UNT-Rice prediction art

North Texas head coach Seth Littrell watches his team from the sidelines during a win over Middle Tennessee earlier this season. UNT will face Rice in Houston on Saturday.

North Texas at Rice

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Rice Stadium, Houston

Records: UNT 4-6, 3-3 Conference USA; Rice 1-9, 1-5 Conference USA

Last week: UNT bye; Rice 31, Middle Tennessee 28

Last meeting: UNT 41, Rice 17

TV: NFL Network

What’s on the line?

UNT has no room for error in its pursuit of a fourth straight bowl appearance. The Mean Green lost their last game two weeks ago at Louisiana Tech to fall to 4-6 and need to knock off Rice and UAB in their last two games to become bowl eligible with six wins.

A fourth straight bowl appearance would be a landmark for UNT. The Mean Green haven't played in the postseason in four straight seasons since Hall of Fame coach Darrell Dickey guided UNT to the Sun Belt title and the New Orleans Bowl in four consecutive seasons from 2001-04.

Rice snapped a nine-game losing streak last week with a win over Middle Tennessee and closes the season at UTEP. A win over UNT would give the Owls a realistic opportunity to finish the season on a three-game winning streak.

When UNT has the ball

UNT goes as quarterback Mason Fine goes and went straight down the tubes when he left the game in its last outing against Louisiana Tech. UNT was locked in a close game with the Bulldogs, who quickly pulled away for a 52-17 win with Fine on the sideline.

The senior will be back this week and has vowed to give it his all as he looks to end his college career on a high note. Fine has thrown for 2,657 yards and 27 touchdowns with just six interceptions on the season.

UNT is averaging 33.2 points per game and has several players in the midst of solid seasons on the offensive side other than Fine, including running back Tre Siggers (792 rushing yards) and wide receiver Jalen Darden (65 catches, 665 yards, 11 touchdowns).

Rice is allowing 28.1 points per game. The Owls held Southern Miss and Marshall to 20 points in back-to-back games before their breakthrough win over Middle Tennessee last week.

When Rice has the ball

UNT struggled defensively in its loss to Louisiana Tech two weeks ago. The Bulldogs rolled up 542 yards behind J'Mar Smith, who threw for 263 yards.

The Mean Green are allowing 34.4 points and 193.8 rushing yards per game and will look to turn the corner against Rice. The Owls are averaging just 16.5 points per game and have used three different starting quarterbacks.

Harvard transfer Tom Stewart is expected to make his second straight start against UNT. He threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns last week in Rice's win over Middle Tennessee.

Prediction

UNT has lost all five of its road games this season and will look to break through at Rice to keep its bowl hopes alive.

The Mean Green's schedule has played a role in their struggles on the road. UNT has faced SMU and Cal away from Apogee Stadium in addition to Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss, two of the top teams in C-USA.

UNT did suffer a loss at Charlotte that is tougher to explain. The Mean Green won't suffer a repeat against Rice, another team that has struggled all season.

UNT has had two weeks to prepare for the Owls and is aware of what is on the line. UNT coach Seth Littrell said he talked to his team about making sure it doesn't come home from Houston filled with regrets from a lost season.

The Mean Green will take care of business and enter their game against UAB in two weeks with a chance to become bowl eligible.

Prediction: UNT 42, Rice 23

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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