Rice (6-2) at North Texas (5-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, October 31, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Apogee Stadium (30,850) -- Denton, Texas. Television: FS1. Home Record: Rice 3-1, North Texas 3-0. Away Record: Rice 3-1, North Texas 2-3. Neutral Record: Rice 0-0, North Texas 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 4-0, North Texas 3-1. Series Record: Rice leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: The Rice Owls will try to continue their reign atop the Conference USA standings on Thursday night when they pay a visit to the North Texas Mean Green.
With Rice's 45-7 drudging of Texas-El Paso last Saturday, it moved to 6-2 on the year and kept pace with Tulane for first place in the C-USA West Division at a perfect 4-0. The triumph was the Owls' fifth straight, their eighth in a row in conference, and their 11th over the past 13 games dating back to last season. They also became bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.
North Texas' inaugural C-USA campaign has gone rather smoothly, as it sits at 5-3 overall and a game behind Rice in the standings at 3-1 in the league. Since losing their conference opener at Tulane earlier this month (45-21), the Mean Green have reeled off three straight victories, most recently dismantling Southern Miss on the road a week ago, 55-14. One more triumph will make the squad bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.
This bout marks the fourth meeting between these two squads, but the first as members of the same conference. Rice won most recently, 33-32, in Denton in 2010, to pull ahead by a 2-1 margin.
Rice has C-USA's fourth most productive offense both in terms of scoring (30.6 ppg) and yardage (416.4 ypg), and the unit has been especially good in recent weeks with 45-point outputs in back-to-back games.
Taylor McHargue has had a modest season passing the ball, completing just over 50 percent of his throws for 1,357 yards, 10 touchdowns and six picks, but he is fresh off a season-best effort against UTEP with 259 yards and four scores. McHargue brings an extra dynamic with his legs, rushing for 328 yards and five more touchdowns.
The Owls' rushing attack is the league's most deadly, racking up 234.2 ypg, with Charles Ross leading the way with 697 yards and six touchdowns. Turner Petersen (239 yards), Darik Dillard (234, two TDs), and Jowan Davis (192 yards, TD) also figure into the mix.
Jordan Taylor is McHargue's top receiving target with 35 receptions, 554 yards and five touchdowns. He put up the program's third-best receiving game last week with 185 yards and three scores on just four catches.
The Rice defense is more than capable of supporting its potent offense, as the unit ranks third in the league in allowing just 23.1 ppg while holding foes to just 33 percent success on third down.
Bryce Callahan leads a ball-hawking defense with three interceptions, while Phillip Gaines and Malcolm Hill have two picks apiece. Michael Kutzler has a team-high 56 tackles to go with 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks and an interception, while Christian Covington has 7.0 TFL and 3.0 sacks.
North Texas is one of the few teams that scores more points than Rice (31.8 ppg), and it is one of the conference's more balanced units, ranking in the upper half in both passing (258.9 ypg) and rushing (157.5 ypg).
Derek Thompson is the club's catalyst under center, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes for 1,980 yards while accounting for 14 touchdowns (three rushing). The signal caller has been turnover prone, however, as his 10 interceptions are second-most in C-USA.
Thompson has a trio of trusty receivers to rely upon, and Darnell Smith is the go-to option with 46 receptions for 518 yards and three touchdowns. Brelan Chancellor (36 receptions, 619 yards, four TDs) and Carlos Harris (34 receptions, 367 yards, TD) also rank in the top-10 in the league in catches.
The backfield workload is mostly split between Brandin Byrd (457 yards) and Reggie Pegram (338 yards), who have each scored six touchdowns.
Like Rice, North Texas also has a solid defense, allowing 379.1 ypg and a league-best 20.4 ppg, and of its 11 interceptions, two have been returned for touchdowns. The Mean Green have created 25 turnovers, second-most in the nation.
Zachary Orr has established himself as one of the best linebackers in the conference, racking up 75 tackles, 6.5 TFL, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, a sack and a blocked kick. Marcus Trice, Will Wright, Zac Whitfield and Lairamie Lee have all recorded multiple interceptions, while Aaron Bellazin creates the strongest pass rush with 7.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks.
With two of the top teams in C-USA squaring off, this is sure to be a hard- fought battle that will likely go down to the wire. Rice has a great chance at a road victory if it can control the clock with the ground game, but UNT's stout run defense (125.8 ypg) will have something to say about that. At home, the Mean Green will find a way to make a big play in the fourth quarter to hand the Owls' their first league loss.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Texas 28, Rice 27
10/30 10:38:11 ET