North Texas at UTSA
Conference USA championship game
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
Records: UNT 7-5, UTSA 10-2
Last game: UNT 21, Rice 17; UTSA 34, UTEP 31
Last meeting: UTSA 31, UNT 27 (2022)
What’s on the line?
UNT coach Seth Littrell laid out a goal to win bowl games at the end of his first season when he arrived at the school ahead of the 2016 campaign. He has spoken about his desire to win championships ever since.
The Mean Green have gotten to the verge of reaching that goal over and over without getting over the hump. UNT lost to Florida Atlantic in the 2017 Conference USA title game and has dropped all five of its bowl games in Littrell’s tenure.
Breaking through to beat UTSA for the C-USA title would be huge for the program.
The Roadrunners are nationally ranked for the second straight season and are looking to repeat as C-USA champions. UTSA can build on its huge run of success of the last few years by beating the Mean Green.
The winner of Friday’s game will certainly get a nice boost while putting together its next recruiting class.
When UNT has the ball
There might not be a bigger question heading into the C-USA title game than whether UNT can get its running game on track against the Roadrunners. The Mean Green managed just 22 yards on 21 carries in the teams’ first meeting.
UNT overcame those struggles and nearly pulled out the win because Austin Aune threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns. The chances of UNT being as effective as it was the first time around without running the ball seem slim.
The Mean Green will be without running back Oscar Adaway III and will almost certainly be without fellow running back Ayo Adeyi when they face UTSA. Both have been out due to injury but still rank as UNT’s leading rushers. Adeyi has 690 yards on the season, while Adaway has 583.
UNT still has Ikaika Ragsdale and Isaiah Johnson available and will have to hope they can pick up the slack. The game could come down to whether Aune can throw the ball effectively again.
The Roadrunners were on a tear defensively after holding both Louisiana Tech and Rice to seven points before giving up 31 last week to UTEP.
UTSA has a ton of talent on defense and is led by linebacker Jamal Ligon, who has 79 tackles on the season.
When UTSA has the ball
UTSA has lost a host of key players on offense to injury late in the year. De’Corian Clark, the wide receiver who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the closing seconds of UTSA’s win over UNT earlier this year, is out for the season.
Running back Brenden Brady is also out this week. UTSA is deep at the skill positions and will look to a host of other players to carry the load. Wide receivers Joshua Cephus and Zakhari Franklin are both elite players in C-USA.
The Mean Green have played well defensively late in the season and held three of their last four opponents to 17 points or less.
The challenge for UNT will be coming up with another great performance in a game against UTSA and quarterback Frank Harris. The senior is the best player in C-USA. He has thrown for 3,524 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 539 yards and eight more touchdowns.
This is a game that UTSA should win. The Roadrunners posted 495 yards to the Mean Green’s 347 in the teams’ first meeting and have been the better team throughout the year.
UTSA is sure to have a massive crowd behind it at the Alamodome and will have the best player on the field in Harris.
Something always seems to go wrong when UNT plays in a championship/bowl game. UNT lost star quarterback Mason Fine early in the 2018 New Mexico Bowl and lost on a fourth-and-goal run from the 3 by Army in 2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl.
One of these years, it’s finally going to break UNT’s way. This year is as good a time as any.
Prediction: UNT 33, UTSA 31