For most G5 programs, I don’t subscribe to the theory that you’re only as good as your record. Financial constraints dictate that teams take paycheck games. That’s why North Texas traveled to Cal, why UTSA went to Baylor, why Texas State opened in College Station.
Losing those games is more about the vast difference in resources, from facilities to videographers.
For UTSA and North Texas, the measuring stick starts on Saturday night in Denton. These two programs don’t like each other. Whether coaches want to acknowledge it or not, this game is about more than a win, it’s about which program holds an edge. Coaches can sell that edge to recruits. For North Texas, for two seasons, they’ve been able to point to wins over the Roadrunners as proof of concept, that UTSA is several spots below the Mean Green.
Saturday is huge for both UTSA and North Texas. For North Texas, their season restarts at 0-0. The losses at Cal and yes, even SMU don't matter. Their season starts Saturday night. The same for UTSA. The answer to whether Frank Wilson’s program is progressing away from its three-win 2018, starts in Denton. Losses to Baylor and Army don’t matter, conference hits the reset button.
If you’re looking for a key to Saturday night’s game, you could look no further than the quarterbacks. One is the face of his program, the other has all the makings to do the same.
Mason Fine entered 2019 with darkhorse Heisman hopes and the chance to cement his legacy as the greatest quarterback in Mean Green history. The former went away with his performance at SMU, the latter is probably secure, that sort of accolade benefits from a constant gardener.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s struggled in 2019. Fine’s completion percentage against teams not named Abilene Christian is a downright below average 53%. Three games in he’s two interceptions off his interception total from 2018. His QBR is lower than since his rough freshman season. His yards per game is down as well.
After a season where Fine’s interception avoidance improved dramatically, he’s fallen back on some bad habits, especially under pressure. Last week against Cal, while trying to make a play, Fine threw the ball wildly into a crowd where Cal made the pick. Fine’s ability to make plays off-schedule sets him apart, but it’s a double-edged sword when the ball starts going the other way.
After arriving with great fanfare against UIW, Roadrunner quarterback Frank Harris has been pedestrian, albeit against two stout defenses in Baylor and Army. For Harris the difference isn’t so much statistical, it’s been his last impact on the game. The Roadrunner offense regressed to 2018 point levels against their two FBS opponents.
For Jeff Kastl, the conference reset comes with another opportunity to define his offense’s identity. It’s an identity that the Runners lacked since 2017. Harris gives the Kastl his best chance to define his approach and prove his attack can succeed where others failed. UTSA needs points to beat North Texas, they’ll need to creep into the late 20s to give themselves a chance. The last time a ‘Runner team pulled that off in CUSA came against UTEP in September of 2018.
Hope springs eternal as the conference season boots up. Both teams can forget about what happened in the paycheck games, and focus on getting a leg up in CUSA play, where their record finally matters.