North Texas vs. Northwestern State
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Apogee Stadium, Denton
Records: Season opener for both teams
Last meeting: UNT 28, Northwestern State 25 (1994)
What’s on the line?
UNT is coming off 4-6 season that culminated with a loss to Appalachian State in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. The Mean Green are hoping to return to the postseason this year and build on a run of four bowl appearances in five seasons under coach Seth Littrell.
UNT absolutely must win this game to improve its chances and pick up momentum heading into a brutal run of six games. Each team the Mean Green will face during that stretch either played in a 2020 bowl game or qualified for one that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northwestern State is coming off a 1-5 spring season. The Demons finished off their spring campaign with a 49-47 upset of Incarnate Word, which was the 19th-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision at the time. A win over UNT would be a landmark accomplishment for Northwestern State and would help it get the season off to a great start.
When UNT has the ball
The big question for UNT heading into the season is who will start at quarterback. Littrell declined to name a starter but did say that both Austin Aune and Jace Ruder will see time on Saturday.
The hope is that one shows that he is capable of taking over full time heading into the Mean Green’s game at SMU next week.
UNT returns several key starters, including running back DeAndre Torrey and wide receiver Deonte Simpson. The Mean Green know what they have in those players and a few others. What will be interesting to see is if a handful of newcomers, including wide receiver Tommy Bush and offensive lineman Kaci Moreka fare well in their UNT debuts. Both are expected to play key roles.
When Northwestern State has the ball
UNT will play its first game under coordinator Phil Bennett this week. He installed a new system in the offseason that includes a base four-man front.
UNT’s players have expressed confidence in their ability to improve dramatically after finishing last nationally with an average of 522.1 yards allowed per game last season.
Northwestern State might not present much of a challenge, but UNT will have a better idea of where it stands after facing the Demons. Running back Scooter Adams averaged 113.5 rushing yards per game last season and is Northwestern State’s top offensive threat.
UNT shouldn’t have any problem rolling through its season opener. The important challenge is playing well and building momentum for next week’s game at SMU, the opener of a difficult six-game stretch.
The Mean Green will come away feeling good about where they are at. They’ll also have a clearer picture of where the quarterback race stands after a solid outing from Ruder, who will be named UNT’s starter heading into the second week of the season.
Prediction: UNT 49, Northwestern State 17