There was nothing North Texas wanted more heading into its first season in Conference USA than to take advantage of what looked like a monumental opportunity.
The Mean Green had a chance to establish itself in a new league and host three Texas rivals, all in a row, after spending 12 years as the only school from the state in the Sun Belt.
A win today against Texas-San Antonio in UNT’s final home game of the season essentially would complete the task.
UNT (7-3, 5-1 C-USA) has beaten Rice and UTEP in its last two games and can finish off the Texas sweep today. That would be a milestone accomplishment for the Mean Green, which had just three total wins over Texas rivals playing on the Football Bowl Subdivision level in the 14 years prior to this season.
“It would be significant to sweep the Texas teams,” UNT senior safety Marcus Trice said. “These are some of the same schools we recruit against. To be able to go into the offseason and say that we didn’t lose to a Texas team that we are recruiting against is important. For us to be successful, we have to win against the Texas teams. We have some of the best athletes in the country in our backyard.”
UNT has plenty of competition in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the state when it comes to attracting attention and talented players and believes it is moving up the ladder during a breakout season. The Mean Green will finish with a winning record for the first time since 2004, which also was the last time UNT played in a bowl game.
The Mean Green’s run appears to be coming at a good time in what could be considered a down year for college football in Dallas-Fort Worth. TCU is 4-7 and out of bowl contention, while SMU is 4-5 and needs two wins in its last three games to become bowl-eligible.
“There is never a bad time for success,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “There are 12 Division I [FBS] schools in the state of Texas. How unique is that? We are always looking for ways to prove ourselves and show that we can compete and be successful.”
UNT also would like to grab a little more of the spotlight, especially in the immediate area. The Mean Green is in position to do just that after winning five straight games, all in C-USA play. A win today would move UNT into a tie with Rice for first place in the league’s West Division.
Beating Rice gave the Mean Green a leg up in the chase for the division title.
“We have the fifth-largest media market in the country down the road and are a program on the rise,” McCarney said. “People are starting to pay attention.”
UNT doesn’t want to back off now or overlook what McCarney described as a solid UTSA team.
The Roadrunners (5-5, 4-2) have won three straight and aren’t out of the race for the West Division title. UTSA senior quarterback Eric Soza has thrown for 2,174 yards and has led the Roadrunners to consecutive wins over UAB, Tulsa and Tulane.
The Green Wave handed the Mean Green its only loss in C-USA play.
“UTSA is a very solid football team,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “They will come in pumped up. They are playing for a lot.”
So is UNT. The Mean Green could take a key step toward winning the West and a berth in the conference championship game with a win today.
UNT’s coaches and players say every win adds just a little more to the story of their turnaround season and improves the Mean Green’s chances of capitalizing on it.
UNT could earn a spot in the C-USA title game, head to a better bowl, improve its chances to add players who can help build on this season’s success and garner a little more attention with more wins.
That could make a big difference for UNT, especially if the Mean Green completes the Texas sweep today and ends up being the only one of the three area FBS schools playing in a bowl.
“It would be really significant to beat all three Texas teams,” UNT senior linebacker Zach Orr said. “It would be good for the program and for recruiting. That would be a good pitch to high school players.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.