One of the longer streaks in North Texas history will come to an end next year, when the Mean Green finally will open a season on its home turf.
UNT will head to No. 3 LSU on Saturday to kick off its 2012 campaign at Tiger Stadium, extending the number of seasons it has opened on the road to 11.
UNT last opened at home in 2001, when the Mean Green fell to TCU.
UNT is 2-13 in its last 15 season openers, with five of those losses coming since 2002 against teams that opened the year ranked in the top 10.
“When you talk about changing the culture of North Texas, that is one of the things I’m talking about,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “We don’t have to be the designated road team and open on the road every year. [UNT athletic director] Rick Villarreal and I are in complete agreement.”
UNT won’t release its 2013 schedule for months, but McCarney said plans are in place for the Mean Green to open the season at home.
UNT traditionally has opened on the road against a team from an automatic-qualifying BCS conference.
The Mean Green traveled to Alabama last season for a Week 3 game and opened at Clemson in 2010. UNT opened at top-ranked Oklahoma in 2003.
“We absolutely like it,” senior linebacker Jeremy Phillips said of playing high-profile teams. “Anytime you get a chance to play an SEC school like an LSU or an Alabama, you are pumped because in the Sun Belt it isn’t
a week-in, week-out thing. You want to make the best of it.”
McCarney would just like to see those games scheduled for another week in the season once in a while, especially when the program is trying to build its fan base.
McCarney has spoken to incoming freshmen in both summers since his arrival in the hope that he can help build enthusiasm among students and ensure that they will come to games. UNT set a record for total attendance in a season last year, when 113,186 fans were in the stands for six home games.
UNT won’t have as many opportunities to lure students and fans to Apogee Stadium this year. The Mean Green will have only five home games.
UNT officials have said that a six-game home slate will be the norm after this season.
Opening at home against a familiar opponent could help UNT build enthusiasm in the program. The crowd of 28,075 fans for the Mean Green’s game against Houston on the day Apogee Stadium opened was the third-largest for an on-campus game in program history.
McCarney would like to see one of those games at the front end of the schedule.
UNT has suffered several lopsided losses in season openers on the road during the last decade, including a 41-16 loss to Florida International last season. The Golden Panthers went on to finish 8-5 after falling to Marshall in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.
The Mean Green lost its first three games before bouncing back to finish 5-7, matching its win total from the previous two seasons combined.
The opportunity to get off to a better start is one that McCarney believes is important to the future of the program.
“We are trying to garner support, get the fans back and get the students back,” McCarney said. “You spend months and months promoting and marketing the program, and the first thing you do is pack your bags, get on a plane and go somewhere else.”
That won’t be the case next season. McCarney says the Mean Green will be better off because of that fact.
Three to redshirt
UNT will redshirt three incoming freshmen due to injuries.
Offensive lineman Boone Feldt and Brad Horton both arrived at UNT with lingering injuries that required surgery.
McCarney sent Feldt home to consult with his doctors about shoulder and neck issues that required surgery before he arrived at UNT.
Horton had shoulder surgery that will prevent him from playing this season.
Freshman defensive end Dutton Watson injured the MCL in his knee during fall practice. The injury will not require surgery, but it did lead UNT’s coaching staff to decide to redshirt him.
Injured players on way back
Ryan Boutwell, a returning starter at defensive tackle, could be back in the Mean Green’s lineup for its home opener against Texas Southern on Sept. 8.
Boutwell torn a pectoral muscle over the summer and originally was expected to miss the first two games of the season. Boutwell finished with 28 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks last season.
UNT also is expecting top cornerback Freddie Warner to return to its lineup in October. Warner started three of the seven games he played in before suffering a season-ending injury and posted 18 tackles.
Smith big surprise in camp
McCarney said very little surprised him in terms of what took place during fall practice. A notable exception was the play of Darnell Smith.
The former Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College standout walked on at UNT this fall and quickly earned a spot on the two-deep depth chart heading into the Mean Green’s game against LSU.
Smith is one of two wide receivers UNT will add from Iowa this season. John Chelf, who is transferring to UNT from Iowa, is expected to join the team later this fall.
Team starts to come together with 4-0 start
UNT faced a large rebuilding project heading into the 2012 season. So far it couldn’t have gone any better for the Mean Green.
UNT is off to a 4-0 start, highlighted by a 2-1 win over Houston on Sunday in its home opener. The Mean Green lost six key players after winning the regular-season Sun Belt title last year.
“I really didn’t know, because we are so young and having our first three games on the road, how we would react,” UNT head coach John Hedlund said. “We got the three wins and then beat a good Houston team. We are happy with the results.”
UNT has allowed only two goals on the season, despite playing a pair of double-overtime games.
Sophomore goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine has posted two shutouts, thanks in part to a defense led by Guyer product Kelsey Hodges.
“We put defense first,” Hedlund said. “We have one of the best keepers in the country in Jackie and one of the best defenders around in Kelsey Hodges. When you build around those two and bring solid people in around them, you are going to be pretty strong.”
UNT expects its offense to come around as the season progresses and saw some good signs in its win over Houston.
Hodges has three goals on the season.
UNT expects some of its younger players to start picking up more of the scoring load, including Michelle Young and freshman Karla Pineda
Young scored her first goal of the season in UNT’s win over Houston, and it was the game winner.
“At the beginning it was frustrating because we had a lot of new faces,” Young said. “We changed some things up top and were so much better against Houston.”
That win helped UNT move into ninth in the latest NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division I South Region rankings.
“We are very happy,” Hodges said. “To be 4-0 is a great start for us, especially with how young we are.”
UNT off to perfect start
UNT swept the North Texas Invitational over the weekend to start the season with a 4-0 record. The Mean Green then won at Texas-Arlington on Tuesday night.
Courtney Windham was named the tournament MVP, while Eboni Godfrey and Shelby Tamura also were named to the all-tournament team.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .