The Safeway Bowl returns to Denton for the 5th time in 96 years

The Safeway Bowl returns to Denton for the 5th time in 96 years

The Safeway Bowl returns to Denton for the 5th time in 96 years
August 25
17:30 2018

The rivalry is back! The Southern Methodist Mustangs will take the field at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at Apogee Stadium to take on the Mean Green in the opening game of the 2018 football season.

The two metroplex teams have played each other 37 times dating back to 1922. The Mustangs have dominated the Mean Green in this series with a 31-5-1 all-time record. The Mustangs have averaged 28 points per game against North Texas, while the Mean Green have only averaged nine points per game. The last time North Texas beat Southern Methodist was in 2014.

Despite the domination over the past 96 years, the Mean Green football team is optimistic this is their year to turn this series around.

“It’s always a good rivalry,” senior linebacker E.J. Ejiya said. “This is what we’ve been looking forward to since the winter workouts, spring workouts and fall camp. Everyone’s mindset is ready to go, and we’re ready to play.”

North Texas head coach Seth Littrell has a storied connection with Southern Methodist head coach Sonny Dykes. Littrell and Dykes worked together under Mike Leach at Texas Tech University from 2005-2007. Littrell was the running backs coach while Dykes was the co-offensive coordinator. According to Littrell, the “family-like” relationship between him and the Mustangs’ head coach Sonny Dykes will not be the same when the two teams meet on Sept. 1.

“Sonny is family to me,” Littrell said. “Our families are extremely tight. About the past month, we haven’t spoken — that’s coaching. After the game, I’ll love him just like I’ve always loved him, but gameday is gameday.”

There are several reasons why North Texas fans should be optimistic about both Southern Methodist game and the entire 2018 season.

First, the Mean Green are favored by 4.5 points over SMU, according to ESPN.

Second, North Texas is coming off one of its best seasons in program history with a 9-5 record and an appearance in the C-USA conference championship game in 2017.

Last, Dave Campbell’s 2018 Texas Football magazine predicts North Texas to finish 10-2 on the year, with losses to Arkansas and UTSA.

North Texas has never won ten games in the entirety of its program, but Coach Littrell is confident this team will be able to record North Texas’ first season with double-digit wins.

“Consistency,” Littrell said. “Each week we need to make sure we max out our ability and preparation. In this conference, it doesn’t matter who you play. You’re one bad week of preparation away from getting your butt kicked.”

Mean Green head coach Seth Littrell talks about the upcoming football season during DFW Media Day. Trevon McWilliams

The Mean Green started fall camp on Aug. 3. According to junior quarterback Mason Fine, this year’s fall camp feels different than the past two years.

“We’ve had the most fun at this fall camp,” Fine said. “I think we have executed well and played with great joy and enthusiasm. It has been a joy to play out here.”

With this being Littrell’s third year at the helm, the Mean Green have also been adding to the offensive playbook in an attempt to distribute the ball to their playmakers in several different ways.

“I think it is going to help us game plan more, become good at what we do and go out there and execute,” Fine said.

One of the playmakers Fine is looking to throw the ball to is redshirt junior Caleb Chumley.

Chumley was rated a three-star quarterback by Rivals.com coming out of high school. Within the past two years, North Texas has converted Chumley to the tight end position.

Chumley finished with seven

receptions for 89 yards in 14 games last year for the Mean Green. Although he has only one full season with North Texas as a tight end, he received high praise from his offensive coordinator Graham Harrell at DFW Media Day.

“He has the potential to be something special,” Harrell said. “If we can get him playing with the right mindset every down, he can make money playing this game.”

North Texas has nine offensive starters returning, but lost a huge piece to graduation in running back Jeffery Wilson.

Wilson rushed for 1,215 yards last season, scored 16 touchdowns and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Coach Harrell said that all of the running backs are performing very well in fall camp, and Nic Smith was named the starter for the SMU game. This won’t stop the Mean Green from splitting carries between Loren Easly, DeAndre Torrey and Evan Johnson.

“We’ve got a couple of different guys with lots of talent at running back,” Harrell said. “They’re all kind of different. We’ve got a few guys with some power and a couple of guys that are pretty elusive. If one gets the hot hand, we’ll roll with it.”

The Mean Green also have eight starters returning on the defensive side of the ball. They are led by Ejiya at linebacker who led the team in both tackles (109) and sacks (7).

Troy Reffett is in his second year with the Mean Green as the defensive play caller. North Texas’ defense allowed 35 points per game last year, which ranked No. 111 out of 130 FBS football teams. This was due to a lack of consistency and breakdowns in the secondary, but 2018 could be a new year for this Mean Green defense.

“We’ve built a lot better team chemistry from last year,” Ejiya said. “We’ve reloaded and gotten better guys to step up to the occasion. Building a relationship with them creates better vibes and tendencies for our defense.”

One of the top defensive returners besides Ejiya is junior safety Khairi Muhammad. Muhammad was third on the team with 94 total tackles in 2017. He is one of the captains of this North Texas defense and is looking for a breakout year in 2018.

“Khairi might be one of the smartest IQ football players that I’ve ever coached,” Reffett said. “He puts it on himself to make sure everyone is lined up correctly and that everybody understands what we’re doing.”

Jameel Moore, who was recently moved from outside cornerback to nickel cornerback, has been impressing coaches and is expected to play a larger role on defense.

“Jameel started his improvement process in spring football,” Reffett said. “He will help give us better pass coverage at that spot. Between Tyreke [Hill] and Jameel, I feel like we have a couple guys that can support the run and be good cover guys as well.”

The Sept. 1 game against SMU is expected to be a near sell-out at Apogee Stadium. This will be the 38th meeting between the two teams and the fourth since the rivalry was renewed in 2014.

Featured Image: Junior quarterback Mason Fine talks about the upcoming football season, off-season workouts and practices during DFW Media Day. Trevon McWilliams 

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Bronte Hermesmeyer

Bronte Hermesmeyer

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