Brett Vito: Despite loss, UNT has reasons to take heart

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Brett Vito
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The emotion that came with the moment he stepped onto the turf at Apogee Stadium on Saturday nearly overwhelmed new North Texas head coach Dan McCarney, who admitted to maybe shedding a tear of joy behind those black shades.

Imagine what it might have been like for McCarney if he had actually coached a game or two across the street in Fouts Field.

McCarney has actually refused to make his team even practice there.

That says a lot not only about where UNT spent the last 50-plus years, but also about its future, which looks a lot brighter now, despite the Mean Green's 48-23 loss to Houston on Saturday.

Yeah, the second half was pretty ugly for UNT, especially that part where Case Keenum torched the Mean Green for four straight touchdowns. Giving up 690 yards and being outgained by 400 won't go on the old resume/highlight reel either.

But this wasn't any other Saturday.

It was the opening of a new venue and a new era for UNT.

If ever there was a time when the game was a secondary concern, this was it.

UNT has tried to build a legitimate college football program with smoke and mirrors for years while playing in arguably the worst venue in college football.

That's all in the past now, which is why there were a whole lot of people at Apogee Stadium with tears in their eyes before the game - McCarney for one.

"That atmosphere was unbelievable," McCarney said. "I got a little emotional at the beginning of the game because I know how much everyone around here has worked at trying to build excitement for this game. I can't say enough about the effort of this administration in getting people to buy in to this program.

"We will get it done here."

McCarney is expected to guide that turnaround. He has a legitimate shot with a new stadium to work with.

UNT had a home field advantage, but don't take my word for it. Just listen to what Keenum and Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin had to say.

"The energy of the crowd was good and a little more than we expected," Sumlin said.

Keenum didn't see it coming, either.

"We just didn't deal with the pressure and atmosphere real well in the first half," Keenum said.

That pressure helped keep UNT in the game early. Houston led just 20-17 at halftime before pulling away.

Granted, UNT still has a long way to go to get to where it wants to be. School officials had hoped to sell out the first game in Apogee Stadium, but had to settle for a very respectable 28,075 fans, the third largest on-campus crowd for a UNT game in program history.

There has just been too much damage inflicted on the program over the last several years to be too disappointed in that total, though.

UNT's players, including several who played in front of sparse home crowds of 14,000 and change at the end of last season, could feel the difference.

"We got great support from the fans in the first half," UNT cornerback Royce Hill said. "And we played well. In the second half, it just wasn't the same."

The stands did clear out a little once it became obvious that UNT wasn't going to pull off the upset. The tone has clearly been set, though.

UNT has a venue that it can serve as the basis of a successful program. It's a dream that is now a reality.

The transformation brought tears to McCarney's eyes.

UNT has something to build from now. And that's plenty of reason to get excited or emotional, no matter how long one has been around UNT's program.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is .


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