Prediction: UNT will end its road losing streak at Rice

North Texas quarterback Mason Fine throws a pass while under pressure from Florida defensive back Marcus Maye in the Gators' 32-0 win last week. UNT opens Conference USA play at Rice on Saturday. (Associated Press/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

North Texas quarterback Mason Fine throws a pass while under pressure from Florida defensive back Marcus Maye in the Gators’ 32-0 win last week. UNT opens Conference USA play at Rice on Saturday. (Associated Press/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

North Texas at Rice

When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Rice Stadium (Houston)

Records: UNT 1-2, 0-0 C-USA; Rice 0-3, 0-1

Last week: No. 23 Florida 32, UNT 0; No. 21 Baylor 38, Rice 10

Last meeting: Rice 38, UNT 24 (2015)

What’s on the line?

Saturday’s game looms large for a pair of Conference USA teams looking to rebound from tough starts to make a run at a bowl game.

UNT is 1-2 and will face two of C-USA’s better teams in Middle Tennessee and Marshall following its showdown with the Owls. The Mean Green need all the momentum they can get heading into that stretch. There will be a whole lot more enthusiasm and hope about the remainder of UNT’s season if the Mean Green can come home with a 2-2 record.

Rice has also endured a tough start with losses to C-USA power Western Kentucky, an Army team that is 3-0 and No. 21 Baylor. The Owls desperately need to get something going after clearing the toughest part of their schedule. A win over UNT will make reaching the six-win mark look possible. A loss would all but end Rice’s bowl hopes.

When UNT has the ball:

UNT is coming off one of the worst offensive performances in recent program history. The Mean Green were not only shut out at Florida, also they managed just 53 yards of total offense, the lowest total the Gators have ever allowed. UNT finished with negative 13 yards rushing and managed just eight first downs.

The Mean Green will have a chance to get back on track against a Rice defense that has also struggled. The Owls are allowing 38.3 points a game. The Owls opponents are averaging 320 passing yards a game.

When Rice has the ball:

UNT enters C-USA play off an encouraging outing defensively against Florida. The Gators were never seriously threatened by UNT, but the Mean Green came up with two fourth-down stops and didn’t let the game get completely out of hand. Cornerback Nate Brooks had a terrific game with an interception, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and eight tackles.

The question for UNT is if it can build on that performance against Rice, which has run the ball well against good competition. The Owls are averaging 143.7 rushing yards a game and have a deep group of running backs, including Darik Dillard, who is averaging 65 rushing yards a game.

Prediction:

UNT is riding a 14-game road losing streak that dates back to the 2013 season heading into its game at Rice. The Mean Green desperately need to end that slide to have a chance to making their 2016 season interesting after starting 1-2. The Owls are also desperate after their 0-3 start. The game could do either way in a showdown between evenly matched teams. UNT will make one or two key plays to pull out its second win of the season.

UNT 23, Rice 21

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