North Texas is returning to a familiar place for Dan McCarney.
UNT’s head coach visited Tiger Stadium back when he was an assistant coach at Florida. And while most of the Mean Green’s players have only seen a place nicknamed Death Valley on television, they know well the opportunity a game against the third-ranked Tigers presents.
UNT will be on the national stage yet again with a chance to make an impression, just like it was last season and in 2009 at Alabama and in previous trips to LSU in 2008 and 2005.
The Mean Green’s latest game against the Tigers will be broadcast on ESPNU.
“There are 72 million people who can turn on the television and watch,” McCarney said. “Are they turning it on to check out the Mean Green? Hell, no. They are turning it on to see if LSU looks like a national championship contender, but we are on the other side of the white lines, so the nation can see us and who are and how we play and if we are going to be a story this year.”
A solid showing against LSU would certainly put the Mean Green on the map, especially after the Tigers played in last season’s BCS national championship game against Alabama.
Getting out of town with some confidence and the key players on the roster still healthy won’t be easy, though.
The Mean Green’s trips to SEC powerhouses have traditionally been a miserable experience.
UNT lost 41-0 a year ago at Alabama, fell to the Crimson Tide 53-7 in 2009 and dropped its previous two games at LSU 41-3 and 56-3 in 2008 and 2005, respectively.
Few teams ever escape Baton Rouge unscathed.
The Tigers are riding the nation’s longest home winning streak at 17 games and have not lost at Tiger Stadium since falling to Florida 13-3 in 2009, when McCarney was the Gators’ assistant head coach.
UNT’s players will get two shots to play on the road against a national power this year, including a trip to Kansas State on Sept. 15.
A game in Manhattan won’t be the equal of playing at night at Tiger Stadium, which is annually named one of the toughest places to play in college football.
UNT’s players couldn’t be more excited about the chance to play in that environment.
“We absolutely love the atmosphere,” senior linebacker Jeremy Phillips said. “You are playing in front of 100,000 people and they are all against you. All you have is your boys, your coaches and a little sliver of fans in the corner.”
While the experience of playing at an SEC school is nothing new for UNT’s veteran players, it’s a challenge McCarney believes they are better prepared to face after spending a year under a new coaching staff.
“I remember getting on the bus at Alabama after we lost,” McCarney said. “We had defensive guys in the back of the bus hooting and hollering and giggling, laughing about the crowd and the noise and all that. That is when I knew we had a long way to go with this program.”
McCarney is confident that his veteran players will react differently this season, no matter how competitive UNT is on the field. If UNT loses or is blown out, he expects it to sting for a group of players he believes have high expectations.
The question could be how several younger players will react to what they will encounter in their game against the Tigers. UNT has several young players who are expected to see their first extensive action, including redshirt freshman Zac Whitfield. The former Sherman standout will start at cornerback in his first college game, just weeks after he practiced at the position for the first time after moving from running back.
Junior safety Marcus Trice said this week that he and UNT’s other veteran players have told the young players who will see action to focus on the game and not the distractions the surroundings present.
UNT will have enough to worry about on the field.
McCarney said that LSU will have players as talented as any team the Mean Green will face this season.
The Tigers have 10 players who were named to either the coaches or media preseason All-SEC teams. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo, defensive end Sam Montgomery, safety Eric Reid and offensive lineman Chris Faulk are all projected to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
McCarney and his players know exactly what kind of challenges facing a team with as much talent as LSU will present and believe they are better prepared to take it on.
“It’s always good when you come in and know it’s a prestigious program,” Trice said. “It doesn’t matter where we play. We will just tune the fans out. Death Valley is a great place and I respect what they have going on over there, but I’m not worried about the environment.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
NORTH TEXAS GAMEDAY
North Texas at LSU
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge
Records: season opener for both teams
Last meeting: LSU 41, UNT 3 (2008)
Last season: UNT 5-7 (tied for fourth in Sun Belt), LSU 13-1 (lost to Alabama in national championship game)
Line: LSU by 44
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1