North Texas (1-3) at Florida Atlantic (1-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 29, 5:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: FAU Stadium (30,000) -- Boca Raton, Florida. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: North Texas 1-1, FAU 1-0. Away Record: North Texas 0-2, FAU 0-3. Neutral Record: North Texas 0-0, FAU 0-0. Conference Record: North Texas 0-1, FAU 0-1. Series Record: FAU leads, 6-2.
GAME NOTES: A pair of Sun Belt Conference foes will face off on Saturday with each looking to bounce back from rough starts, as the North Texas Mean Green visit the Florida Atlantic Owls at FAU Stadium.
It has been a grueling first four weeks for North Texas, which is just 1-3 entering this matchup. The Mean Green have twice faced nationally ranked squads (LSU and Kansas State) with both ending in losses. A 14-7 loss to Troy last weekend gave the Mean Green consecutive losses for the first time this season and also drops them to 0-1 in conference play early on.
The schedule has not done any favors for FAU either in the early going. The Owls have had back-to-back road games against SEC powers Georgia and defending national champion Alabama. The Owls were outscored 96-27 in those two contests. With a loss at Middle Tennessee (31-17), the Owls have also dropped their first conference contest. Only a 7-3 win over FCS opponent Wagner has the Owls in the win column.
Consecutive victories in this series by North Texas have begun to chip away at the dominance that FAU held through the first six games of the all-time series, all wins for the Owls.
With such heavy competition early in the season, North Texas has not really been able to find a rhythm on offense. The Mean Green are only averaging 19.0 points per game, which is the third worst mark in the conference. The low scoring comes even with the team averaging a respectable 372.8 yards of total offense per game.
Quarterback Derek Thompson has been erratic, especially in terms of completing his pass attempts. Thompson is completing only 55.4 percent of his throws. Thompson's has thrown for 732 yards total this season with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Brelan Chancellor has been a versatile offensive weapon. He leads the team in receiving yards (254) and touchdowns (4), while also rushing for 102 yards and score this season. With Chancellor added to the running game that has been powered by Brandin Byrd (71 carries 263 yards) and Antoinne Jimmerson (47 carries, 305 yards), the Mean Green have had a solid ground attack this season, ranking third in the Sun Belt.
If there is an area that head coach Dan McCarney can look at positively this season it is on the defensive side of the ball. North Texas is tied for second in scoring defense (24.3 ppg) in the Sun Belt, while ranking third in total defense (362 ypg).
Against Troy last weekend the Mean Green stepped it up to slow down one of the conference's best offensive attacks, holding the Trojans to a season-low 14 points, while allowing only a single red zone trip.
Three different players have amassed at least 30 tackles this season for North Texas, in Lairamie Lee (37). Zachary Orr (34) and Derek Akunne (31). Zac Whitfield already has two interceptions and four passes defended.
After the first four games of 2012, FAU is the lowest scoring and least productive offense in the league. Part of the issue is that the Owls have played two of the best defenses in the country in Alabama and Georgia, but the team's 12.8 points and 279 yards per game averages need drastic improvement.
Quarterback Graham Wilbert has completed 65.9 percent of his pass attempts this season and has five touchdowns to only one interception, but has only been able to throw for 603 yards. He was especially stifled last week against Alabama when he managed only 34 yards passing, completing a mere 7-of-13 pass attempts.
The Owls did manage to create more yardage on the ground against Alabama, although the team's 76 rushing yards came with a 2.4 yards-per-carry average. No running back has really established themselves as the go-to back with Damian Fortner (41 carries, 162 yards, TD), the primary ball carrier while having the squad's lone rushing touchdown.
Williams Dukes (12 receptions, 162 yards) and Byron Hankerson (10 receptions, 152 yards, 2 TDs) are the two best pass-catchers on the squad.
Unfortunately for FAU, its defense has not been able to keep the Owls competitive, with the squad ranking second to last in the conference in total defense (477.8 ypg), while allowing a hefty 32.5 points per game. It bears repeating that part of the issue has been the level of competition the first few weeks, but the unit certainly needs improvement.
There are also three different players on the FAU defense that have reached the 30-tackle plateau already, in Jeremy McKnight (35). David Hinds (33) and Brent Harstad (31).
Based on early results neither of these teams look to be squads that will factor in the Sun Belt Conference title chase this season. If either of the teams can, it's North Texas thanks to its strong defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Texas 21, Florida Atlantic 10
09/26 10:36:33 ET