Up until this year, Dan McCarney followed the same pattern when it comes to setting goals for a team during his tenure as a head coach, whether it was at Iowa State or now North Texas.
McCarney would watch his team in the spring, sit down with his players and then establish a host of goals for the following year. Some years he laid out as many as a dozen.
He named just one last spring — win six games.
That goal eventually transformed into the phrase “Hit-Six,” which became something of a battle cry for the Mean Green.
Following UNT’s win over Rice last Thursday night, the Mean Green encountered a new dilemma. The Mean Green hit the six-win mark by rallying for a 28-16 win over the Owls.
McCarney said he narrowed UNT’s focus to the six-win milestone largely because the Mean Green hadn’t reached the mark since 2004 and needed to get there to allow a group of key seniors to experience their first bowl game. He just hoped UNT would reach that point early enough in the year for the Mean Green to still have games to play and new goals to reach after ending a string of eight straight losing seasons.
The new goal for UNT (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) is simpler heading into Saturday’s home game against UTEP and doesn’t have a catchy phrase involved. It’s to win seven and then eight and keep extending what is now a four-game winning streak.
“The new goal is to hit seven this week,” McCarney said. “If we can get to seven, we will go on from there. There was a lot put into that goal that we hit last week. We shocked some people and surprised others. It didn’t shock me. I hoped that we would get to six and still have a lot to play for on the back end of hitting six. That is where we are at.”
UNT’s coaches and players are emphasizing that while six wins makes the Mean Green bowl-eligible, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a bowl berth. UNT believes that seven wins will all but ensure that elusive bowl game, which makes winning at least one more game all the more important.
“It’s huge,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said of winning a sixth game. “It’s been nine years since we have won six. It was a pretty emotional win Thursday night against an in-state rival. Rice is a good team. We didn’t walk over them. Rice is a good team with pride in their program. To do that in front of our fans was big.”
McCarney believes that if UNT can build on that win and keep rolling, it will become particularly attractive for bowl officials looking for teams. UNT hasn’t played in a bowl game since playing in four straight New Orleans Bowls, the last of them coming in 2004.
UNT’s fans haven’t seen the Mean Green in a bowl game since and would be enthusiastic about going just about anywhere as opposed to fans of teams that have been in bowl games regularly over the last few years.
“We will crawl to a bowl game,” McCarney said. “I will get on a bike and ride there, although I may have trouble getting to Hawaii.”
Brown, Prior could return Saturday
UNT could have two players who were expected to play key roles this season back from injuries that have kept them out most of the season.
Defensive end Quenton Brown, a junior transfer from Eastern Arizona Community College, is on the verge of returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, an injury he suffered during spring practice.
UNT could also have tight end Daniel Prior back from an ankle injury that has kept him out of the lineup most of the season.
“If they have good practices and can help us win a game, then we will use them,” McCarney said. “If they can’t, then we won’t play them. I can’t tell you right now if it will be 10 snaps, 20 snaps, 30 snaps. I want to watch them practice, but I’ve gotten a green light from the doctors and trainers and that is a great thing.
“We didn’t know if we would get Prior back at all, and Brown had a major injury in the spring and has worked his tail off to get back and be a part of it.”
Brown was expected to make an immediate impact in his first season with the Mean Green after he posted 12 sacks as a sophomore at Eastern Arizona.
Prior was expected to contribute as a tight end/utility back this season after missing all of last year with a shoulder injury.
Chancellor earns C-USA weekly honor
Brelan Chancellor was named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday following his performance in UNT’s win over Rice.
Chancellor played a key role in a second-quarter surge after UNT had fallen behind 16-7. Antoinne Jimmerson scored on a 42-yard run before Rice went three-and-out and punted to Chancellor, who returned the kick 65 yards for a touchdown that put UNT up for good.
UNT had gone 104 games without a punt return for a touchdown before Chancellor scored against the Owls.
The senior finished with three returns for 84 yards and one kickoff return for 26 yards in addition to 23 receiving yards. Chancellor leads the nation in punt return average (21.1) and is the only Conference USA player with both a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown this year.
“What an outstanding senior year he is having,” McCarney said. “He does it all the time, every time. Even when he calls for a fair catch, he is fun to watch out there catching punts. He’s doing a great job.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.