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Associated Press

Football: ‘It’s finally here’

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

UNT takes part in first Conference USA media day

IRVING — Zach Orr thought a lot about North Texas’ move to Conference USA since it was officially announced in May.

Pondering the switch from the Sun Belt and what it might mean for the Mean Green was exciting.

But the real thrill for the senior linebacker — at least until UNT kicks off it first year in the league with a nonconference game against Idaho on Aug. 31 — came Wednesday during C-USA media day in Irving.

A few of the top players in the conference, not to mention all 14 head coaches who will guide teams in the league this year, were there to represent their schools.

Just being selected to attend was exciting for Orr, who could see right away that UNT belonged.

“It feels like it’s finally arrived,” Orr said. “We are at media day with the posters of the 14 teams, and the North Texas Mean Green is on there. It’s finally here. From now on it’s Conference USA.”

UNT will join Texas schools Rice, UTEP and Texas-San Antonio in the realigned league.

UNT spent the previous 12 years as the lone Texas team in the Sun Belt, rendering the Mean Green an afterthought at times in its own football-crazed state.

UNT coach Dan McCarney and Orr were thrilled just to think about playing a few in-state rivals. Preparations for this debut campaign have been ongoing for months and will really crank up when UNT opens fall practice Aug. 5.

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” McCarney said. “This league has great respect around the country because of what teams in the league have done in recent years. There have been some tremendous seasons, great in-conference wins, great out-of-conference wins and bowl wins.”

C-USA went 4-1 in the bowl season last year.

There’s also plenty to like in terms of what C-USA can provide for the Mean Green. UNT willl have eight games on television this year, highlighted by a game against Rice that is scheduled for a national broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

The hope on campus is that UNT will capitalize on the opportunities a move to C-USA provides by continuing the improvement the Mean Green has shown in two seasons under McCarney.

UNT is coming off a 4-8 finish in McCarney’s second season and narrowly missed hitting the .500 mark in his first year, finishing 5-7.

UNT won just eight games combined in the four years before McCarney arrived in Denton.

UNT will look to improve on that total and qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2004 this fall, when the Mean Green will open up its first season in C-USA as an underdog.

UNT was picked fifth in C-USA’s West Division in the league’s preseason coaches poll released last week. The Mean Green also was passed over on the preseason all-conference team, as it didn’t have a UNT representative among the 28 selected.

Orr said the snub could provide a little motivation, even though he and McCarney said they don’t put a lot of stock in preseason projections.

“It didn’t surprise us,” Orr said. “I won’t say that it isn’t going to be in the backs of our minds. We have to go out and prove ourselves. We still have to go out there and play the games. What matters is what your record is at the end of the year.”

The fact that UNT will have a chance to prove it is a better team than it is getting credit for as a member of C-USA — and on a decidedly higher level in the landscape of college football — just makes the opportunity all the more exciting.

“When you hear from friends about the respect this conference has as much as I have, it makes you feel good about the opportunity,” McCarney said.

That chance is one Orr thought a lot about both before and after he represented UNT during its unofficial introduction to C-USA.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.