Both Dan McCarney and Willie Taggart spoke Monday about how much their teams have on the line Saturday in the final week of the regular season.
They just had completely different reasons for feeling that way.
UNT has a chance to go out in style for a second year in a row and continue to build on the foundation McCarney believes the program is putting in place for the future.
For WKU, the future is now. The Hilltoppers have six wins on the board already and can improve their bowl prospects with a win over the Mean Green.
WKU appears likely to land in a bowl game that has a tie-in with a conference that does not have enough eligible teams to fulfill its contracts.
“Anybody who lines up and plays or coaches in the last game of the season, you want it to be a positive experience,” McCarney said. “This is the last time we will be all together. We took over a program that had bottomed out in college football, obviously. We have made some strides.”
UNT kept its bowl hopes alive heading into the 11th week of the regular season for the second straight year only to fall.
The Hilltoppers knocked UNT out of the postseason chase last year with a 31-21 win at Apogee Stadium. Louisiana-Monroe officially knocked UNT (4-7, 3-4) out this year by handing the Mean Green a 42-16 loss
UNT is hoping it can bounce back in a huge way like it did last year by pounding Middle Tennessee 59-7 in its season finale.
“We are going to do everything we can to finish in a positive way in a very tough environment against a very good football team,” McCarney said.
What will make that environment all the tougher for UNT to handle is that WKU has a lot on the line.
The Hilltoppers (6-5, 3-4) started out 6-2 but have stumbled down the stretch, losing three straight. Louisiana-Lafayette drove 93 yards in 54 seconds and picked up a 31-27 win Saturday, when Terrance Broadway scored on a 14-yard run with 38 seconds remaining.
WKU will have to beat UNT on Saturday to match its 7-5 finish from a year ago, when the Hilltoppers were not invited to a bowl.
“We do have a lot to play for,” Taggart said. “We are a young program. If you think about where we have come from, to get to a bowl game in a short time — in my third year — would be an accomplishment.”
UNT knows just how big of a motivating factor playing the final home game of the season can be. The Mean Green won its second straight home finale Nov. 10, when UNT beat South Alabama 24-14.
That win wasn’t as impressive as UNT’s win over MTSU to end last season, but it was an important victory for the Mean Green, which kept its bowl hopes alive a little longer.
WKU will have a chance to go to the postseason no matter what happens Saturday, but UNT has a chance to damage the Hilltoppers’ resume.
UNT knows just how tough that challenge will be in a season the Mean Green has played team after team that will likely play in the bowl season.
“We are playing our seventh game against a team that is bowl-eligible in Western Kentucky,” McCarney said. “Willie Taggart has done a wonderful job of leading that program. They offer a great challenge.”
Jimmerson out for year
McCarney acknowledged Monday that redshirt freshman running back Antoinne Jimmerson is out for the year with a broken scapula he suffered in a win over South Alabama on Nov. 10.
McCarney said that Jimmerson was highly doubtful heading into UNT’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe last week.
“The good news is that he won’t need surgery,” McCarney said. “He is done until spring ball.”
Jimmerson had been vital to UNT’s offense throughout the season. He had scored a team-best eight touchdowns in 10 games and ranked second on the team with 544 rushing yards heading into last week’s game.
Jimmerson is the second key player UNT has lost for the season. Wide receiver Brelan Chancellor broke his collarbone in a loss to Middle Tennessee on Oct. 27.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .