A year ago, North Texas traveled to Alabama. In 2010, there was a trip to Clemson, which came on the heels of another visit to Alabama in 2009.
Texas was on North Texas’ schedule in 2006, a year after the Longhorns won the national title. Oklahoma was rated No. 1 when the Mean Green rolled into Norman in 2003.
UNT’s schedule and habit of playing at least one national power a season was a topic of discussion all week after head coach Dan McCarney brought up the subject of scheduling.
There are a myriad of reasons UNT plays games like Saturday night’s journey to face LSU at Death Valley in Baton Rouge.
There’s the money.
UNT picked up around a million dollars to play the Tigers, funds that are an important revenue source that helps the athletic department fund its program across the board.
There’s the exposure playing a national powerhouse offers.
UNT was on the national stage over the weekend, which provides a huge boost and something to sell when it comes to recruiting.
UNT officials maintain that’s an important aspect of the way they promote the program that they want to continue.
Did I mention the money?
Despite all those benefits — and UNT really doesn’t have a whole lot of choice when it comes to playing at least one “money game” a year — it’s still hard not to ponder the cost of it all, especially after LSU cruised by the Mean Green 41-14 on Saturday night.
Those who were paying attention know that there was a lot more UNT can take from the game than the score indicates.
UNT made some plays defensively — Zac Whitfield posted an interception in his first college game, and cornerback Hilbert Jackson leveled LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger on a blitz, temporarily knocking him out of the game.
Brelan Chancellor caught a pair of touchdown passes.
That’s two more touchdowns than UNT had in its last three games against LSU combined, which would be zero.
Those who are following along know the storylines and have studied the bright spots, even as UNT’s coaches and players dismissed them after another drubbing at the hands of a national power.
The Mean Green is now 1-42 all-time against ranked teams for those of you scoring at home.
It’s not the informed UNT should be worried about, and that was the point McCarney was making when he talked about the school’s habit of hitting the road in the first week of the season.
“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 your program, and the first thing you do is pack your bags, get in a plane and go somewhere else.”
A season-opening game at LSU isn’t exactly a late-summer trip to Hawaii.
The Tigers are one of a handful of teams that have a legitimate shot at the national title. UNT’s players knew they faced one of the top teams in the country and did some good things.
The question is if any of those fence-sitting fans did.
UNT will open its home schedule against Texas Southern this week, which will capture the attention and imagination of exactly no one.
Getting them out to Apogee Stadium will be a little harder now after UNT came up short of the nearly impossible goal it set to shock the world and LSU.
“If we are losing, that is not what we want,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “We had a lot of confidence coming in. We thought we could get it done.”
The more important question now is if having that tough season opener is going to squash UNT’s chances to continue building this program’s fan base in the second year of Apogee Stadium. One could search the country and have a hard time finding a school that got more bang for its buck for a college football venue.
UNT set an all-time single-season attendance record in its first season at Apogee, when 113,186 fans showed up for six home games.
The school gets five cracks at it this season with a five-game home schedule, including this week’s game against TSU. No one is happy about it, least of all McCarney, who said a five-game home slate will never pop up at UNT again, at least not while he’s around.
School officials indicated they were on the same page with McCarney.
It’s a delicate balance, finding a way to get a top-notch opponent on the schedule every year without killing the momentum the program might be building.
UNT just has to hope people can look past the Mean Green’s latest loss to a national power in LSU, a team McCarney said he expects to be in the national title hunt.
McCarney should know what a national title contender looks like after picking up a BCS championship ring at Florida before coming to UNT and facing eventual national champion Alabama last season.
“We lost to an outstanding football team,” McCarney said. “LSU has talent, they have experience, they are deep and are well coached. I have only coached 13 games at North Texas and two of them were against the teams that played in the national championship game last year, and you can sure see why.”
There are plenty of good reasons why UNT’s tradition of playing a national power every year stretched to a new season Saturday night.
UNT just has to hope its latest outing against the nation’s best doesn’t sap all the momentum the Mean Green had heading into its home opener.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .