North Texas can’t assure itself of the opportunity to strut out of the Sun Belt Conference with its head held high tonight in a key game against Middle Tennessee.
But the Mean Green can set up a path to do so.
UNT is 7-0-1 in conference play and is nipping at the heels of MTSU, the only team that has made it through the league season unscathed so far at 8-0.
A win would bump UNT past MTSU heading into its regular-season finale Sunday at Western Kentucky — the Mean Green’s last regular-season game in the Sun Belt.
UNT departs for Conference USA next season.
“This is what we wanted at the beginning of the year — to have the end of the season mean something,” UNT head coach John Hedlund said. “This is basically the best two teams in the league facing each other, and we have them at home.”
UNT is 5-1-2 at home this season, despite facing a series of tough opponents. UNT beat Houston, tied Big 12 power Baylor and lost to TCU at home, where the Mean Green is traditionally tough to beat.
“It’s pretty awesome that we have them at home,” UNT senior forward Michelle Young said. “It’s going to be one of the biggest games of our season. This will determine if we get the first or second seed for the conference tournament. We have to bring it.”
UNT has been doing just that the last few weeks, running off an eight-game unbeaten streak with its only blemish in that span coming when it battled Florida International to a 1-1 draw Oct. 7.
MTSU has been just as hot, running off a school-record eight straight wins.
Both teams rank among the Sun Belt leaders in just about every statistical category. MTSU leads the league with an average of 3.19 goals per game, while UNT is tied atop the conference with Western Kentucky with an average of 0.94 goals allowed a game behind sophomore goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine.
Young has scored nine goals on the season and is among seven UNT players with at least two goals.
Paige Goeglein has 14 goals to lead MTSU.
Hedlund has said throughout the season that this is the deepest team he has ever had, and he has rotated his players liberally.
That strategy is one Hedlund will use again tonight, when he hopes the home field and home crowd advantage will make a difference and help put UNT in position to win the regular-season Sun Belt title.
UNT was in a similar position last year and beat Denver in a showdown for the conference championship at home.
“It’s neat playing on a Thursday night,” Hedlund said. “We should have a huge crowd. I don’t think we have ever played on Thursday. It will be a close, tight game that could go either way.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .