UNT has their best chance for turning this season around this week when they host the WKU Hilltoppers. Both schools have developing football programs. UNT is about a year of FBS level talent acquisition ahead of Western Kentucky.
Both teams are at the bottom of the conference standings in the Sun Belt — the worst FBS conference in America.
UNT is 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the Sun Belt. WKU is 0-3 in the Sun Belt and 0-7 overall.
I am going to call the North Texas Mean Green a bit of a weak favorite in this one as the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers catch UNT at a season low emotionally, having been crushed by a Troy team, being in total disarray on defense, and having the heart of the team ripped out with the loss of senior MLB Tobe Nwigwe for the season with a foot injury.
No doubt UNT's offense should score about 50 points on WKU's thin, undermanned defense, and WKU should not be able to keep up offensively based on their games this year (the best of which was a 24-point yield last week vs. MTSU), but let's not forget how bad UNT's defense has been of late.
Additionally, WKU has talent at the important spots. Freshman QB Kawaun Jakes has been a plus player in most of their games this year. RB Bobby Rainey has already rushed for 446 yards this year at a very salty 5.9 yards per rush. He's a damned good player.
The Hilltoppers' problem offensively has been a lack of playmakers at the receiver spot.
This WKU team is a lot like UNT's last season—minus a Casey Fitzgerald.
If UNT cannot stop the run or generate turnovers, WKU may be able to nickel and dime UNT up and down the field—just like Troy did, controlling the clock and UNT's scoring potential.
WKU's big problem this year is that teams jump out to big leads on them, forcing the Hilltoppers away from the run early.
Despite good scoring numbers, UNT hasn't jumped out on anyone this year. When UNT with Riley Dodge at the helm has scored early—like in the ULL and FAU games—the offense has also served up turnovers that have been converted into points, neutralizing that lead.
If Dodge and the Mean Green give away 10-14 points via turnovers in the first half, they will extend how long WKU can run the ball, control the clock, and stay in the game.
In that scenario, there is no reason why Rainey could not roll for 200-plus yards against this run defense with the competent Jakes throwing the occasional pass to keep things honest.
If UNT isn't going to go after interceptions at all, favoring just making the tackle on a safe play, WKU could operate with impunity and have a breakout offensive game. WKU could eat up time of possession and potentially steal, say, a 34-27 win.
Now that said, WKU is at the same point UNT was last season with paper-thin depth. WKU's OL, for example, could have a catastrophic collapse at a position in any game.
Barring potential factors that may or may not happen (like the UNT fans, UNT coaching staff, or upperclassmen really pumping up the team or WKU injuries), I think UNT's best chance to win is based on attacking WKU's lack of depth. That really fits UNT's coaching staff's alleged standard MO anyway.
Dodge's offensive philosophy is designed to go after the weak spots repeatedly. (In practice this doesn't always happen, but B.J. Lewis' run of catches vs. MTSU is a prime example of this actually occuring to good affect in a game.) WKU doesn't have 4-6 good coverage guys.
You could see an explosive UNT receiver who isn't a coaching staff favorite (Lewis or Darius Carey) get more passes thrown his way than the staff normally does, and one of those big play guys could have a breakout game vs. a weaker coverage guy than they normally face.
This game could be disgustingly close; it could even be a WKU upset—or if UNT's players and coaches get their act together, correct their weaknesses, and play with fire, it could be a blowout win and the start of a UNT winning streak.
This is not only the biggest game of the year for WKU, it is also the biggest game of the year for UNT, with a loss potentially opening the door to catastrophe.
If UNT loses this game, the team could very well collapse to a one-win season.
The Mean Green's biggest issue all season has been a flat-out lack of confidence. The talent is clearly there to win. Whether they are being used properly is almost irrelevant in some ways, as UNT has been in enough games to be 4-3 at this point (even if in the eyes of many, many of UNT's best talents may be being misused).
Confidence is the issue. Players don't KNOW they can make plays as individuals or as a team in these schemes. A loss to WKU would be devastating in that regard and could trigger a collapse.
A one-win season would probably classify the season as "non-competitive" and probably would get Todd Dodge fired, in spite of UNT not being able to land a better coach.
A new coach in would run off a number of players to free up their scholarships and to prove points. A new coach would likely destroy any hopes of a winning season next year. It would restart the four-year rebuilding clock.
In brass tacks terms for the players, it could cost a lot of guys their scholarships at UNT and a lot of others their only shot at winning at the collegiate level. That is just the reality of coaching changes.
For the coaching staff and the players at UNT, this is a must win game that affects their future.
For the fans and the university, it could determine whether this or next season will be the breakthrough year or whether it will be four seasons from now. A loss would be devastating.
The game is scheduled for Halloween. One wonders if the largely dissatisfied UNT fanbase will show up and be a positive force cheering the Mean Green players (as opposed to a negative force booing Dodge) as the Mean Green players attempt to get over the hump, or if the fans will stay home—neutralizing the UNT home field advantage.
The fan turnout and attitude could be not only the difference in this game—it could be the determining factor to whether UNT restarts the four-year rebuilding clock.