Ever since Dan McCarney took over as North Texas’ head coach before the 2011 season, he has tried to ensure that his team adheres to a 24-hour rule when it comes to wins and losses.
That common adage in sports that teams should never celebrate wins too long or fall into a funk after losses was never more important than Sunday, when the Mean Green looked to pick up the pieces following a 21-13 loss to Texas-San Antonio.
UNT entered that game still in the running for the Conference USA West Division title. A 21-13 loss left the Mean Green on the outside looking in at 5-2 in league play and looking for a little perspective on what already ranks as a breakout season.
UNT (7-4) is still all but assured of playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2004 and has a chance to win nine games for the first time since 2003 and its first bowl game since 2002. The Mean Green focused in on those possibilities Sunday, when McCarney pulled his team leaders aside.
“When we got done with lifting and watching film on Sunday, I brought my seniors back in and thanked them,” McCarney said. “I knew they were disappointed. All of us who touch this program have to do a better job this week, but I told them, ‘Let’s lead this team now.’ We have a chance to go from 4-8 to 8-4 and be a bowl champion and continue to bring positive exposure to this program.”
UNT’s next chance — and its last chance in the regular season — will come Saturday in a game at Tulsa.
The Mean Green heads into that game in a three-way tie for second place in C-USA’s West Division with UTSA and Tulane. Rice is atop the standings at 6-1. Even if Rice loses its regular-season finale at home to Tulane and the Mean Green wins its game against Tulsa, UNT would lose any tiebreaker scenario.
Despite that reality, UNT’s players said they will be ready to go in their regular-season finale.
“We are going to be extremely hungry,” senior safety Marcus Trice said. “We are going to prepare like we always do, come out and execute, play fast and physical and get back to playing the style of Mean Green football that we play.”
McCarney has emphasized to his team that even though the Mean Green no longer has a chance to play in the C-USA title game, it still has a lot to play for the rest of the season.
A win over Tulsa would give UNT its highest win total since 2003, when the Mean Green went 9-4 and would also break the Golden Hurricane’s hold on the series.
Tulsa has beaten UNT 10 straight times since the Mean Green’s 42-16 win in 1969.
“Tulsa has had their way with North Texas through the years,” McCarney said. “I like to look at what has happened to try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Key players could return
UNT could have two key contributors back this week or for its bowl game.
Long snapper Blake Dunham and safety Freddie Warner have both been going through the rehab process and getting close to the point that they can return.
Warner broke his arm two days before the Mean Green’s season-opening win over Idaho, while Dunham suffered a lisfranc injury in his foot in a win over Ohio in the second week of the season.
Warner is scheduled to visit with UNT’s team doctors today to determine his status for Saturday’s game against Tulsa.
BRETT VITO can be reached 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.