Getting to Know the Mean Green Ahead of UTEP vs. North Texas
Week zero is almost here, as the Miners get ready to host the Mean Green for the season opener at the Sun Bowl on Saturday with a kickoff set for 7 p.m.
This might be the last time—at least in the foreseeable future—that we see North Texas and UTEP face off in football. After the 2022-23 athletic season, the Mean Green are one of six current Conference USA schools that will depart for the American Athletic Conference. The Miners are stuck in C-USA and the only chance they will get to play UNT is in a possible non-conference game in the future.
For the Miners, who haven't beaten North Texas in the last five matchups, this game is massive. With the Sun Bowl trending toward a sellout for Saturday's game, the fan base will expect a win from their home team.
UTEP vs. North Texas | Saturday, August 27 at 7 p.m. MST
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MinerTalk post-game on 600 ESPN El Paso, presented by the Oscar Arrieta Agency
Last meeting: North Texas 20 - UTEP 17
Betting line via FanDuel: Moneyline: UNT: (-120) | UTEP: (+100)
Spread: UNT: -1.5 (-105) | UTEP: +1.5 (-115)
Total: 54.5 — Over: (-115) | Under: (-105)
North Texas Overview
Seth Littrell is heading into year seven at North Texas and, outside of a monster game in 2016 by the Miners aided by Aaron Jones' 301 rushing yards, the Mean Green have topped the Miners in five straight meetings. Dana Dimel is still searching for his first win against Littrell.
In 2021, North Texas finished 6-7, which included a late-season surge after a 1-6 start. They upset an unbeaten UTSA UTSA in the final week of the season (45-23) to clinch bowl eligibility. Though the program hasn't had much success when it comes to winning bowl games, they've made bowl appearances in five of the last six seasons. They are seeking their first bowl win since 2013.
The offense will be balanced and led by 29-year-old quarterback Austin Aune. They have a bevy of running backs they can rely on. North Texas is also strong up front, led by All Conference center Manate Mose. Look to wideouts Roderic Burns (802 receiving yards in 2021), Damon Ward (311 yards, 2 TDs in 2021) and Jyaire Shorter to be the go-to targets in the passing game.
Defensively, they were able to retain standout linebacker K.D. Davis, who briefly entered the transfer portal in late June. He led C-USA with 120 tackles last year, and also totaled 15.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. The defensive backfield for the Mean Green is also filled with veteran leaders like safety Sean Thomas-Faulkner and corner John Davis Jr.
What Dana Dimel Said
"North Texas is to me... they’re one of the toughest teams we’re going to play all year in the conference. I think they have a really good football team and are experienced as we are. As you look at experience coming back, they have just as much experience coming back as we do. They have a lot of good players."
"They have a quarterback who is 29 years old, so there’s good experience right there in itself. He’s a big, athletic player. They’ve very deep at running back, they’re very deep at receiver. All of their starters are coming back from their secondary. Both of their starting linebackers are coming back. Four of their five offensive linemen are coming back. They’ve got a very, very talented receiver who got hurt last year who will be back for the game. Like I said, it will be one of our toughest tests all year."
- Dana Dimel on North Texas
On facing a tough opponent in the first game, Dimel said:
“I don’t mind having a tough game week one. I think there’s a lot that goes into it. I think it’s made us make the most of three-and-a-half weeks of our preparation that we’ve had leading up to this ball game. We’ve got the team knowing we can’t come out and just cruise into our first game and just build as the season moves along. It helped our intensity throughout game. As it always goes, the game gets here quicker than anybody expects it to. It’s gone fast for us. The summer went quick, and the fall camp definitely went fast for us.”
Expectations vs. Unknowns
Knowing that UNT has a veteran secondary, it will be important for quarterback Gavin Hardison to be strategic with his decision making, and it will put the onus on the offensive line to help establish the run game between Deion Hankins and Ronald Awatt.
Defensively, the Miners must be aware of the rushing unit for North Texas. The Mean Green use a running back-by-committee approach and as a position group, UNT ranked fifth in FBS in rushing yards per game (235) in 2021. Expect them to use all four sophomores in Ikaika Ragsdale, Ayo Adeyi, Isaiah Johnson and, most notably, Oscar Adaway III, who missed last year after a preseason ACL injury.
The unknowns for North Texas start at the quarterback position. If Aune struggles out of the gate on Saturday, would Littrell feel compelled to throw in Arizona transfer Grant Gunnell mid game? As Dimel noted, the offensive line returns four of five members, but who will take up the tough task at the right tackle position? We'll find out come kickoff on Saturday.