The sun set on the Sun Belt Years late Saturday night in Bowling Green, Ky.
To say North Texas didn’t go out the way it hoped might be a bit of an understatement.
The Mean Green blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost to Western Kentucky, the final blow in its final game in a league it used to own. The fact that the Mean Green came tantalizingly close — at least on the scoreboard — in a 25-24 loss certainly didn’t make anyone in UNT’s locker room feel any better.
A year that started with talk of a bowl game and building on a 5-7 season ended with a 4-8 thud that raised a lot of questions, not to mention a tangible feeling that UNT might have painted itself into a bit of a corner.
UNT’s move to Conference USA will become official in a couple of months.
The Mean Green will head in to that new league, one that is generally considered to be a step up in the world of college football from the Sun Belt — where it once won 26 straight — off something of a clunker of a season.
For those of you scoring at home, that’s UNT’s eighth straight losing campaign.
UNT has come out again and again saying that this is it, the big change that would lead to success during those eight seasons.
The opening of Apogee Stadium was supposed to provide a jump start. So were a couple of new coaches.
So far, UNT has yet to see the payoff, at least not in terms of a winning season.
UNT has made progress under Dan McCarney. There is little doubt of that. The Mean Green nearly ended its string of losing seasons last year and has posted back-to-back winning seasons at home.
“A lot of times when you make progress, it does not show up on the scoreboard,” McCarney said outside of UNT’s locker room late Saturday night. “We are a good example of that right now. We clearly have gotten better in some areas. It’s easy right now for me to look at the program and see other places we need to improve. The important thing is that expectations have been raised with football, academics, behavior, the expectation of winning and what we do each day. I know we got better even though it didn’t show with our record this year.”
That is UNT’s problem in a nutshell.
With the move to C-USA looming, UNT really needed that breakthrough season to provide some momentum, the kind people can see on the scoreboard, heading into a new era in program history.
UNT’s players and coaches think they are headed in the right direction. What matters now is convincing fans, boosters the next generation of Mean Green players — those who could be signees in its 2013 recruiting class — that the future is bright.
That is going to be a little tougher to do now as McCarney heads into his annual evaluation of the program.
McCarney meets with all of his coaches and players individually after each season to evaluate their value.
Every coach goes through the same process in some form or fashion.
There will be a lot to like. UNT has some good young players — like running back Antoinne Jimmerson — and a few transfers who are expected to help the program — like quarterback Brock Berglund.
UNT’s assistants will also be evaluated.
Theoretically, so will UNT’s approach, although it’s hard to imagine McCarney changing course on a conservative offensive plan he has used throughout his career.
Does UNT need to open up its offense a little? Does it have the personnel to do so? Does a run-first approach that features tight ends work in the days of spread offenses in Texas, where just about every high school team throws it around every Friday night?
Those are legitimate questions that will have to be at least broached.
McCarney indicated throughout the season that UNT lacks speed and playmaking ability, which is patently obvious watching the Mean Green play.
The question now is if UNT can find a solution to the dilemma it faces, whether that is a change in approach or staff.
There is little doubt recruiting will play a big part of any plan to get UNT out of its eight-year funk. McCarney has talked about the personnel issues this team has faced all season.
UNT needs to fix them, and quick, whether the solution is the players like Berglund, who sat out this season, or a host of high school and junior college talent.
The further into the past the opening of Apogee and the arrival of McCarney fade, the tougher it is going to be for UNT to turn the corner.
That’s especially true with the move to C-USA coming up.
The competition is about to get a lot tougher.
UNT’s in a tight spot now.
It’s up to McCarney to lead the Mean Green out of it.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.