North Texas will pass yet another milestone today on its way to one of the more anticipated seasons in school history.
UNT players and coaches have known for months that they will move into a better neighborhood in college athletics with its switch to Conference USA from the Sun Belt this fall.
And while the Mean Green’s first appearance in an actual game as a member of the league won’t come until its Aug. 31 nonconference opener against Idaho, there is little doubt the move will feel a little more real today at Conference USA media day.
League officials and coaches from new rivals like Rice, UTEP and Texas-San Antonio will descend on the DFW Marriott in Irving to talk about the upcoming season. Senior linebacker Zach Orr will join head coach Dan McCarney in representing the Mean Green at the event.
“I am anxious to get going,” McCarney said about the buildup to the Mean Green’s season opener. “This is the best leadership we have had in a long time. I like where we are at. It will be here before we know it.”
UNT is a key part of C-USA’s new lineup for 2013 and the future of a league that is still changing. Those moves are perhaps the biggest storyline heading into media day.
UNT joined Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Florida International in making the move from the Sun Belt. C-USA also will add Louisiana Tech and UTSA.
Those teams will replace Central Florida, Houston, SMU and Memphis, which jumped to the American Athletic Conference. East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane will join those schools in 2014, when Western Kentucky moves to C-USA after one final year in the Sun Belt. Old Dominion and Charlotte will join C-USA’s football lineup in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The Sun Belt improved dramatically during UNT’s 12 years in the league, but there is no doubt among the Mean Green’s players and coaches that they will face stiffer competition this year — not to mention greater opportunity.
C-USA has six bowl tie-ins, plus a television contract that will benefit UNT. The Mean Green will play Rice on national television on Halloween night. UNT will have a total of eight television games this season.
UNT will look to capitalize on that added exposure and exceed expectations in its third season under McCarney. UNT went 4-8 last season and was picked to finish fifth in C-USA’s West Division in the league’s preseason coaches poll that was released last week.
UNTalso was notably absent when the preseason all-conference team was released last week. UTEP and UNT were the only teams among 14 in the league this year that did not have a player among the 28 selected. The Mean Green had at least one player picked for the preseason All-Sun Belt team in every season since last being shut out in 2009.
“We know that the level of competition will be stiffer, but we are ready for the move,” UNT senior quarterback Derek Thompson said. “The university deserves to move to a better conference. It might not be a better conference than the Sun Belt, but in the eyes of the public, it’s a step up. It’s a huge recruiting tool for us. We will have more local games, which is exciting.”
UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said this summer that everyone who has stopped him to talk about the program over the last few months has wanted to talk about the school’s move to a new league and some of the in-state rivalries that move will help foster.
UNT has not played more than one Texas-based Football Bowl Subdivision program in a season since 2006, when the Mean Green opened at Texas and hosted SMU.
The Mean Green will face Rice, UTEP and UTSA in consecutive games beginning Oct. 31.
Anticipation among UNT’s players, coaches and fans for those games has built over the last few months.
UNT will stop to talk about those games and the 2013 season today, when C-USA media day will serve as another milestone in the Mean Green’s entry to a new era.