His first glimpse of what North Texas has to offer as a potential bowl participant convinced Brant Ringler that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to head back to Apogee Stadium for the Mean Green’s homecoming game.
The executive director of the Heart of Dallas Bowl was impressed yet again after seeing the Mean Green hammer UTEP 41-7 on Saturday in front of a crowd of 26,119, the second-largest in Apogee history.
UNT already was bowl-eligible heading into its game against the Miners and improved its resume by pushing its record to 7-3 on the season, including a 5-1 mark in Conference USA.
“The fan base is one of the most important things a bowl looks at,” Ringler said. “North Texas is playing well and the fan base is strong here, but there is still a long way to go.
“They have big opportunities and could be playing for the conference championship if other games go certain ways and they win out. We will see.”
The C-USA champion goes to the Liberty Bowl each season. The league has five other bowl tie-ins. Geography will play a role in which teams are assigned to bowls.
UNT potentially could take a big crowd to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, especially considering the Mean Green has not played in a bowl game since the 2004 New Orleans Bowl.
Ringler came back to see what the turnout would be at a weekend game after seeing UNT play Rice on a Thursday.
“Last time I was here, it was a weekday crowd and they still did a good job,” Ringler said. “The fans turned out for homecoming.”
Running back Brandin Byrd said all he cares about is getting to a bowl, no matter where it is after UNT’s win over UTEP, while head coach Dan McCarney emphasized that the Mean Green must maintain focus to maximize its opportunities.
UNT took advantage of one more opportunity with a win over UTEP in front of its biggest home crowd of the season and made a positive impression on Ringler.
McCarney, who has called on UNT’s fans to turn out on several occasions this year, thanked those who came out.
“It was great to see our fans,” McCarney said. “It means a lot — to coaches to players to me as a head coach and to our administration. We want to make these kids feel appreciated and supported so that we can turn [Apogee] into a real special place.”
Brown returns from injury
Defensive end Quenton Brown saw his first action of the season in UNT’s win over UTEP.
Brown tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during spring practice and missed the first nine games of the season. The junior began his career at Central Florida, where he redshirted in 2010.
Brown, who spent last season at Eastern Arizona College, cannot take another redshirt season and worked to return this year since he would lose a year of eligibility either way.
Senior tight end Daniel Prior also returned from an ankle injury that has hampered him most of the season.
Brown was credited with one tackle.
“It makes your heart feel good to see Brown and Prior out there after what they went through,” McCarney said. “They worked hard to return.”
Illegal block negates long punt return by Chancellor
UNT had an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown by Brelan Chancellor in the second quarter called back because of an illegal block.
Chancellor fielded the ball at the UNT 12-yard line and broke free down the sideline. The senior coasted into the end zone but saw the touchdown negated when defensive end Chad Polk was called for an illegal block.
UNT took over at its 17-yard line with 47 seconds left before halftime and ran the ball twice before the clock ran out.
The mistake was one of the few UNT made on a day its special teams shined while blocking a field goal and a punt.
UNT improved to 5-0 at home for the first time since 2003. … Zach Orr finished with 12 tackles, giving him 96 for the season and 329 for his career. Orr moved past Lance White for sixth on UNT’s career list. … UNT has scored at least 21 points in all nine of its games this season.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.