North Texas has spent its third season under Dan McCarney busting a series of slumps.
UNT put together back-to-back wins for the first time since 2004 when it beat Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech in October before a win over UTEP three weeks ago ensured assured the Mean Green of finishing with a winning record for the first time in nine years.
UNT can snap another one of those baffling streaks today when it closes the regular season at Tulsa, a longtime regional rival that has beaten the Mean Green 10 straight times.
That’s a long losing streak no matter how one looks at it, but it is particularly enduring considering the on-again, off-again nature of the series.
UNT (7-4, 5-2 Conference USA) hasn’t beaten Tulsa (3-8, 2-5) since 1969, long before any of the Mean Green’s players — not to mention a sizable chunk of its fans — were born.
“They have dominated North Texas, including two years ago when they kicked our butts really good,” McCarney said.
That loss is one that has stuck with several of UNT’s veterans who played in that 2011 game and one who didn’t.
UNT was coming off a huge nonconference win over Indiana behind Derek Thompson, who threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns in McCarney’s first win with the Mean Green in its fourth game of the season.
Thompson injured his foot in the week leading up to the Tulsa game. UNT didn’t announce that he had been ruled out until just before kickoff, started backup Andrew McNulty and lost 41-24.
“We tried to hide it as long as we could,” Thompson said of the fact that he wouldn’t be able to play that day.
UNT didn’t stand much of a chance against Tulsa without its starting quarterback, adding to what generally has been a miserable experience for the Mean Green when it comes to games against the Golden Hurricane.
UNT was 1-0 and coming off its fourth straight Sun Belt Conference title when it hosted Tulsa in 2005. The Mean Green jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a safety when Tulsa couldn’t get off a punt from deep in its own end.
Tulsa went on to score 54 straight in a 54-2 win.
Most of the other games in the series have been a lot closer than that, but there is little doubt that Tulsa has dominated.
At the beginning of this season, it appeared as if Tulsa would be favored to continue that streak on its way to a bowl.
The Golden Hurricane was picked to win Conference USA’s West Division in the preseason coaches poll, while UNT was slated to finish fifth and didn’t look like it would be breaking many of what McCarney likes to call the Mean Green’s negative streaks.
The tide has turned in dramatic fashion heading into today’s game.
UNT has exceeded expectations and is planning on heading to a bowl, despite a tough outing in its last game, a 21-13 loss to Texas-San Antonio that snapped a five-game winning streak.
“We handled it the right way,” UNT safety Marcus Trice said. “We are a senior team that always bounces back from adversity.”
Trice said UNT also is a team that is particularly hungry heading into its regular-season finale. UNT’s loss to the Roadrunners not only came in the final home game for the team’s seniors, it also eliminated the Mean Green from contention for the West title.
McCarney and his players talked about their desire to build momentum heading into the bowl season in addition to breaking their slide against Tulsa.
That could be tougher than it appears for UNT, despite the Golden Hurricane’s struggles.
Tulsa beat Louisiana Tech last week to snap a four-game losing streak and led C-USA power Marshall the previous week before the Thundering Herd scored twice in the final four minutes to pull out a come-from-behind win.
UNT likely will see Tulsa’s best in its final game of a disappointing season.
“They are getting better — there is no doubt about it,” McCarney said. “[Tulsa head coach] Bill Blakenship has never lost his team. That is the mark of a good coach and a mark of really good character in a program. Despite the losses, setbacks and disappointments, they just keep getting better. You see it on tape.”