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Breakout season an inspiration

We’ve heard many adjectives used to describe the University of North Texas football team’s breakout season in 2013 and the decisive win over the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day, but the one that best fits the overall experience for us is “inspiring.”

That’s the word we would use to describe watching the Mean Green’s fan support grow as the season progressed and how it felt to see UNT cruise to its bowl victory in front of a crowd of 38,380, nearly all of them clad in green.

Many UNT fans who couldn’t attend the game were watching on ESPNU as the team made its first appearance in a bowl game since 2004.

If interest in the bowl game is any indication, the school has a fan base that is starting to jump on board, and that’s certainly inspirational.

“It’s been a slow process to expand our fan base, but they have been really, really loyal,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said following the Mean Green’s win over UNLV. “The nucleus we have now is unbelievable. Walking into one of the great stadiums in the history of college football, you have this whole sea of green. It’s unbelievable.”

How far will UNT’s bowl win and breakout season carry the program?

“It’s immeasurable,” McCarney told us. “It’s a jolt of confidence and something to show for everyone’s hard work. These sophomores and juniors have seen how these seniors have led and forged this path.”

UNT had a roster loaded with key seniors, including quarterback Derek Thompson, wide receiver Brelan Chancellor and linebacker Zach Orr. All three rank among the most productive players in program history.

McCarney certainly delivered inspiring leadership. The former Iowa State head coach said he saw a lot of potential back before the 2011 season when he took over a struggling program that hadn’t been to a bowl game in six years.

He wasn’t the only one, and that may be the most inspiring point of all — a lot of people believed in the Mean Green, and they backed up their faith by coming out to cheer on the team week after week.

The school has long spoken of the potential of its athletic program if it could ever give the more than 100,000 alumni in the Dallas-Fort Worth area something to cheer about again in football, the sport that matters above all others in Texas.

Well, UNT no longer has to talk about potential. The Mean Green has arrived. It has a bowl win and a host of veteran coaches who helped UNT get there. It has a terrific venue to serve as its home in Apogee Stadium and a spot in Conference USA.

UNT began the season picked to finish fifth in Conference USA’s West Division before embarking on a dream season. The Mean Green won seven of its last eight games in its first season in C-USA, finishing 9-4 and recording its first winning season in nine years.

The full impact of UNT’s journey may not be fully known for some time, but the Mean Green’s breakout season certainly bears great promise.

“This is not the end,” McCarney said in front of a sea of fans decked out head to toe in green following UNT’s bowl victory. “This is only the beginning.”

That’s certainly inspiring, and we congratulate all those involved — university, coaches, players and community — for an outstanding season and join other fans in looking toward the future.

From where we sit, the view is bright green.

But don’t take our word for it. The UNT men’s and women’s basketball squads are providing plenty of excitement right now, so head out to the court and get in on the action by supporting our hometown teams.