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Football: Highlights of the Sun Belt Years

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

North Texas will reach the end of an era in the history of its football program this weekend when the Mean Green faces Western Kentucky.

That game against the Hilltoppers will be UNT’s last as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

It’s been a wild ride for UNT with plenty of ups and downs along the way.

UNT took the league by storm after joining in 2001, recovering from an 0-5 start, including a loss to Louisiana-Monroe in its conference opener, to win five straight games and the Sun Belt title.

UNT never looked back and went on one of the remarkable runs in the history of Mean Green football, winning 26 straight Sun Belt games and four conference titles before that streak ended with a loss to Troy in 2005.

UNT has yet to return to the levels of success it enjoyed early in its Sun Belt years and will finish its eighth straight losing season this week.

Despite that slump, UNT officials say the Sun Belt has been good for the program and the school, which will join Conference USA next season. UNT grew as a program and rapidly improved its facilities.

The opening of Apogee Stadium, UNT’s new $79 million venue, is the biggest development from the Sun Belt era.

The progress UNT made in the Sun Belt helped make that achievement possible. Today we look back at the best of the Sun Belt era.


Top team accomplishment:

The Sun Belt/New Orleans Bowl run

North Texas was remarkably consistent during its first four seasons in the Sun Belt, when the Mean Green went on its run as conference champions.

Winning four league titles in a row would have been impressive enough. The way UNT rolled to those championships with 25 straight wins made the era one of the best in school history.

The Mean Green bounced back from a loss on the road to Louisiana-Monroe to open Sun Belt play and went unbeaten in league play the rest of that season and three more years.

UNT won its last five conference games in 2001 and then went 6-0 in 2002, 7-0 in 2003 and 7-0 in 2004.

The Mean Green tacked on one more Sun Belt win to extend its streak to 26 when it opened the 2005 season with a 14-7 win over Middle Tennessee.

Some of the memorable wins in program history took place in that span.

UNT beat New Mexico State 22-20 in 2001, when Scott Hall connected with George Marshall for a touchdown with 18 seconds left after the Mean Green recovered a fumble to set up the “Miracle in the Desert.”

That game, a win at Middle Tennessee in 2001 and several others are what made the Sun Belt era memorable.


Offensive MVP:

Patrick Cobbs

No player made a bigger contribution to North Texas’ success during the Sun Belt era than Patrick Cobbs.

Cobbs was part of a two-back rotation with Kevin Galbreath in 2001 and 2002 and then won the national rushing title in 2003 with 1,680 yards.

Cobbs was the 2003 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year and helped tutor Jamario Thomas when he missed the 2004 season with a knee injury.

He came back to rush for 1,154 yards in 2005 and finished with 4,050 yards.

Honorable mention

•  RB Lance Dunbar — Three-time first-team All-Sun Belt pick, UNT’s all-time leading rusher with 4,224 yards

•  RB Jamario Thomas — Won the national rushing title in 2004 with 1,801 yards, had 3,496 career rushing yards

•  WR Johnny Quinn — UNT’s all-time leading receiver with 2,718 yards, led team in receiving four straight years

•  QB Scott Hall — In four seasons, he guided the Mean Green to three Sun Belt championships.


Defensive MVP:

Brandon Kennedy

Brandon Kennedy was one of the most disruptive forces to play for North Texas during the Sun Belt era.

Kennedy was the 2002 and 2003 Sun Belt Player of the Year. He posted a remarkable 24 tackles for loss in 2002 and came back to post 17 in 2003.

Kennedy was not only a great player, he also helped raise the profile of UNT’s program.

At 5-foot-10, Kennedy — better known as Booger — was undersized, but he had immense talent and a personality that made him a popular in the Sun Belt and beyond.

Honorable mention

•  LB Brad Kassell — The 2001 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year posted 12 tackles for loss in UNT’s first Sun Belt season

•  LB Chris Hurd — The 2003 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year

•  S Jonas Buckles — UNT’s only four-time All-Sun Belt selection, 11 career INTs

•  DE Jeremiah Chapman —Three-time All-Sun Belt selection, 15.5 career sacks

•  LB Craig Robertson — Led team in tackles twice


Landmark win:

2002 New Orleans Bowl

North Texas broke a long drought when it comes to bowl wins when it knocked off Cincinnati in the 2002 New Orleans Bowl.

Kevin Galbreath rushed for 130 yards to earn MVP honors and five UNT players intercepted passes in a 24-19 victory.

The win was UNT’s first in a bowl game since the Mean Green beat Pacific in the 1946 Optimist Bowl.


Sun Belt era year-by-year review


Record: 5-7

SBC: 5-1

Finish: T-first

Top player: LB Brad Kassell, SBC Defensive Player of the Year (12 tackles for loss)


Record: 8-5

SBC: 6-0

Finish: First

Top player: DL Brandon Kennedy, SBC Player of the Year (24 tackles for loss)


Record: 9-4

SBC: 7-0

Finish: First

Top player: DL Brandon Kennedy, SBC Player of the Year (17 tackles for loss)


Record: 7-5

SBC: 7-0

Finish: First

Top player: RB Jamario Thomas, SBC Player of the Year (1,801 rushing yards)


Record: 2-9

SBC: 2-5

Finish: Eighth

Top player: RB Patrick Cobbs, first-team All-SBC (1,154 rushing yards, six rushing TDs)


Record: 3-9

SBC: 2-5

Finish: Seventh

Top player: WR Johnny Quinn, first-team All-SBC (57 receptions, 633 yards, four TDs)


Record: 2-10

SBC: 1-6

Finish: Seventh

Top player: WR Casey Fitzgerald, first-team All-SBC (111 receptions, 1,322 yards)


Record: 1-11

SBC: 0-7

Finish: Eighth

Top player: WR Casey Fitzgerald, first-team All-SBC (113 receptions, 1,119 yards)


Record: 2-10

SBC: 1-7

Finish: Eighth

Top player: RB Lance Dunbar, first-team All-SBC (1,378 rushing yards, 17 rushing TDs)


Record: 3-9

SBC: 3-6

Finish: Tied, sixth

Top player: RB Lance Dunbar, first-team All-SBC (1,553 rushing yards, 13 rushing TDs)


Record: 5-7

SBC: 4-4

Finish: Fifth

Top player: RB Lance Dunbar, first-team All-SBC (1,115 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs)


Record: 4-7

SBC: 3-4

Finish: TBD

Top player: LB Zach Orr is tied for second in the SBC with 101 tackles *Year to date