Nonconference games usually make Q&As a little more interesting. By virtue of us not playing them every year, we tend to know less about them than our Pac-12 foes—making it all the more useful to learn about our upcoming foes from someone who knows them best.
So, we sat down with Adam Woodyard of Underdog Dynasty—SBNation’s blog for the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Sun Belt Conference, and Independents—to find out what exactly we should expect when the California Golden Bears play the North Texas Mean Green and to confirm that they are indeed a real team.
Plus, as the self-proclaimed meanest team on our schedule, it only felt right to figure out whose face they want to punch in a fit of rage.
Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?
Underdog Dynasty: If you don’t know by now, every Cal fan should be at least a little worried about quarterback Mason Fine. He’s broken nearly every passing record North Texas has and two games into the season has already racked up 535 passing yards and five touchdown passes, which is 184 more yards and three more touchdown passes than Chase Garbers. I will absolutely grant you the quality of opponent was not the same, but this guy battled Iowa well into the fourth quarter two years ago—and may not be entirely human.
Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?
Underdog Dynasty: At this point in the season, DB Nick Harvey has been the most impressive, with 19 tackles (15 solo). No other Mean Green player is even in double digits.
(Editor note: 19? That’s cute. Evan Weaver had 18 just in his last game.)
Who’s one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for you?
Underdog Dynasty: At this point in the season it has to be RB Tre Siggers. A safety last year, head coach Seth Littrell finally moved him back to RB this season and he was explosive last week—on a team that sorely needs a running game. I’m hoping having only one game worth of tape on this guy will affect Cal’s ability to cover him or something. If the Cal defense is able to stifle Mason Fine, then it’s Siggers’s show.
Seth Littrell is starting his fourth year as head coach. What are the hallmarks of his teams? How do his teams play?
Underdog Dynasty: The hallmarks of Littrell’s teams are BIG YARDAGE, which is a new experience for a lot of North Texas fans. Mason Fine gets a lot of the credit, but ultimately the signature for every one of those four years seems to be “just score as many points as possible and wait for the other guys’ offense to foul up.” This has had mixed success, but despite the Group of Five scuttlebutt, 30+ points a game isn’t something every C-USA teams can claim.
Will North Texas be competing again for a conference title?
Underdog Dynasty: I think it’s something at least one of the Pac-12 divisions will recognize—this year (as last year) C-USA West is up for grabs. North Texas was right there near the top last year close to UAB and Louisiana Tech, while Southern Miss is always a threat. That division will come down to head-to-head match-ups, but a tune-up against a Power Five opponent is always a good indicator of how good or bad things can get down the line.
What went wrong in the SMU game? Do you think North Texas can rebound?
Underdog Dynasty: This is a great question, since last year North Texas obliterated those guys and this year our idiot North Texas writer (me) predicted UNT to win again. The problem was two-fold, in that the SMU offense was able to contain Mason Fine and also that the North Texas defense seemed disinterested in stopping literally anything. So you have that to look forward to. To answer the second question, I do think North Texas can rebound as the season progresses, though I’m not entirely convinced it will be against Cal.
North Texas had a pretty solid defense in 2018—was last week’s 49 points allowed to SMU a reflection of how quickly Sonny Dykes has turned around their offense or a reflection of defensive vulnerability?
Underdog Dynasty: I give Sonny Dykes full credit—he’s a great coach and gets results. So he absolutely had Fine’s number this year, but I disagree with your assessment that North Texas had a solid defense. They regularly give up 30 a game—which can be overlooked when your offense is scoring 40 a game, but obviously it hurt us against SMU when Fine couldn’t get anything going and last year, this kept us out of the conference title game.
Mason Fine is a senior with a pretty solid history of performance. The Takers—the nickname for Cal’s secondary—are full of seniors with a pretty solid history of performance. Who wins this battle of strengths?
Underdog Dynasty: On a level playing field, I’d like to think Fine gets some good plays off and throws it over their heads all day, but C-USA vs PAC-12 is not, generally speaking, a level playing field. I think he gets some good plays in—enough to keep your fans interested while watching UNT on offense—but the Takers did a decent job of shutting down UW last week, so there you have it.
Tre Siggers enjoyed an excellent game against SMU in his debut as a running back. Does he have another big performance in store?
Underdog Dynasty: Yes, yes he does. Will it be against Cal? That I cannot say. But he was consistent and cracked 100 yards against SMU so do keep an eye out, us Group of Five teams are surly.
What impressions does North Texas get from Cal (both the team and the Cal faithful)?
Underdog Dynasty: I’ll be honest with you, I think any Power Five team is intimidating, but prior to the season, I don’t think Cal exactly struck fear into our hearts as historically they’ve not exactly been up at the top of the conference rankings. With the uptick in the quality of North Texas play, this seemed like a really good get, scheduling-wise, and promised for even a competitive game. Then you guys beat the Huskies last week and I apologize for everything.
What does North Texas need to do to win the game?
Underdog Dynasty: Mason Fine must complete passes. This is the basis for the entire Mean Green offense and if he connects—if the receivers can elude the Cal defense and make some big plays—the Golden Bears will NOT know what hit them. If they can do this for all four quarters—another common problem for Conference USA teams, I’ve noticed—fans in Berkeley might start to sweat.
What does Cal need to do to win the game?
Underdog Dynasty: Stop Mason Fine. Or, you know, whatever you did against Washington. That’s a team also known to put some air under the ball.
How do you see the game going?
Underdog Dynasty: This being week three, I could see the North Texas defense clicking and Mason Fine confounding your defense. WR Rico Bussey Jr. has been a huge playmaker, too. I love that we gave Iowa a run for their money in 2017 and of course there was that Arkansas victory last year, but they were having a historically bad season. Ultimately, I see the Takers giving excellent Power Five coverage and keeping the game interesting, but not close. I would love, however, to be proven wrong.
Whom do you want to punch in the face?
Underdog Dynasty: This is a great, multi-layered question and it’s part of the reasons why I became a writer. I think ultimately I’m going with “anyone who says Group of Five games are a gimme.” We’ve seen Conference USA, Sun Belt, and especially AAC teams regularly put a scare into Power Five competition—and I’m hoping we can at least make you guys nervous. If not, let’s do this again in 2022.
Our thanks to Adam for answering all of our questions—and we sent him a lot. May he soon release some of that meanness with some swift face-punchery.
How do you think Cal–North Texas will go?
This poll is closed
Big Cal win
Close Cal win
Close North Texas win
Big North Texas win