To get a closer look at the North Texas team that will visit Cal on Saturday afternoon, we reached out to Brett Vito, beat writer for the Denton Record Chronicle.
Here’s how Brett answers 5 Questions about the Mean Green, which is 1-1 after its 49-27 loss last week to SMU:
1. For folks out here who have never seen North Texas quarterback Mason Fine, give us a scouting report: What does he do best? How much is his height (5-foot-11) an issue? And tell us about one play that sums up what makes him so special.
UNT’s coaches describe Fine in basketball terms, calling him a gym rat. He isn’t the biggest or fastest player, but he has worked incredibly hard to become one of the more productive quarterbacks in the country.
Fine is the active leader in passing yards in college football with 9,952 yards. He’s smart, accurate, tough and is a terrific leader.
Fine’s size really hasn’t been a problem at UNT. He’s a lot like Kyler Murray in that way. He’s been short throughout his career and compensates by finding lanes to throw the ball.
Fine has thrived in games against Power 5 teams before. He threw for 281 yards in a win over Arkansas last year.
There’s no question about the play that has come to define Fine’s career. UNT was down 26-22 to Texas-San Antonio in Fine’s sophomore season with 1:07 left and was pinned on its 2-yard line.
Fine led the Mean Green on a seven-play game-winning drive. Fine threw a game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass just before being absolutely leveled.
Fine was flat on his back when Rico Bussey Jr. hauled in that pass on a crossing route, turned the corner and scored.
2. Tre Siggers rushed for a career-high 164 yards at SMU, but Fine was sacked five times by a team not known for its defense. How well do you expect the Mean Green’s offensive line protect Fine against Cal?
UNT’s offensive line has been a question mark since the end of last season, when the Mean Green lost both of their starting tackles to graduation. UNT has also been without guard Elex Woodworth in the first two games of the season.
Woodworth is a three-year starter and one of UNT’s best linemen. He has been listed as questionable the last two weeks. The Mean Green really need him back, especially if it hopes to fair well against Cal.
3. Has North Texas faced another team over the past year or so whose defense compares to what Cal presents? If so, how did they fare against that team?
There isn’t a good comparison for what Cal will present in terms of the teams UNT has faced since the beginning of last season. The only Power 5 team the Mean Green faced was Arkansas, a struggling program that is trying to rebuild.
Utah State was solid across the board, but UNT lost Fine in the early stages of the New Mexico Bowl and had no shot after that in a 52-13 loss.
The best defensive team in Conference USA last season was UAB, which ended up winning the conference title. The Blazers allowed 17.0 points per game. UNT lost to UAB 29-21.
Fine threw for 336 yards, but the UNT struggled to run the ball and finished with 64 yards on 23 carries.
4. How big a disappointment was it for North Texas that it could not build off last season’s win over SMU and beat the Mustangs in Dallas? And how do you expect them to respond to that?
Being blown out in Dallas was a huge blow for UNT. The Mean Green have not beaten the Mustangs in Dallas since 1933 and now trail the series 6-32-1.
UNT had a chance to win consecutive games in the series for the first time ever. The Mean Green felt like this was their year to post what would have been a landmark win.
UNT saw the score swing 45 points from one year to the next in a series that means more to the program than any other.
That loss will be hard for the Mean Green to get over, but they have a veteran team. I expect UNT to be ready to play against Cal.
5. North Texas has as many players on its roster from England (1) as from California, so coming out here to play this game wouldn’t seem to be about recruiting. Besides a victory, what would the Mean Green like to get out of this game?
You’re right, recruiting has nothing to do with it. There is no need for teams that compete at the lower levels of the Football Bowl Subdivision to recruit in California when there are more than enough talented players in Texas to build a great program.
UNT ended up with Cal on its slate because of its scheduling philosophy. School officials want to schedule one game a year that presents an opportunity to pull off a headline-grabbing upset.
UNT used to play on the road for checks that helped fund the athletic department. The program has grown to the point it no longer has to follow that strategy.
The opportunity to play a power conference team it isn’t going to be a huge underdog against is why UNT scheduled Cal.
The Bears are probably better than UNT ever thought they would be.