The year prior, UNT hung around. This UNT team is miles better than either of the two squads, while this MTSU team is may only prove qualitatively equal to their past two editions.
And like the closer of the past two matchups, this game is in Denton. The crowd should be a strong one even though Dentonites doen't really feel much of a rivalry with any Sunbelt opponents beyond maybe UNT's closest competitor Arkansas State. UNT was primed for a very strong crowd for the home opener vs. Ohio until a 24 hour rainstorm that lasted throughout the double overtime affair skunked attendence.
Don't be suprised if the attendance number is as much as 23,000 this week and if the crowd allows UNT a real home filed advantage. That would be quite a strong crowd for as lousy of a stadium as Fouts Field.
I don't think the Alabama game have dulled the excitement this team is generating among the Mean Green faithful. This game will in effect be the home opener for a lot of folks.
Both teams have been well-coached this season. MTSU is by far the more confident and composed team. They have a very good head coach and a good offensive scheme.
UNT's offense is capable of rolling up yards on just about anyone, but is a little less capable in the red zone. Defensive Coordinator Gary DeLoach may be the best in the Sunbelt Conference.
The Blue Raiders are missing senior running back Phillip Tanner. Last year, when UNT was the worst team in the country against the run, Tanner scored five touchdowns against the Mean Green, averaging 11.4 yards per carry.
The runners that replaced Tanner last week, and will again this week, were RB D.D. Kyles (a 190-pound sophomore) and WR Desmond Gee (a 5'8'', 160-pound senior). They are not exactly threats to break arm tackles (the frequency of arm tackling is still a UNT defensive weakness).
MTSU may have to rely on QB Dwight Dasher to generate rushing yardage.
That again plays to UNT's strengths. UNT's defense faces an offense in practice that features repeated runs by the quarterback. This defense is actually fairly good at keeping an eye on running quarterbacks.
MTSU may very well be forced to totally rely on its passing game, which would put them right in the teeth of the UNT defense.
UNT's defense features two safeties that can cover, a former safety at one linebacker spot, a 2-3 deep defensive line rotation to keep the pressure up, and three very good coverage cornerbacks (even without senior CB Antoine Bush, who will not play this game).
In spite of the fact MTSU has four very good receivers, UNT has enough coverage to challenge them on every play, all game long.
Look for sophomore CB Royce Hill to get on the Sunbelt All-Conference Team radar this week and for UNT to have its best sack day of the young season.
I would not be shocked to see the Blue Raiders' offense get shut down for long spans of this game. While Dasher is a talented quarterback, I don't know if he is accurate enough to match his first few games' production in the face of what he'll see from UNT's defense, which is built to stymie spread sets and pass heavy offenses.
Offensively, UNT should be able to move the ball on MTSU. Quarterback Riley Dodge will play, as will veteran left tackle Victor Gill. UNT has one of the better offensive lines in the Sunbelt, so they should give the cool Dodge plenty of time to work through his progressions.
UNT has three solid receivers in true freshman Darius Carey and Juco imports Jamaal Jackson and Michael Outlaw.
Carey, in particular, should be fun to watch this week. After catching five passes against Alabama, I think the coaching staff may be affording a little more trust to him. Don't be surprised if he breaks a very big play this week.
I also wouldn't be surprised to see either Carey or Jackson (or possibly both) be the first UNT receivers to have a 100-yard game this season.
A wild card in the equation is wide receiver BJ Lewis.
Lewis was a high school star who showed some breakaway speed and a nose for the end zone in the final fall scrimmage, but has been an injury scratch for the season. If he is healthy, Lewis could be another surprise that MTSU may not have tape or an answer for.
It should also be noted that MTSU did not exactly control Cam Montgomery last year. Montgomery ran for 77 yards—averaging 6.4 yards per carry—and a touchdown. If the Mean Green hadn't been down by so much and been forced to totally abandon the run, he could have had a very good game.
Look for at least 150 yards and two touchdowns from Montgomery this year.
Really, this game breaks down like a UNT romp. But the Mean Green is a young team that hasn't proven they can handle success well, or that they can hold onto leads (see the Ohio game). Like Ohio, MTSU is a tough team with no quit in them.
I am expecting UNT to again run out to a fairly good lead by the third quarter—say 31-16—and then MTSU to come battling back and make the game a nail biter.