North Texas Mean Green (9-4 SU, 8-5 ATS) vs. Troy Trojans (10-2 SU, 5-7 ATS)
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 16th, 1:00 PM
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UNT +6 / TROY -6
Over/Under Total: 62
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome plays host to the opening kickoff to bowl season when former Sun Belt Conference foes North Texas and Troy meet up for a Saturday afternoon showdown in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Both teams are well familiar playing in the New Orleans Bowl, with the Trojans making their fourth appearance and sporting a 2-1 all time record and the Mean Green having played in it in four of their last six postseason trips and putting up a disappointing 1-3 record with all three losses by double digits.
The game features two of the youngest and soon to be sought after coaches in the country as Troys Neal Brown and North Texas Seth Littrell both come into the game riding all sorts of momentum as they have quickly been able to rebuild each of their respective programs. The 2017 Sun Belt coach of the year Brown took over a Troy team in 2015 when Larry Blakeney retired after coaching at the school for 25 seasons and has now guided them to three straight bowl games after a six year postseason absence, while Littrell is in his second season with the Mean Green and has led them to a 9-4 record, which is just the second time in the past 13 years that North Texas has finished with a record of .500 or better, along with back-to-back bowl berths.
Troy comes into the New Orleans Bowl riding high after beating Arkansas State in the final week of the regular season to claim a share of the Sun Belt Conference title. The Trojans were down 25-24 with 1:28 left and no timeouts at their own 28-yard line, but senior quarterback Brandon Silvers was able to lead them down the field and throw a game winning touchdown pass to Deondre Doughlas with just 17 seconds left to secure the victory. The play of Silvers has been key to their success all season, as their only two losses came in games when he completed less than 54% of his passes and had a quarterback rating below 100.
Silvers is far from alone on an offense that got plenty of postseason conference recognition with running back Jordan Chunn and wide receiver Deondre Douglas both being named to the All-Sun Belt Second Team, along with an offensive line that had three players claim spots as well in Steven Rowzee earning All-Sun Belt First Team honors along with Deontae Crumtie and Tristan Crowder getting on the 2nd Team.
As good as Troys offense appears based upon those honors, their defense was even better and finished the season ranked 11th in scoring, 14th against the rush and 27th in total yards allowed. First team all conference distinctions went to linebacker Hunter Reese and defensive back Blace Brown, while defensive linemen Jamal Stadom and Trevon Sanders along with linebacker Tron Folsom were named to the All-Sun Belt Second Team. Thankfully for those five and the rest of the defense, they will be going up against a North Texas offense that will be missing at least one if not two of the best players on their team when they meet to play in New Orleans on Saturday.
Mean Green senior running back Jeffrey Wilson ran for 1,215 yards this season along with scoring 16 touchdowns, but unfortunately for NT fans he was lost during their upset win against Army due to an ankle injury and will now miss the rest of the season. If that wasnt bad enough, their best receiver Jalen Guyton has been unable to play in their last two games due to concussion symptoms and his availability for the bowl game remains very much in question.
All hope is certainly not lost for North Texas, as gunslinging sophomore quarterback Mason Fine will still be on the field directing their offense after breaking the teams single season passing record with 3,749 yards along with throwing 28 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions. Fine earned All-Conference USA First Team honors for his play this season and even with Guyton injured will have four other targets available that caught at least 30 passes and scored three touchdowns on the year. Fine will need to be more careful with the ball though as his team ranked 113th in turnover margin this season and in their four losses so far he threw for a dismal touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1/7.
The North Texas defense wasnt able to make close to a similar impact this season as the offense, and ended their year ranked 105th in scoring, 108th against the rush and 97th in yards allowed per game. Not a single North Texas defensive player made either the first or second team all conference defense, and that along with the injuries to Wilson and Guyton shine a spotlight on a glaring issue on a widespread team issue and that is their very limited stock of impact players. This has been an ongoing problem for quite sometime down in Denton, as they havent had a single player taken in the NFL Draft since Cody Spencer in 2004, which doesnt look so good in comparison to their upcoming opponent Troy who has had ten selected in that same timespan including two players in the 1st round (DeMarcus Ware and Leodis McKelvin) along with one in the 2nd and two more in the 3rd (NT hasnt had a player picked in the 3rd round or higher since 1989).
In six of the last seven years North Texas has finished with a home record of .500 or better but have played with opposite success on the road, going just 5-21 in their last 26 games away from the friendly confines of Apogee Stadium. On the opposing side of the field is Troy, who has posted a 9-4 record in their last 13 road games with two of those losses against Clemson and Boise State, and one of those wins their 24-21 upset at Death Valley against LSU in a game that the Trojans entered as a three touchdown underdog. While playing on the road is certainly not the Mean Greens strong suit, that along with the enormity of the loss of Jeffrey Wilson and possibly Jalen Guyton is just too much for a team like North Texas to be able to overcome,as they simply dont have the roster strength to offset the lack of their two best skill position players. If you want to start your bowl betting season off on the plus side, confidently go with Troy to get the win and cover against North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl.
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