The time for battling for inter-conference supremacy is mostly over. Non-Conference play for most teams is done and the real struggle begins. Winning the league is not a small thing.
There are only two current league coaches with league titles on their résumé: Lane Kiffin and Doc Holliday. Skip Holtz and Seth Littrell have three appearances and three losses between them.
While anything can happen from now until the beginning of December, the road toward competing in the league’s title game has an important stop in Denton, TX this Saturday.
North Texas is holding on to a nine-game winning streak at Apogee, and will be breaking ground on the new indoor-practice facility and unveiling a new Mean Joe Greene statue outside the stadium before the game.
For the Mean Green, capping off a special day with a division win that sets up the rest of the path to the division crown would be the dream scenario. North Texas has demonstrated they are the best team in the conference but ‘best’ is relatively and temporary.
Coming into this season, Louisiana Tech were the betting favorites to win the league, no matter what the beat writers voted on at Media Days. Tech still boasts a talented roster throughout, and a returning starting QB. In this league, in this modern version of the game, that is a huge leg up.
NT head coach Seth Littrell said “They are really solid in all three phases. They’re healthy this year. I think last season they had some bad luck with some injuries so their depth might’ve been down at times.”
That is true, and the familiarity with his pass-catchers has allowed J’Mar Smith to play really well this season. He has shaken off some tough plays to throw for seven scores against four interceptions. His ability to move in the pocket and extend plays has allowed Tech to move the ball well. In three games Smith has thrown for 306 yards per game, including 350 last week at LSU.
LSU dominated at times, but only just, and that gives the Tech fan base confidence. WR Adrian Hardy is the leading receiver and won more than a few one-on-one matchups against LSU’s talented secondary. With North Texas having so much success matching up on receivers with their own talented set of corners, this is an area where Tech can challenge one of the Mean Green’s strengths.
If J’Mar Smith can neutralize the fierce attacking pass rushes of Linebackers Brandon Garner and EJ Ejiya with enough movement to buy time? Well, he should be able to find Hardy or Teddy Veal down the field.
Where Liberty’s QB Buckshot Calvert had some openings that he could not exploit because of the wind and good coverage, Louisiana Tech has the talent to win those battles.
That said, the North Texas defense held this Tech offense to only 23 last season in Ruston, and this unit is much improved over last year’s version. Garner and Ejiya have been incredible for Seth Littrell and DC Troy Reffett.
The NT offense finally got the run game going against Liberty, rushing for 300+ yards on the road. Tech’s defense is still good, with Jaylon Ferguson a threat to the QB every time. LSU ran away from him, and optioned him other times, choosing to avoid the talented DE rather than take him on. He still managed a strip-sack against the Tigers.
Amik Robertson is one of the league’s better corners. The entire secondary will be challenged against the best passing team they have faced thus far. In two seasons, Tech has held Mason Fine to only 418 yards 2 TDs, and picked him twice.
However, this is a different team based around Fine and not departed running back Jeff Wilson, who had 165 last year in the win. Holtz: “They have four receivers that have all had over 14 catches. They are very talented as a wide receiver group with more speed than they have had in the past.”
The oddsmakers favore NT by just 7. It is a road game and that might put the Mean Green over the top. Skip Holtz’ Tech have done well in the DFW area and there are a lot of Bulldog fans in the Metroplex.
This should be fun.