Minium: North Texas is bringing a quarterback to Norfolk very much reminiscent of ODU's Taylor Heinicke
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
I don’t know about you, but watching Taylor Heinicke play quarterback for Old Dominion University spoiled me.
I grew accustomed to watching one of the smartest football players I’ve ever met hit wide receivers on the run, dodge linebackers who intended to plant his face in the turf and so often pulled off so many miraculous comebacks.
Who can forget the overtime victory over Louisiana Tech in 2014?
On Saturday, when ODU hosts North Texas, you’re going to see someone else very Heinicke-like.
Quarterback Mason Fine, who hails from a town called Peggs, Oklahoma, set state high school passing records in the Sooner state, just like Heinicke did in Georgia.
He was the state’s player of the Year. And yep, Heinicke was also player of the year in Georgia.
He’s smart, works hard, is humble and has All-American good looks.
Yep, just like Taylor.
UNT quarterback Mason Fine.
And because he was a tad under 6-feet tall, few schools offered him a scholarship, just like Heinicke. Fine’s only other offer from was Austin Peay, an FCS school.
As with Heinicke, now backup quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, a lot of colleges now regret their mistake.
Fine has thrown for 8,503 yards in his 2 2/3 seasons and is just 19 yards from setting the North Texas school passing record today. That’s something he’ll likely do on UNT’s first possession. The kid is a phenomenal player who was the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year last season.
He’s a joy to watch.
And he plays for a great team. North Texas crushed Arkansas and SMU earlier this season and dropped narrow losses to UAB and Louisiana Tech. The Mean Green could easily be 9-0 and in the running for a major bowl game. Instead, they are 7-2 and are still headed to a good bowl game.
On paper, the game with ODU today is a mismatch. North Texas is first in Conference USA scoring, total offense and pass offense.
ODU is last of the 14 teams in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense. And last week, the Monarchs self-destructed with six turnovers in a 51-17 loss to Middle Tennessee.
No surprise here: North Texas is a 14.5-point favorite.
Yet I was struck by a conversation I had with ODU wide receiver Isaiah Harper earlier this week. The senior from Grassfield High in Chesapeake says this is the most talented ODU team he’s played for. That includes the 2016 team that won ten games and the Bahamas Bowl.
The Monarchs have only shown that talent once, against Virginia Tech, he added.
At 2-7, ODU isn’t going to a bowl, but the Monarchs feel like they have something to prove.
"We’re a good team", he said. "We’ve under-performed. We’ve lost games we should have won. We’ve let everyone down, including ourselves. Even if we’re not going to a bowl game, we want to prove to our fans, but mostly to ourselves, how good we are."
With only VMI and Rice left on the schedule, Saturday is ODU’s last chance to prove that it’s really a good team.
A win against NT would give ODU a good chance to finish 5-7.
That’s not a great record, but winning the last three would prove that Harper is right, and give the Monarchs momentum heading into next season.
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