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2021 Frisco Football Classic Preview: Miami RedHawks vs. North Texas Mean Green

Which 6-6 squad finishes above .500 in college football’s makeshift bowl game?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Miami OH at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Thursday, December 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN
  • Location: Toyota Stadium — Frisco, TX
  • Spread: Miami (OH) (-3)
  • ESPN FPI: Miami (OH) has 54.9% chance to win
  • All-time series: No previous matchups
  • Miami (OH)’s last bowl: 2019 LendingTree Bowl vs. Louisiana (L, 27-17)
  • North Texas’ last bowl: 2020 Myrtle Beach Bowl vs. Appalachian State (L, 56-28)

Setting the scene

Exactly 82 spots were on the line this postseason. Due to an influx of 5-6 teams winning on the final week of the regular season, 83 teams qualified for bowl eligibility. It doesn’t take an actuarial mathematics course at an Ivy League school to come to the realization that one team would remain on the couch for bowl season.

Fortunately for 6-6 teams across the country, a solution was pursued. The Frisco Football Classic was founded to account for the leftover team. Hawaii, the lone 6-7 team in the country, was promoted to bowl eligibility to play in the local Hawaii Bowl, allowing two .500 teams to duke it out in the makeshift bowl game.

This game, not to be confused with the Frisco Bowl between UTSA and San Diego State, transpires two days after the venue hosts its regularly scheduled event.

Miami (OH) and North Texas are the competitors, hoping to earn one last victory to claim a winning 2021 campaign. Both programs overcame slow starts to make it to bowl season, and the winner can take home the first (and possibly only) Frisco Football Classic trophy in the history of the game.


Miami RedHawks outlook

Miami (OH) overcame a 1-3 start to qualify for bowl eligibility, and the RedHawks were a 2-point conversion away from appearing in their second MAC Championship Game in three seasons. Even though they fell short of Detroit, they have the opportunity to claim a bowl victory for the first time since winning the 2010 GoDaddy.com Bowl.

After posting seven consecutive losing seasons at the start of the 2010s, Miami (OH) is one win away from recording its fourth straight campaign of .500 or better under head coach Chuck Martin. The RedHawks have another obstacle they can overcome Wednesday afternoon in Frisco: Miami currently rides a 31-game losing streak to non-conference FBS opponents — the last win was over Army in 2011.

This year’s Miami squad is a very aerial-oriented team. Quarterback Brett Gabbert is in his third season as the starter, and he made massive strides in 2021. When Miami won the MAC in 2019, the most yards Gabbert collected through the air was 273. This year, Gabbert went nuclear to finish the regular season with averages of 368.75 passing yards and 3.75 passing touchdowns in the month of November.

Gabbert’s most reliable wideout is statistically the most productive in the MAC. Jack Sorenson ranks eighth in the FBS in receiving yardage with 1,290 and he is tied for 20th overall with 10 receiving touchdowns. When Gabbert’s stats amplified, so did those of his favorite receiver. Sorenson manufactured a streak of six consecutive games over 110 yards, peaking with an absurd 14-catch, 283-yard showing in a midweek game vs. Ohio. Thursday will mark a sendoff performance for the First Team All-MAC receiver, who totaled 10 receptions and 107 yards in his only other bowl game as a RedHawk.

Miami-Ohio v Minnesota
Jack Sorenson is no stranger to stepping up in big games. He collected 107 yards in his last bowl performance and won MVP honors of the 2019 MAC Championship Game.
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

There is no shortage of receiving talent around Sorenson in Miami’s 20th ranked passing offense. Mac Hippenhammer serves as a lethal second option with 786 yards and five touchdowns this season. Jalen Walker complements the aforementioned names with 362 yards and four scores. The RedHawks also utilize the tight ends frequently, as Jack Coldiron found plenty of deep openings in the center of the field to average 18.3 yards per reception this year.

The run game isn’t as prevalent in Miami’s offense. There is no designated lead back, but rather, a running back by committee. Keyon Mozee, Kevin Davis, Tyre Shelton, and Kenny Tracy split carries in an offense which rarely crossed the 200-yard rushing mark in 2021.

Defensively, Miami is renowned for its stellar pass rush. After leading the FBS in sacks per game in 2020, the RedHawks returned to the leaderboards to check in at 15th with 3.08 per contest. Miami is loaded with backfield disruptors at the defensive end position, and Kameron Butler and Lonnie Phelps are the ringleaders of this havoc. Butler leads the team with 8.0 sacks while Phelps creeps behind with 7.5. Overall, the RedHawks showcase four players with at least 11 tackles for loss this season — Butler, Phelps, defensive end Ben Kimpler, and outside linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.

