Jeremy Phillips has been around North Texas long enough to know that opportunities like the one the Mean Green will encounter Saturday when it faces Houston don’t come along very often.
UNT has played in-state schools only seven times since 2006, and that total includes a win over Texas Southern, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, earlier this year. Phillips, a fifth-year senior linebacker, was a junior in high school when UNT beat SMU at home in 2006, the last time the Mean Green beat an FBS Texas opponent.
A chance to break that slide would be enough to make a game against Houston a big one for UNT.
The fact that the Mean Green also has an opportunity to even its record at 3-3 for the first time since 2003 and pick up momentum heading into an Oct. 16 home game against Louisiana-Lafayette that will be televised on ESPN2 makes the game all the bigger.
“It absolutely takes on added significance playing an in-state team,” Phillips said. “In recent years, North Texas has been at the bottom of the barrel in Texas. It would be nice to start beating the Houstons, the SMUs and getting up there.”
UNT has progressed toward that goal under second-year head coach Dan McCarney. While a 2-3 record might not sound impressive, it’s the Mean Green’s best mark through five games since 2005.
A win over the Cougars would not only even UNT’s record, it would also end a 19-game losing streak in games following a win that dates to 2004.
“Every time we line up at North Texas there is some ridiculously negative streak that we can stop and start a new positive one,” McCarney said. “That is one of the reasons I took this job, because when you do those things it’s a lot of fun.”
UNT didn’t have much fun at all the last time it played Houston.
The Cougars were the first opponent the Mean Green faced in Apogee Stadium. Houston rained on UNT’s parade, pulling away in the second half for a 48-23 win.
“It does stick with us that they beat us at home last year,” UNT defensive end Aaron Bellazin said. “We were only down three at halftime. It was within reach. We are looking for payback.”
There is little doubt that a win over the Cougars would give UNT just that. It would also give the Mean Green a jolt at the right time with a rare nationally televised game coming up 10 days later.
UNT started promoting its game against ULL before the season began. The school is offering a package deal of two tickets for a total of $10 for seats in the wing-shaped section of the stadium in the north end zone to try to boost attendance.
“It’s important for us to have a big crowd every time we play, but when you are on national TV it’s especially vital,” UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said. “We are putting some things out there to promote that game. It’s important to have fans and students come out to show how we support the program.”
A win over Houston would certainly help UNT build momentum on a night the Mean Green will have a chance to capture the attention of football fans in Texas, not to mention top high school recruits.
“If we can win this one, it would be a big stepping stone toward where we want to be at the end of the season,” UNT offensive lineman Cyril Lemon said. “Playing down there under these circumstances, it’s going to be big.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
UNT VS. STATE SCHOOLS
North Texas has not often had a chance to face in-state schools. The following is a list of UNT games against Texas schools over the past seven seasons:
2012 — Texas Southern (W, 34-7), at Houston (Saturday)
2011 — Houston (L, 48-23)
2010 — Rice (L, 32-31)
2009 — none
2008 — at Rice (L, 77-20)
2007 — at SMU (L, 45-31)
2006 — at Texas (L, 56-7), SMU (W, 24-6)