North Texas is in uncharted territory for most of its players this week, as the days dwindle before the Mean Green kicks off against UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
UNT has a handful of players who transferred from other schools and have been on the rosters of teams that played in bowl games, including safety Marcus Trice and defensive end Quenton Brown.
The rest of the Mean Green’s players are new to the bowl scene, which has made the experience of UNT’s coaching staff all the more important.
Head coach Dan McCarney led Iowa State to five bowl games in six seasons beginning in 2000 in his first stint as a head coach and will be coaching in his 21st bowl this week.
UNT’s assistants have plenty of experience in the bowl season as well.
The combination could pay dividends for UNT, which will play in its first bowl game since the 2004 New Orleans Bowl on Wednesday.
“With all the bowl games we have been to as a staff, the players have to follow our lead in this thing,” McCarney said. “What we are doing out here within the plan is great. I love the way they are practicing now. I haven’t been disappointed with one day.”
McCarney has emphasized to the Mean Green that there is a big difference between being a bowl participant and a bowl champion. UNT has played in seven bowl games in its history and won two of them.
UNT beat Pacific 14-13 in the 1946 Optimist Bowl and knocked off Cincinnati 24-19 in the 2002 New Orleans Bowl.
Brown started his career at Central Florida and is one of the few players on UNT’s roster who has practiced past the end of the regular season. UCF beat Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl in his redshirt freshman season.
Current UNT defensive coordinator John Skladany was UCF’s defensive coordinator that season.
“He had the same mindset now as he did then,” Brown said. “We just have to go out there and kick their butts as best we can.”
UNT’s players are confident the Mean Green’s staff will put them in a position to successfully cap a breakout season.
UNT won five straight games starting with a win over Middle Tennessee in the sixth week of the season and dropped rival Tulsa in its regular-season finale to improve to 8-4.
“We did exceed expectations, but we are still hungry and still have one more game,” UNT running back Brandin Byrd said. “We are never satisfied.”
That is the attitude UNT has tried to establish as it enters unfamiliar postseason territory.
“The players have responded to every plan and every challenge that we have laid out all season,” McCarney said. “There is a spirit, a competitiveness and a hunger.”
There also is a sense among UNT’s players that they have a coach in McCarney guiding them down a path that will put the Mean Green in position to win its first bowl game since 2002.
“Having a staff that is on the up and up on what is going on and how things need to be planned and what is going to [happen] is critical,” Brown said. “When you have coaches with experience, it helps.”