It's pretty much a given that the North Texas Mean Green will go bowling this year, which would certainly validate the job that Dan McCarney has done to turn around a program that last played in a bowl in 2004 and has endured some very lean seasons since. Needing just one win to become bowl eligible, the Mean Green have a pretty easy slate after this week and could easily wind up with eight wins, which are more than enough to get a postseason invite these days.
Winning out would mean a 9-win campaign for North Texas, and a possible appearance in the Conference USA Championship Game. To do that, however, McCarney's lads are going to have to first take down a strong Rice Owls team that has won five consecutive games and is currently one of only two squads boasting unbeaten CUSA records.
The Owls and Mean Green meet this Thursday evening with parts of the country enjoying the Halloween game from their living room via FOX Sports. Kickoff from Apogee Stadium in Denton is set for a few minutes past 7:30 PM (ET), and North Texas is a 5.5 point favorite after the spread opened 2.5 to 3 on SBR's live college football odds. A total has yet to be released.
The Week 10 contest is the first ever between the schools as conference opponents, and only the fourth all-time. Rice, in its ninth CUSA season, has won two of the previous three, the most recent three years ago at old Fouts Field in Denton, a narrow 32-31 victory that found the Owls giving up a field goal with the final sliding past the mark by about a touchdown. UNT's only victory in the series came in the first meeting 25 years ago, a 33-17 upset in Houston when the Mean Green were still playing D-II ball. That loss came during a winless 1988 season for the Owls, part of an 18-game string of defeats for the school.
UNT Making Noise In 1st CUSA Season
McCarney and his staff have the Mean Green on the verge of a major splash in their first season in Conference USA after major realignment. One more win not only makes North Texas bowl eligible, it will guarantee just the fourth winning record since the Mean Green moved back into Division I/FBS in 1995. They have UTEP (1-6), UTSA (3-5) and Tulsa (2-5) after this game, so it would take a complete collapse to avoid a bowl come December.
A win would keep them in a race for the West Division where Rice and Tulane are both 4-0 in conference action, a game ahead of the Mean Green (3-1). It's just the fourth home game for UNT, a perfect 3-0 outright and against the college football betting spread.
North Texas ran its string of wins to three by walloping Southern Mississippi last week, 55-14. Mean Green bettors were laying 13 to easily cash for the sixth time this year, but it was a sloppy victory with four UNT turnovers, an issue for McCarney's club with 18 giveaways to rank in the bottom 20 nationally in that category.
The good news is the Mean Green are second in the country with 25 takeaways after forcing five Golden Eagle turnovers a week ago. Rice has done a great job protecting the ball -- 10 turnovers tied for 29th fewest -- so that's a subplot within Thursday's game to watch.
Efficient Owls Seek First 6-Game Win Streak Since '08
David Bailiff has been doing an excellent job at Rice for more than six seasons, and already has the Owls eligible for a second consecutive bowl appearance. The last time that happened, Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy were switching out at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (1960-61).
Like North Texas, Rice (6-2 ATS) is coming off a blowout win a week ago in El Paso against the Miners. The 45-7 final easily covered the big 19-point line, but fell short of a 58.5 tally thanks to an undersized and underrated Rice defense. In fact, the win was most noteworthy because of the Owls' overall slight stature as walk-on Jayson Carter, all 4-foot-9 and 135 lbs. of him, was used for a carry late in the contest.
The current weather forecast for Halloween night is a bit scary; rain is expected on Wednesday and during the day Thursday in Denton, and the wet stuff could linger into the evening, so check that before getting a wager down.
The Owls have been fortunate to face two of the worst rush defenses in the country the past two weeks in UTEP and New Mexico. North Texas is going to be a different story, which means Owls QB Taylor McHargue is going to have to move Rice more through the air than normal. Still, I'm going to catch this spread on the way up and put my college football pick on the visitors.
NCAAF pick: Rice +5.5 at Bet365