There will be something awfully familiar for North Texas on Saturday when the Mean Green take on Army.
UNT faced the Black Knights twice last fall — once in the regular season and again in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
They'll be back at it at Apogee Stadium in the third game between the teams in the span of just 393 days.
College football teams playing each other three times in that short of a time span is rare, let alone programs located in cities 1,600 miles apart.
UNT won the first of those games, a 35-18 stunner at West Point, last fall before the Black Knights came back to beat the Mean Green when it really mattered, pulling out a 38-31 overtime win in the bowl.
Jordan Asberry scored on fourth-and-goal from the 3 to give Army the lead. UNT failed to answer on its overtime possession in one of the more thrilling bowl games of the 2016 season.
"They took something big from us, something we worked for all season," UNT running back Jeffery Wilson said of a bowl championship. "We have been waiting for this game."
The fact that UNT turned around and canceled games against Army in 2018 and 2019 just weeks after the Heart of Dallas Bowl only adds to the intrigue surrounding the rematch.
UNT added Liberty to its schedule instead, a switch that athletic director Wren Baker said the Mean Green made for the good of the program.
"The Army series is difficult on your team," Baker said at the time. "Every defensive coach in the country would tell you preparing for the triple option gets you out of your regular plan. Then you have to adjust the next week and go back to what you regularly do. You also tend to rack up some injuries. We like playing Army, but we felt we could get more out of playing other teams."
Some UNT fans were upset that the school backed out of a series that gives the program national exposure, not to mention lures large crowds Apogee Stadium.
Two of the top 10 home crowds in UNT history were for games against a service academy. The 23,647 fans who turned out for the Mean Green's 17-13 loss to Army in 2009 ranks as the 10th-largest crowd in program history.
The 2009 meeting that pitted a 2-8 UNT team against an Army squad that was 4-6 doesn't hold nearly the interest of this weekend's rematch.
Army (8-2) has won six straight and became the first team in the country to accept a bowl bid when it locked up its spot in the Armed Forces Bowl by beating Temple on Oct. 21.
UNT (7-3) wrapped up the Conference USA West Division title last week with a win over UTEP and will play in a bowl, although the Mean Green have yet to accept an invitation.
Both teams have bigger games ahead than this weekend's matchup. UNT has the C-USA title game Dec. 2, while Army has its annual game against Navy coming up Dec. 9.
"You have to put the conference stuff on hold, take a championship off our minds and focus on a different mission," UNT coach Seth Littrell said. "We want to be undefeated at home. We have a lot to play for."
UNT's coaches and players say they will have a distinct advantage as they look to finish 6-0 at Apogee because they have faced Army twice in a little more than a year.
The Black Knights run the triple option, an offense that is almost extinct in college football and can be tough to prepare for.
"It helps a lot to have faced them," UNT safety Kishawn McClain said. "We are not going into something we have never seen. We faced them twice last year. They will have new wrinkles this time, but they don't change much with what they do."
Army will be just as familiar with UNT and its spread offense that features several standout skill-position players.
That could help Army prepare for the Mean Green, who gave the Black Knights fits last season. Wilson rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries in the regular-season meeting, while quarterback Alec Morris threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the bowl.
"We have some guys in skill positions that I think run really well, but collectively the speed of their team is different," Army coach Jeff Monken said of UNT. "They may be as fast a team that we've played all year, including Ohio State."
Army was just as impressive offensively in its win over UNT. The Black Knights rushed for 480 yards in the bowl. None of those yards hurt more than the last three that Asberry picked up on fourth-and-goal in overtime to give Army the win.
"It was a tough loss," McClain said. "We fought to win a bowl and let it get away from us. We have a chip on our shoulder."
FEATURED PHOTO: The North Texas football team prepares to run on to the field at the Cotton Bowl before its game against Army during the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season. UNT and Army will face off for the third time in the last two seasons on Saturday at Apogee Stadium. (Jeff Woo/DRC)
A tale of two games
North Texas and Army will face off for the third time since last October on Saturday at Apogee Stadium. Here is a look at the two games the teams played last season. UNT won 35-18 in the regular season before Army came back to win the Heart of Dallas Bowl 38-31 in overtime:
|Game||Rushing yards||Passing yards||Turnovers|
|UNT 35, Army 18||202||302||118||94||1||7|
|Army 38, UNT 31 (OT)||96||480||314||53||2||1|