IT's North Texas Game Picks

IT's Bill Frisbie, Michael Pearle and Clendon Ross give you their picks, and the reasoning behind those picks, in Saturday's game between Texas and North Texas.

Frisbie -- North Texas isn't the worst team Texas will face this season.

Far from it. In fact, there are at least two teams (Rice, Baylor) that the Mean Green could bully (NT 52, BU 14 in 2003) and maybe three or four on Texas' schedule that the Denton boys could stay with for four quarters (North Texas vs. Texas A&M? Call it a tossup.)

The seven-game series between the Burnt Orange and the Mean Green, meanwhile, has been closer than most realize. Texas took the first six contests by an average of 11 points before posting a methodical, albeit punchless, 27-0 win when the two last met in 2002. North Texas' best chance of keeping it close hinges on whether RB Patrick Cobbs, last year's national rushing leader at 152.7 ypg, finds room to run against Texas' revamped but suddenly thinned defense.

This is one of those games where statistics will be more telling than the final score. Case-in-point: you knew something was wrong with the running game two years ago despite the 27-point win over North Texas. And the running game was still in hibernation despite the 66-3 margin over New Mexico State last Labor Day weekend. (Big plays on special teams and defense made that one a runaway.) Three members of North Texas' O-line have never started a game; then again, three members of Texas' front seven have never started a game. Depth is a huge concern for Texas at DE, SLB, and RDT. Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson will rotate early and often. All-American WLB Derrick Johnson will be the designated blitzer.

Texas wins handily Saturday, but the extent to which the defense handles Cobbs will tell us something about what we can expect when Texas hits the road for Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech

Head coach Mack Brown promises that North Texas will come into DKR "with a different kind of swagger" than it did in 2002, but Texas will counter with a different kind of offense. There may not be a more devastating one-two punch than when QB Vince Young and RB Cedric Benson get the zone read revved up. The two will be "very tired" Saturday night, predicted OC Greg Davis, an indication of Texas' commitment to the ground game in the season opener (you know it kills him).

I'm looking for junior TE David Thomas to have the game of his career Saturday, which says as much about Thomas as it does Texas' inexplicable decision not to utilize him. He had one grab during the first four games and one grab during that last four games of the 2003 regular season. Remember the second play of last year's Texas A&M game where Thomas took it 60 yards for the score? That's the kind of Thomas we can expect throughout the season if (IF, IF!) coaches put their playbook where their mouth has been the past two seasons. North Texas' linebackers are its weakest link

North Texas has been preparing for September 4 for two years, Brown is convinced. Texas, meanwhile, has prepared for North Texas, well, all week. Doesn't matter. Texas wins, but our thoughts will turn in the fourth quarter to next weekend's road trip to Fayette-Nam. Texas 41, North Texas 10.

Pearle -- I think I agree with Mack Brown: kicking it off against North Texas is the perfect way to get the ‘04 season going.

UNT is a good program from a lower-tier conference with a coach that is up and coming. It’s a team that went bowling last season, which features the nation’s leading rusher from a year ago. The Horns must pay attention Saturday night and execute on both sides of the ball. If they don’t, the Mean Green could throw them a scare, the way Rice sometimes makes things nerve-racking with their eat-the-clock, low-scoring schemes.

But if the Horns play focused football, particularly on offense, we could well have an early version of the Texas Relays back in Royal-Memorial Stadium. That is what I fully expect to see -- Vince Young and Cedric Benson running steeply downhill behind the Horns' improved OL, gashing North Texas time and again for big yardage, with just enough passes thrown in to dampen the feet of the young receiving corps in route to an offensive, point-spraying explosion.

Defensively, I see Patrick Cobbs getting some yardage, but I will be somewhat surprised to see him reach the 100-yard mark. The Horn D will simply be too pumped up, too sky-high opening the season at home against a quality back like Cobbs, under the lights, with a lot to prove to their first year DC, not to mention the fans, whose last memory of these guys was watching their futility in trying to get to the Washington State quarterback in last year’s National Lampoon Holiday Bowl.

Something tells me Texas is gonna start things off early in this one, and begin turning this baby into a rout before the first quarter is over. I’m not sure why, but I just think the vibe is right for a big time party this Saturday night. Let’s go: Texas 45, UNT 10.

Ross -- Watching preseason work can be maddening. Often, plays during intra-squad scrimmages raise the question: did the defense just get schooled or is the offense that good? Or vice versa. In the case of the Horns this August, the question, in my mind at least, was more often the former (particularly with regards to the running game). But without seeing the guys in Burnt Orange line up against a team in different colored jerseys, it's premature to come to any concrete conclusions.

Against the Mean Green, Texas will learn if the largely successful rushing offense of two-a-days is a product of the O's outstanding play or of the D's troubles along its front. Going in, I'm expecting that the North Texas game will tell us it is a combination of both.

I believe this Longhorn offensive line is poised to provide Cedric Benson and Vince Young 1998-esque running room, something we will see Saturday to the tune of 300 total yards on the ground. But I also believe that this Texas defense is not capable of consistently shutting down opposing rush games, nor at getting consistent pressure on opposing QBs. Capable of slowing down, surely, but with Brian Robison (a converted LB) and Stevie Lee (who the coaches thought so much of at DT they moved him to the OL at one point) as two of the starting front four and Eric Hall (a true journeyman; he's seemingly bounced around about half of the positions on each side of the ball) among the front seven, this defense doesn't appear to have the personnel to be dominating, even against a directional school.

Patrick Cobbs will get his yards (not his 150-yard average of last season but 100-plus), largely between the 20s, but Texas counters with a quick-strike ground offense, and a serviceable passing O, in a comfortable UT win. Texas 45, North Texas 13.

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