Multiple times in his career, Mason Y’Barbo has been in pretty much the same situation he will face today when North Texas takes on national power Georgia.
And he won’t be the only one on UNT’s sideline who can say that.
Over the last few years, the Mean Green has hit the road to take on a laundry list of national powers, including LSU, Kansas State and Alabama.
Those games have never been easy, but they are opportunities players like Y’Barbo, a junior offensive lineman, and UNT coach Dan McCarney cherish.
They offer a chance to step outside of Conference USA, onto a national stage and into stadiums packed with nearly as many fans as UNT draws in a season. They also offer the Mean Green a chance to pull off what would be a huge upset.
“I will never forget playing against Bennie Logan from LSU and Dont’a Hightower from Alabama,” Y’Barbo said. “We have played in these games before. We have played against the big dogs.”
Ever since McCarney took over as UNT’s coach before the 2011 season, the goal heading into those games has been the same: knock off the big dog.
It’s a task the Mean Green has struggled with throughout program history. UNT is 1-43 against ranked opponents, with the one win coming in 1974 when the Mean Green stunned No. 20 San Diego State.
Those types of upsets have popped up across the country this fall. Eastern Washington beat No. 25 Oregon State, and North Dakota State upset Kansas State.
Seeing those upsets take place has given the Mean Green players a reason to go back to McCarney’s catch phrase he first uttered when he took over the program — “Why not North Texas?”
McCarney said he will approach today’s game like any other, firm in the belief that if his team plays well, it can win in a paycheck game.
UNT will pick up $975,000, the guarantee for today’s game.
“This Saturday is no different from last Saturday, no different from the following Saturday,” McCarney said. “We all want to win. If I held anything back, it would be a complete injustice to my coaches and my players. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”
UNT took that approach last season at No. 14 Kansas State and came up with one of its best all-around performances against a ranked team in years. The Mean Green trailed only 14-13 in the second half before the Wildcats pulled away for a 35-21 win.
Senior safety Marcus Trice played a key role in UNT challenging Kansas State, forcing a fumble and recovering it in addition to posting four tackles.
Trice credited UNT’s performance to the approach it took.
“You have to have an attitude in any game,” Trice said. “We have seen a lot of upsets. The teams that go into those games, have an attitude and are prepared and are the teams that pull them off.”
UNT believes it will be prepared for today’s game following a milestone 34-27 win over Ball State last week.
The Mean Green heads into today’s game with a 2-1 record — its best start through three games since returning to the Football Bowl Subdivision level in 1995.
“What we have to do is execute, follow our plan to win and do what we have to do against really proven players and a proven system — against a team that will go on and have a lot of success,” McCarney said.
Georgia (1-1) beat South Carolina two weeks ago and is coming off a bye.
With a showdown looming next week against LSU, the Bulldogs will be looking to build a little momentum against UNT, which looks at today’s game as a big opportunity.
“I am sure they are there licking their chops,” Georgia safety Connor Norman said. “They’ve got nothing to lose.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas Gameday
UNT AT NO. 9 GEORGIA
When: 11:21 a.m.
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Records: UNT 2-1, Georgia 1-1
Last meeting: None
Last week: UNT 34, Ball State 27;
Series: First meeting
TV: KTXA-TV (Ch. 21)
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU 88.1