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Brett Vito: UNT again can’t capitalize on opportunity

Dan McCarney talked a lot about change in the days leading up to North Texas’ season opener two weeks ago now.

And UNT’s head coach wasn’t the only one.

Players and school officials hinted at this year being the beginning of something new for UNT, which switched everything from conferences to uniforms, well at least for one game, in its 100th anniversary season.

In the end, that was the toughest aspect of the way UNT’s game against Ohio unfolded late Saturday night.

UNT had a chance to show that it is indeed a new era, and let it slip away in a 27-21 loss that had an all-too-familiar feel for the Mean Green.

UNT had an opportunity to knock off a nationally respected opponent late in the second half, had a shot to win back-to-back games for the first time since 2004 and couldn’t capitalize — again.

The Mean Green is now 0-23 in games following a win in the last nine seasons.

“We are really close and are closing the gap on some really fine programs, but we won’t accept it,” McCarney said following the loss. “It’s not OK to lose. It’s a horrible feeling.”

The situation made that feeling even worse for the Mean Green.

UNT is desperate to show the program isn’t what it has been for the past several years. The 10 wins UNT has posted over its past 26 games, including a 40-6 shellacking of Idaho to open the season, show that the Mean Green is improving.

UNT is just working its way out of a really dark era in its history.

To finish that climb, UNT will ultimately have to get to a bowl game and end its string of eight straight losing seasons. There are some intermediary steps to that long-term goal, perhaps none bigger than reaching milestones that will garner the Mean Green the attention it rarely receives.

Beating Ohio and winning back-to-back games would have fit the bill.

“It was tough because games like this are what you look forward to,” UNT wide receiver Darnell Smith said late Saturday night.

Smith talked about the opportunity to make big plays in key games. He made several while catching a career-high nine passes.

It just wasn’t enough to help UNT capitalize on a monumental opportunity.

The path to six wins and a potential bowl berth would have been a lot easier to see if UNT had knocked off Ohio.

That path is still there with UNT sitting at 1-1. C-USA isn’t exactly tearing through the college football world. Tulane was the latest school in the league to suffer a somewhat embarrassing loss, falling to South Alabama, a relative newbie in the Sun Belt, the league UNT left to make the jump up to C-USA.

UNT will face Tulane in its league opener in a few weeks and has a host of winnable games still on the schedule.

UNT will have plenty of opportunities to “Hit 6,” the catchy slogan the Mean Green hatched to represent its goal of at least breaking even and becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.

To get there, UNT is going to have to win some games it’s not supposed to win.

Beating Ohio certainly would have qualified, and it would have finally put to rest the question of why UNT can’t string together wins, one that had to be brought up again Saturday night.

“It’s always disappointing when you can’t get a win,” UNT safety Marcus Trice said. “It doesn’t matter if it is one, two or three in a row.”

In the end, Trice is right. The reasons why UNT hasn’t strung together wins in almost a decade isn’t really all that important.

UNT just needs to find a way to get it done so it will have something to point to that would support the idea that this isn’t the same old Mean Green. A win over Ohio would have served the same purpose.

“That team knows how to win and has won a lot of games in recent years,” McCarney said of Ohio. “You can see those flags out there from winning championships and bowls. That is what we are fighting, scratching and clawing to become.”

UNT has come closer to becoming that kind of program, at least in comparison to where it was a few years ago.

The Mean Green is desperate to take the next step toward that goal, and almost as importantly, convince more people that this is indeed a new era for UNT.

The Mean Green had a chance to pick up a win that would have served both purposes on Saturday night only to see the opportunity slip away.

For UNT, that might have been the most disappointing aspect of it all.

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