Inside Texas North Texas Game Picks

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

Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer -- Texas dropped its September 'open date' when the NCAA approved a permanent 12th regular season game starting with the 2006 season. Even so, a number of fans and media point to a couple of Saturday's this month as the closest thing to a bye-week the Horns will enjoy until mid-November: the September 30 home game against Rhett Bomar's Sam Houston State club and this Saturday's season-opener against North Texas.

To a man, every Longhorn will tell you that no one wearing the Burnt Orange is looking past the Mean Green to the tilt against top-ranked Ohio State (which not only shapes up as the biggest game of the regular season but also the most significant ever played at Memorial Stadium).

The Mean Green is not the worst team Texas faces this month, and may not even be the second worst. But this one could get ugly in a hurry: North Texas is breaking in a new QB, they could be without their leading receiver, they're starting freshmen at both cornerback spots and the defense gave up 31.5 ppg on the way to a 2-9 season in 2005.

That's why I think all the predictions that Texas will play it close-to-the-vest because of the freshman QBs is unfounded. Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis typically keeps things basic in home openers, but I see Texas opening things up a little simple because the QBs are young. It's safer to test the waters against the likes of UNT knowing that your defensive front may be the program's finest in a quarter-century. Davis will pull in the reins against Ohio State and is more likely to turn the page in his playbook Saturday just so his QBs can run the offense against an outmanned team.

Texas has outscored the not-so-Mean Green 92-0 during their last two visits (2002, 2004) to DKR. Nobody expects the offensive to be as explosive this season, but it's not unreasonable to think that Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead should be able to generate at least five or six TDs between them. Wouldn't be surprised to see Texas' first score come courtesy of FL Jordan Shipley. Meanwhile, North Texas should not be able to cross the goal line against the first-team D. Texas 41, North Texas 3.

Ross Lucksinger, Editor -- The last time the Longhorns faced North Texas, it was the start of the 2004 season and Texas obliterated UNT, 65-0. That '04 squad may have had Vince Young, but the Longhorns as a team are better now than they were two years ago. The last time this game wasn't a complete blowout was 2002, but the North Texas defense was something special that year, holding Texas to 214 yards and gathering eight sacks. The Mean Green are improved, but their defense is nowhere close to that squad and won't keep the Longhorns from scoring. A lot.

Even though UNT went 2-9 last season, the talent level in Denton has consistently been higher than the rest of the Sun Belt Conference and I anticipate the Mean Green/Eagles will return to their winning ways on the legs of a healthy Jamario Thomas. But, they won't come close against Texas.

There's a quarterback competition still going on, but with a strong running game and experienced wideouts, North Texas will find their way (gasp!) into the end-zone against the Longhorns. It'll probably be late in the game against the second unit, but it'll happen.

The line on the game is 41.5 and even though the Longhorns will have some kinks to work out, they cruise past North Texas for a 46-point win. I'm taking Texas minus the points…oh, we're not a betting service. Right. Forgot. Texas 56, North Texas 10.

Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas Magazine Editor — The new Godzilla-tron scoreboard will probably dominate the conversations of fans leaving Royal-Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon. And if that’s the case, that will suit Mack Brown just fine. There should be no drama in this game, and if there is drama, that will not be good news for the Longhorns.

So now that we’ve established that this game should not be competitive, Texas fans, coaches and players are nevertheless hoping some questions heading into the season might be at least partially answered when the Longhorns host North Texas.

First and foremost: who’s the quarterback? Colt McCoy will start and will be given every opportunity by the coaching staff to be successful. Even if he starts the game a bit shaky — and that’s highly unlikely — look for him to remain in the game until he does something positive. McCoy needs to leave this game with a high opinion of himself, and Brown and Greg Davis are going to do everything in their power to make sure that is the case with Ohio State looming next week. If Texas fans are serious about wanting to beat Ohio State, they will cheer loud and long every time McCoy does something well against the Mean Green. This game should be about filling his young head with good thoughts.

Defensively, the chips on the shoulders of the Longhorns are almost visible, and you can certainly hear those chips rattling around in their voices. They took a back seat to Vince Young and the offense in 2006, and they are eager to be the focal point of the team in 2006. Right or wrong, they feel as though they didn’t get enough credit for that crystal ball in the football lobby. They want and expect to be dominant, and you can bet that Gene Chizik and Duane Akina are going to be highly offended if Texas struggles on this side of the ball.

This game is pretty predictable: Texas will run at will, and McCoy and Jevan Snead (who will get less playing time than you might think) will complete 60-70 percent of their passes. The defense will pitch a shutout, and since the opponent is North Texas, many folks will have the same questions prior to the game that they had before kickoff. Texas 50, North Texas 0.

Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher -- The last time Texas took on UNT was two seasons ago in Austin, when the Horns sent the Mean Green straggling back up I-35 with a 65-0 pounding. Two minutes in, Cedric Benson scored on a 38-yard run from scrimmage on the Horns' first possession, and Texas led 24-0 at the end of the first quarter. UNT managed only four first downs and one third-down conversion for the game. Don't be surprised to see a mirror-image ballgame Saturday.

North Texas has enjoyed great success under coach Darrell Dickey, (named after the guy who used to coach a little football in Austin), racking up four straight Sunbelt Conference titles and bowl appearances from 2001-2004. Last year, though, the Green guys fell off the pace, finishing with an ugly 2-9 record. Although the team that they will bring to Austin returns 17 starters, that isn't necessarily a good thing -- the league's coaches and media have picked North Texas to finish fourth this season, behind Troy, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette. And the team is already banged up without having played a game. Seventeen of 22 starters have missed practice time with injuries, and starting linebacker Phillip Graves is ruled out with a strained MCL. Johnny Quinn, the player featured in the UNT media release as being among the nation's leading receivers, broke a hand and is questionable for the Horns.

So North Texas will not be much of a test for UT. What will be interesting to watch is how the time will be split between the two quarterbacks. Given that the Buckeyes are looming just one week away, the coaches will need to keep Colt McCoy in the game for long stretches so he can get as many looks and as much game experience as possible before September 9. But Jevan Snead needs work as well in case anything should happen to McCoy. Will it be "the hot hand" approach or will they go by script? And will Mack Brown let them run the offense even if the score starts to get out of hand, or will he mostly keep it on the ground, with the QBs just handing off to Young, Charles and Melton?

Whichever way they go, Texas will pile up points through the air and on the ground, and may even throw in a special teams touchdown for good measure. Make it Texas 55, North Texas 0.

Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher -- Earlier this week, I sat in as guest host on ESPN Radio 1530's afternoon talk show, and Dan Neil, former Longhorn and Denver Bronco offensive lineman who is one of the new permanent co-hosts, expressed doubt that Texas would beat North Texas by 40-plus points, the early oddsmakers line on the game. I disagreed, saying that I believed if you broke down the teams both offensively and defensively, it's pretty easy to come up with a scenario where the Horns put 40-plus on the board and hold the Mean Green to their average the last two times in Austin (that would be zero points). At the time, though, I hadn't made my actual score pick.

And it's turning out to be a bit harder process than I anticipated. What makes this one difficult is pretty obvious: we just don't know what to expect from the quarterback position because, well, we have nothing to go on but a few spring and summer glances at Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead. Yeah, the players are saying the right things -- Limas Sweed, asked Wednesday what he thought McCoy's best throw is, answered "all of them" -- but we won't know how he or Snead will react in real, live game action till they've actually played in real, live game action.

So, with that big question mark looming, how the heck do you decide if the offense is capable of consistently moving the ball and lighting up Godzillatron's scoreboard for 40, 50 or perhaps 60 points in the opener? Well, I think you have to look at the cast surrounding the QB: two potential 1,000-yard running backs; a wide receiver corps that is deep and experienced; and a mostly experienced offensive line that has the make-up to be outstanding (plus a TE already drawing favorable comparisons to departed great David Thomas). Any QB's job would be easier with that type of help, and it's particularly true for ones as inexperienced as McCoy and Snead.

With Ohio State looming in one week, I don't see the coaching staff playing it safe Saturday. They've gotta figure out what works, what doesn't, and quick. In other words, I expect that Greg Davis' playbook will be open. That may mean mistakes, but it should also mean a robust gameplan resulting in many scoring opportunities.

And if Gene Chizik's defense is as stout as expected, and the front four punishes the UNT OL (the Mean Green's new center will need help fighting off Derek Lokey and Roy Miller, freeing up Frank Okam to wreak havoc up the middle), I don't see many scoring opportunities for the visitors unless set up by Texas turnovers.

This is obviously a different team than the one that averaged 50 points a game last season, and I don't expect we'll see those type of season numbers again for a while, but in the opener, this bunch will come close. Texas 47, North Texas 6.

Inside Texas Members Consensus Prediction (average of 120 respondents): Texas 50, North Texas 6.

Random stats: 10 of the 120 have Texas pitching a shutout.

The highest predicted score for North Texas is 17 (two users).

The highest predicted score for Texas is 66 (three users). 66 is also the highest margin of victory, with one user predicting a 66-0 romp.

The lowest predicted score for Texas is 27.

Note: Thanks to those of you that participiated in this week's Pick 'Em Contest. The North Texas game winner will be announced early next week. If you didn't get entered this week, stay tuned to about how to be entered for next week's game vs. Ohio State, with a chance to win great prizes. See Pick & Win A 'Next Generation Gaming Console'for more contest details.

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