When Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder peered across the field Saturday night, he couldn’t help but think that there was something awfully familiar about what he saw on North Texas’ sideline.
Other than his good old friend Dan McCarney, of course.
It was a big, physical offensive line. It was a host of running backs with the ability to grind out yards. It was a tough defense.
The combination of it all helped UNT hang around a whole lot longer than just about anyone thought it would in a 35-21 loss to the 15th-ranked team in the country at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“Any Dan McCarney-coached football team is going to be a pretty good football team,” Snyder said. “I have to give all their youngsters the credit. I felt that their offensive line knocked us around because they got into their stances, they came off the line of scrimmage and they played impressively. Their running backs played extremely hard. The quarterback threw the ball well. They are an excellent team.”
In other words, UNT looked a little like the teams McCarney and Snyder helped put together as assistant coaches at Iowa, the ones McCarney led to bowl games at Iowa State and those that Snyder has built at Kansas State.
There ought to be something comforting about that for UNT going forward.
This team has gone down a whole host of roads since Hayden Fry left town for Iowa and took Snyder with him back in 1979.
With the notable exception of a remarkable four-year run as Sun Belt Conference champion that began in 2001, before UNT had an athletic center, a new football stadium and a lot else to work with, none of those paths have led the Mean Green where it wants to go.
UNT is headed down a familiar road now and appears to be going the right direction under a coach in McCarney who has been there before. That was what Snyder took away from his latest win over UNT.
Snyder ought to know. He’s one of the greatest coaches in college football history.
There has never been any doubt that McCarney is building UNT’s program in a manner similar to the way Snyder has twice built his team at Kansas State and the way their mentor, Fry, constructed his teams at Iowa. McCarney used that same plan in his first stint as a head coach at Iowa State.
Just in case there was any doubt about where UNT is headed, McCarney mentioned that approach after falling in another head-to-head matchup with Snyder, whom he used to face on a regular basis when he was at Iowa State.
“It’s a great program and it is an example of how to build a college football program, how to sustain one and how to win on game days,” McCarney said of Kansas State.
The Wildcats have been winning for years under Snyder and knocked off UNT for the sixth straight time.
Not that the latest of those wins was as easy as some expected for the Wildcats.
UNT led 7-0 after wide receiver Brelan Chancellor scored on an end-around early in the first quarter. The Wildcats didn’t pull away until scoring three unanswered touchdowns in the second half.
That run ended UNT’s hopes to pull off what would have been arguably the biggest upset in school history, one the Mean Green’s players fully expected to pull off, despite the long odds they faced.
“We are disappointed,” linebacker Zach Orr said. “We came in here expecting to win the game.”
That expectation says something about the impact McCarney has had in his short time with the program. The Mean Green has defeated only one ranked team in its history, and that was back in 1974.
UNT is 1-43 against ranked teams all time.
Orr and the rest of UNT’s players had very little reason to think they were capable of picking up the program’s second win over a ranked team. UNT came into the night as four-touchdown underdogs.
McCarney’s and Snyder’s teams have always faced long odds and have a habit of overcoming them.
UNT couldn’t reach that goal in its loss to Kansas State, but did make an impression on the Wildcats.
“They are better than people think,” Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein said. “They play extremely hard.”
That belief was based in a confidence among UNT’s players that they are headed in the right direction.
“Our team came in believing they could win,” McCarney said. “I did not sense any hope that we could win a game, but instead more a sense of belief.”
UNT will need that belief as it heads into Sun Belt Conference play Saturday at home against Troy.
The league is getting better. No doubt about it.
Louisiana-Monroe nearly upset Auburn a week after beating Arkansas and knocking the eighth-ranked Razorbacks out of the top-25 rankings. Western Kentucky toppled in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday.
UNT thinks this is the season it will be able to contend in the Sun Belt.
That doesn’t sound so far-fetched anymore. Not when one can see that UNT is on a proven path, one McCarney and Snyder have traveled while turning around programs so many times before.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .