Rice at North Texas
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Apogee Stadium, Denton
Records: UNT 6-5, 5-2 Conference USA, Rice 5-6, 3-4 Conference USA
Last game: UAB 41, UNT 21; UTSA 41, Rice 7
Last meeting: UNT 30, Rice 24 (2021)
What’s on the line?
UNT’s game against Rice is a huge one for both teams as they look to solidify their postseason paths.
The Mean Green control of their destiny in terms of earning a spot in the C-USA championship game. UTSA has already clinched a berth after running out to a 7-0 start in league play.
UNT can earn the right to face the Roadrunners in the Alamodome by beating Rice. The Mean Green can also slip through the back door if they lose. UNT would need Florida Atlantic to beat Western Kentucky if it doesn’t take care of business itself.
Winning a seventh game by knocking off Rice would be huge for the Mean Green and would give them momentum heading into a game against the Roadrunners. UTSA edged UNT 31-27 earlier this season following a late touchdown drive.
Rice also has a lot on the line. The Owls are just one win away from becoming bowl eligible at 6-6. Rice hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2014. Breaking through would be huge for Rice and coach Mike Bloomgren.
The Owls would still have a chance at a bowl as a five-win team following a loss to UNT, depending on how many bowl-eligible teams there are. The easier path for Rice would be to win and erase all doubt.
When UNT has the ball
UNT has played well offensively most of the year and enters its game against Rice leading C-USA with an average of 482 yards of offense per game.
Quarterback Austin Aune has thrown for 2,907 yards and 29 touchdowns, leaving him within striking distance of the program record of 31 set by Mason Fine in 2017. Seven UNT receivers have at least 200 yards on the year.
The question for UNT is what it will have at running back. The Mean Green have endured a host of injuries at the position. UNT leaned on Ikaika Ragsdale and Isaiah Johnson in its loss to UAB in its last game.
Rice is allowing 35.0 points per game, a total that ranks eighth in C-USA. The Owls gave up 41 points to UTSA and 42 to Western Kentucky in their last two games.
When Rice has the ball
UNT appeared to be on its way up defensively after allowing 14 points or less to both WKU and Florida International in consecutive games.
The Mean Green couldn’t keep that run going in their last game and gave up 41 points in their loss to UAB. The Blazers featured the dynamic running back duo of DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr., who combined for 270 rushing yards.
UNT will look to bounce back behind KD Davis. The Mean Green’s star linebacker has 105 tackles on the season.
Rice has endured a series of injuries at quarterback and is averaging 26.1 points per game. The Owls have managed just 17 points in their last two games combined.
Rice lost quarterback Wiley Green to injury in its season opener against Southern Cal and later lost TJ Mahon in a loss to WKU. Green returned in Rice’s loss to UTSA, when he split time with AJ Padgett. Who Rice will have under center will be something of a mystery until kickoff.
Rice does have some good weapons in running back Cameron Montgomery (449 rushing yards) and wide receivers Bradley Rozner (806 receiving yards) and Luke McCaffrey (656 receiving yards), although McCaffrey didn’t play in the Owls’ last game.
UNT should beat Rice handily.
The Mean Green have more talent, are coming off a bye week, are playing at home and should be highly motivated with a spot in the C-USA title game on the line. Rice also has a lot at stake in terms of becoming bowl eligible but has been blown out in consecutive games.
The Owls are also pretty banged up across the board.
UNT has won five of the last six meetings between the teams. This game won’t be any different.
The Mean Green have a ton of veteran leaders, including Aune and Davis who will have UNT ready to go.
Prediction: UNT 42, Rice 24