DENTON – North Texas enters play this weekend at 6-1 for the first time since 1988, but that one loss places extra significance on this week's tussle in Birmingham against 5-1 UAB, which sits atop the Conference USA West standings at 3-0.
The Mean Green's loss on Sept. 29 against Louisiana Tech shrunk North Texas' margin for error throughout conference play as it pertains to their goal of avenging a title game loss a year ago.
No one game is more important than the next over the course of a 12-game regular season schedule, but as the wins stack up, so to do the stakes. Within the program, it's another week to get better, another week to maximize efforts to drive results. Rinse, repeat all the way through December. But, in terms of jockeying for position in the divisional race, Saturday's game is the biggest one to date.
A high-flying North Texas offense against a stingy UAB defense is one storyline when the Mean Green and Blazers take the field Saturday night under Legion Field's lights, but it's only part of the story.
The Mean Green have been impressive offensively through seven games, though scoring output has decreased beginning with the Louisiana Tech game. Defensively however, the Mean Green have excelled all season, allowing just 17.6 points per game, which is a shade over half what it allowed in 2017.
Saturday's game is a matchup of strengths: UNT leads C-USA in points per game at 39.9 and UAB leads in scoring defense at 14.2.
Conversely, the Mean Green defense ranks in the top-20 nationally in scoring defense, while UAB is scoring 34.2 points per game offensively, which is top-40 nationally.
Will Mason Fine
become the first quarterback to crack the 200-yard passing mark against the Blazers this season? Will either defensive front be able to get pressure on the opposing quarterback?
Looking at the first question, Fine and the North Texas offense are a different breed than the Blazers have faced to this point, as evidenced by Fine's efficient 261-yard, three touchdown, no interception performance in a win over UAB a year ago. The Mean Green rolled up 548 yards of total offense, though admittedly, that was before UAB really got in gear.
Fine has 23 200-yard passing performances in his 31 career appearances (30 starts), and should he have one Saturday, he would become the program-leader in the category.
UAB leads C-USA and is sixth in the nation with 23 sacks, while North Texas ranks seventh at 22. Both defenses thrive off of the pressure they create. North Texas forces turnovers at a high clip, turning opponents over 15 times in seven games (of which a nation-leading 13 are interceptions), while the Blazers have forced 11 through six games.
The defenses will be a big part of why the winner seizes control of their divisional destiny.
UAB's defense gets a lot of the attention, but the offense is somewhat of an unsung hero. Sophomore running back Spencer Brown has 491 yards and seven touchdowns, while senior quarterback A.J. Erdely, a dual threat, has 12 total touchdowns (seven passing, five rushing).
Should the Mean Green come out on top, they would be in a much better position to reclaim their west division crown and get another crack at the conference title. Should the Blazers come out on top, at 4-0 in conference, they would be firmly in the driver's seat of that same race with wins over the Mean Green and Louisiana Tech.