North Texas (0-0) at (3) LSU (0-0)|
Saturday, September 1, 7:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The third-ranked LSU Tigers open the 2012 season at home this
Saturday, as they entertain the North Texas Mean Green in non-conference
North Texas, which is opening the season on the road for the 11th straight year
and has won just two of its last 15 lidlifters overall, is 0-4 all-time against
LSU, and every game thus far has taken place on the Tigers' home field. The
Mean Green have been outscored by a staggering 198-13 margin in the first four
North Texas is under the tutelage of second-year head coach Dan McCarney, and
the team is coming off a year in which it went 5-7 overall and finished an even
4-4 in Sun Belt Conference play. It was actually the best season for UNT since
2004, and something on which McCarney hopes to build.
As it does nearly every season, LSU comes in with lofty expectations as the
Tigers have an overabundance of talent on both sides of the ball, and are one
of the favorites to once again challenge for both the SEC crown and BCS
Coached by Les Miles, who has amassed a stellar record of 75-18 during his
seven years at the helm, the Tigers recently suffered a significant blow when
star CB Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team. Still, this is LSU -- a
team where the second- and third-string guys can start on most other clubs.
"We (lost) a quality person, teammate and contributor to the program," Miles
said after news broke of Mathieu's dismissal. "However, we have a standard that
our players are held to and when that standard is not met, there are
LSU, which currently owns the nation's longest home winning streak at 17 games,
has won a school-record nine straight season openers, and the Tigers haven't
lost a regular-season game against a non-conference foe since 2002.
The North Texas offense has the benefit of returning nine players with starting
experience, including junior QB Derek Thompson who threw for 1,759 yards and 11
TDs last season despite completing just 57.7 percent of his pass attempts.
Wide receivers Brelan Chancellor and Chris Bynes are back after combining for
74 catches, 899 yards and 8 TDs in 2011, although both will need to elevate
their level of play considerably as the team tries to find a replacement for
leading rusher Lance Dunbar (269 carries, 1,115 yards, 10 TDs).
Hoping to fit the bill will be a slew of skilled, if unproven runners, although
the only ones with any experience whatsoever are junior Brandyn Bird (20
carries, 83 yards, 1 TD) and senior Jeremy Brown (5 carries, 23 yards).
The UNT defense allowed more than 30 points and 429 total yards per contest
last season, so shoring things up at the point of attack is paramount to the
team achieving better results this time around.
At first glance, the unit lacks playmakers. But all isn't lost as junior
linemen Brandon McCoy (44 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Ryan Boutwell (28 tackles,
2.5 TFL) provide some stability, while last year's top tackler, junior LB
Zachary Orr (74 stops, 7 TFL, 1 INT) highlights the middle of the field.
The secondary suffered widespread losses due to graduation, meaning all four
starters will be brand new. McCarney did a solid job of convincing some
talented defensive backs to come to Denton, and look for a guy like Oklahoma
transfer Marcus Trice to make an immediate impact.
LSU put up more than 35 points per game in 2011, using a solid ground attack
(202.6 ypg, 35 TDs) to do the bulk of the damage. Junior RB Michael Ford is
back after rushing for 756 yards and 7 TDs last year, averaging 6.0 ypc in the
process, and Spencer Ware (177 carries, 707 yards, 8 TDs), Alfred Blue (78
carries, 539 yards, 7 TDs) and Kenny Hilliard (62 carries, 336 yards, 8 TDs)
can also expect to get plenty of work this season as well.
As for the Tigers' passing game, it accounted for just 152.5 ypg and 21 TDs
last year, but the three QBs who saw time completed a combined 62 percent of
their tosses and were intercepted only 5 times. Junior Zach Mettenberger is
making his first start in this game after seeing action as a back-up in five
outings a season ago. The loss of talented WR Rueben Randle (53 receptions, 917
yards, 8 TDs) leaves a void in the receiving corps, but expected to have an
expanded role is sophomore Odell Beckham, Jr. who tallied 41 grabs for 475
yards and 2 TDs as a rookie.
Miles knows Mettenberger will need to grow into the role as starter, but is
confident he has the proper mind-set to accomplish his goals, "I think it's a
great challenge to him to just do the job that he has to do. I think because of
the fact that the team really depends on his abilities, he has not only
attempted to play the position, but to really acquire leadership skills."
As has been the case for a number of years, LSU's defense is again poised to be
one of the best in the nation. Even without Mathieu and fellow elite corner
Morris Claiborne, there is talent across the board, notably in the secondary
where junior FS Eric Reid (tied for team-lead with 76 tackles, 2 INTs) and
junior CB Tharold Simon (42 tackles, 2 INTs, 10 PBU) are considered two of the
best at their respective positions.
The defensive line boasts highly-skilled guys in juniors Bennie Logan and Sam
Montgomery, the two combining for 106 tackles and a dozen sacks last year, the
latter tallying a team-best nine sacks himself.
The Tigers allowed just 11.3 ppg last season, with their effort against the run
(90.1 ypg, 7 TDs) being particularly impressive. If there is an area of
weakness on the LSU defense this season it's at linebacker, where junior Kevin
Minter is the only returning starter.
North Texas may be an up-and-coming team in the Sun Belt, but the Mean Green
are simply no match for a LSU squad that has its sights set on playing for the
second straight year in the BCS national title tilt. Expect the Tigers to pick
up a satisfying home win to kick off the 2012 campaign.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: LSU 41, North Texas 7
08/31 10:27:10 ET