Pace, one of the FBS record holders for most sacks in a single game, was the breakout player for the team this year. He stepped up for the injured Ryan McWood to lead the team with 116 tackles, while linebacker/safety hybrid Matthew Salopek also experienced a strong season with 112.

Miami boasts numbers slightly above the national average in run defense and pass defense alike. But one area the defense must improve is turnover creation. Heading into Thursday, the RedHawks have only intercepted seven passes this year. However, due to a lack of cough-ups on the offensive end, the team still exhibits a positive turnover margin of +3.


North Texas Mean Green outlook

North Texas is one of three teams since 1936 to start 1-6 and attain the 6-win mark. Old Dominion also accomplished a similar feat this season. The other team to accomplish that turnaround was coincidentally, Miami (OH), which reversed an 0-6 start into bowl eligibility in 2016.

The Mean Green didn’t even pick up its first FBS win until Oct. 30, yet they caught fire at the right time. North Texas rides a 5-game win streak into this bowl game and even downed a ranked team to qualify for the postseason. On the final week of the regular season, the Mean Green pulverized eventual C-USA champion UTSA, 45-23, to spoil the Roadrunners’ prospects at an undefeated season.

Past Seth Littrell teams in Denton were renowned for air raid offensive schemes. This particular North Texas squad prefers to run it down opponents’ throats, and that is how bowl eligibility was captured — as demonstrated in the 340-yard, 6-touchdown team rushing performance against UTSA. Only triple option-based service academies Air Force and Army average more rushing yards per game than the Mean Green’s 246.

Senior halfback DeAndre Torrey is the focal point of this attack with 1,215 yards — the 20th most in the FBS, but North Texas contains plenty of depth behind Torrey to keep the running back room fresh and versatile. Ikaika Ragsdale, Ayo Adeyi, and Isaiah Johnson all averaged at least 8.4 handoffs per game and the trio combines for 1,328 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Even quarterback Austin Aune displays his mobility from time to time with 301 yards and four touchdowns this season. Since North Texas is tied for 15th in the FBS in fewest sacks allowed, Aune often experiences clean pockets and gains more time to utilize his creativity for playmaking.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 UTSA at North Texas
DeAndre Torrey ranks fourth in North Texas history in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns. Torrey is five touchdowns away from Lance Dunbar for the No. 1 spot.
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Mean Green significantly decreased their reliance on the passing game during the 5-game win streak, but Aune also refrained from committing mistakes through the air. After three straight games with multiple interceptions in October, Aune only tossed one pick in his final 114 passing attempts, demonstrating major strides as a decision-maker.

On defense, nose tackle Dion Novil is a name which draws plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines. The 6’4”, 330 pound senior oftentimes requires the attention of several blockers, yet he still produced eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 46 tackles in the regular season. Another playmaker in North Texas’ front seven is the team’s leading tackler, K.D. Davis. Also a senior on this veteran laden defense, Davis contributed 106 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and a pair of fumble recoveries during the first 12 games of the year. Both Novil and Davis, among other accomplished seniors, will experience their final run in Mean Green colors roughly 25 miles away from campus in Frisco.


Prediction

It’s been a while since North Texas lost a football game, and bowl eligibility did not seem like a possibility for this team heading into the final week of October. The Mean Green won three of their final five games by at least 22 points, and the offense began to click when shifting heavily toward the ground.

If Miami wants to end the 11-year drought without a bowl victory, stopping the run is of utmost importance. The RedHawks will rely heavily on Ivan Pace Jr. from the outside linebacker spot to meet the defenders at the line of scrimmage. Miami collects 6.6 tackles for loss per game, and its defensive ends must shed blocks and live in the backfield in order to nullify North Texas’ offensive production.

On the other side of the ball, the key to victory for Miami is to establish the Brett Gabbert to Jack Sorenson connection. Some of the RedHawks’ best football of the entire Chuck Martin era transpired during Sorenson’s hot streak, and targeting the star wideout early and often should be the optimal method of picking apart North Texas’ passing defense.

North Texas’ red hot rushing attack provides a stylistic clash to Miami’s pass-happy offense, but both units vastly improved as the season progressed. Expect frequent scoring in this one with the way the offenses were performing in November. This one feels like it could go either way, and I predict Miami emerges on top with a late go-ahead touchdown — one final connection from Gabbert to Sorenson.

Prediction: Miami (OH) 34, North Texas 30