SMU CW and NT Daily staff preview and predict SMU v. UNT showdown

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SMU and UNT will face off this Saturday in Gerald J. Ford Stadium on SMU's campus. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Elias

SMU football will take on the University of North Texas Mean Green at Ford Stadium on Saturday, September 12 at 6:00 p.m. CT.

Last Meeting: September 6, 2014 UNT 43 – SMU 6

In what was an unexpected blowout, UNT stuck it to the Mustangs last year. The Mean Green had five field goals to go along with three rushing touchdowns and a defensive touchdown. Four players had over 50 yards rushing, and quarterback Josh Greer completed 9 of 12 passes as UNT put up 353 yards of offense. Quarterback Neal Burcham started for the Mustangs but was replaced with Kolney Cassel. SMU had 274 yards of offense but only managed to score on the final play of the game. SMU’s head coach June Jones resigned three days after the loss.

Game Preview: September 12, 2015

This season’s matchup is expected to be much more competitive. Neither team will have the same starting quarterback, as UNT’s starter is expected to be senior Andrew McNulty and SMU’s starter will be Matt Davis. The Mean Green lost several key players from last season but added some junior college transfers to their roster. They are hoping to forget their unsuccessful 2014 campaign and prove that they are a program on the rise.

The Mustangs’ offense looked to be much improved from last year, putting up 21 points against No. 4 Baylor last week. SMU enters the game this week as a 3 1/2-point favorite and has a lot to prove.

Staff Predictions:

Brian O’Donnell, Sports Editor, SMU CW: SMU 42 – UNT 34

It’s no secret that SMU was completely embarrassed by UNT last season. They were so embarrassed that Head Coach June Jones resigned three days later. It’s also no secret that last season was a complete train wreck for SMU football in general, which is why I put no stock in the results of last season’s matchup when assessing this year’s.

So much has changed in a year from the Mustangs’ perspective. Chad Morris is at the helm, hoping to revive the storied SMU program. The first game against Baylor, despite the loss, showed that he has brought a new attitude to this team.

Matt Davis is finally the starting quarterback in an offense that suits his talents well and will allow him to play freely. Courtland Sutton is emerging as a valuable target for Davis to throw to, and the running back trio of Prescott Line, Xavier Jones, and Braeden West give the Mustangs a lot of options in the run game. Without the distraction that was the quarterback carousel of 2014, the SMU offense is more focused and will be more productive.

Last week’s game showed that this offense is already significantly better than it was a year ago. They put up more points in one half on Saturday than they did in almost two months last season.

My only concern with SMU is the defense. I didn’t see much improvement last week, but then again, it was against one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation, so I will continue to be optimistic.

All that being said, I have to give credit to UNT. The Mean Green is showing signs of a program on the rise and I am expecting them to bounce back from a down year, but I’m taking the Mustangs this week in a shootout.

Scott Sidway, Sports Editor, NT Daily: UNT 26 – SMU 24

It’s been a long 287 days since the Mean Green have played a meaningful football game, and everyone from head coach Dan McCarney to the water boys is amped and ready to see a team opposite of them that wears something other than green and white.

One would think that having the extra week to prepare would be considered advantageous in the eyes of North Texas. Rather, McCarney and company have lamented the extra week, saying that SMU has one week under its belt of real game action to help them shake off the pre-season cobwebs and familiarize themselves with the game-day routine.

Off-week aside, North Texas has plenty of kinks to work out themselves. They are returning only one offensive lineman from what was arguably their strongest position group last season. They lost the heart of their defense, linebacker Derek Akunne, who accounted for nearly 50 more tackles than the second leading tackler on the team (who, by the way, also graduated). They also lost the brain of their defense, losing defensive coordinator John Skladany to a fishing boat off the coast of Florida. Alright, let’s just call that retirement.

But with every question, there is an answer. North Texas recruited a handful of quality JUCO transfers on the defensive side of the ball that are poised to make an immediate impact. A steady hand seems to be firmly planted at quarterback after a tumultuous 2014 that consisted of three different starters and the furthest thing from consistency.

And let’s not forget mercurial guard Sam Rice, who had some not-so-kind words about his former Mustang teammates and is licking his chops to lay a hit or two on a select few SMU players. His new teammates have his back too, regardless of the “he said, she said” war of words between the sides.

SMU cannot go anywhere but up after last season. The jury is still out on North Texas. But while the Mustangs have some sense of satisfaction, albeit small, after hanging with Baylor throughout the first half last weekend, the Mean Green has been itching to wash a sour taste out of its mouth for nearly 300 days.

It probably won’t be pretty, but the intensity will be rampant on both sides.

Patrick Engel, Sports Writer, SMU CW: SMU 31 – UNT 14

SMU has done a complete 180 since last year’s debacle in Denton. That sounds like a silly thing to say after last week’s loss to Baylor, but SMU proved that it could keep pace with one of the nation’s best for the good part of three quarters.

Even though no one on the team cares for moral victories, hanging with Baylor gave them confidence. SMU has a bad taste in its mouth about every game from last season, but this one means a little more. Chad Morris called UNT a “good football team,” so there’s not a lack of respect from SMU. On the field, SMU is bigger and faster than it was a year ago, and I don’t think the Mean Green will be able to match the tempo and improved speed and strength.

SMU gave away last year’s game with three self-inflicted first-half turnovers and poor special teams play. I don’t expect either of those to be an issue this year. And last of all, I just don’t think UNT is all that good or explosive enough to match the Mustangs. SMU jumps out to an early lead and rolls in front of another good home crowd.

Reece Waddell, Senior Staff Writer, NT Daily: SMU 27 – UNT 17

After a long offseason that seemed to never end for North Texas, especially with its first week bye, the Mean Green will take the field on Saturday against Southern Methodist University. This will be the 2015 season debut for North Texas, and here are a few things I expect to see:

A fired up team: I’ve interviewed these guys since the start of fall camp in August and all of them, even head coach Dan McCarney are ready to go. They talked about having a countdown clock in the locker room and have agonized about how slowly the days have ticked by. Couple that with Sam Rice’s SMU homecoming and the fact that this is a rivalry game, I expect to see plenty of hype and possibly some mistakes stemming from all the adrenaline.

A new look offense: North Texas finished 2014 at 4-8 and struggled mightily at quarterback, cycling through three different guys. They threw as many touchdowns as they did interceptions (13.) You don’t need to be a math major to know that’s not a good statistic.

Nevertheless, they seem to have their man in senior Andrew McNulty, but it will be interesting to see how the offense flows. McCarney and offensive coordinator Mike Canales have promised a more spread attack that would open the passing game up to take some shots downfield. North Texas, especially under McCarney has always been a run-first offense. Will they stick with the plan to air it out?

A younger, less experienced defense: Defensive coordinator John Skladany retired this offseason and North Texas brought in Chris Cosh, who has coached under the likes of Bill Snyder and Lou Holtz to be the DC. The Mean Green have always prided themselves on defense, but were subpar last year. With guys like Derek Akunne, who led the team and Conference USA in tackles in 2014 gone, you have to wonder if North Texas will struggle on this side of the ball.

Prediction: I may go to school at North Texas, but I’m a realist before an optimist and I’m certainly not a homer. SMU was bad last year. But they have a new coach and new leadership. And after seeing SMU hang with No. 4 Baylor for the entire first half last week, I shudder to think what North Texas’ sometimes anemic offense will do.

Can’t wait to see the feedback this gets on campus, but I’ll go with the Ponies.

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