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Two of a kind: UNT's Littrell, Troy's Brown share common background, philosophy

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — In some ways, North Texas and Troy are mirror images heading into their showdown in today's New Orleans Bowl.

They both lean on wide-open, spread offenses and are in the midst of historic seasons.

And perhaps most important of all, they're guided by young offensive-minded coaches looking to add to their resumes and those of their teams on the opening day of college bowl season.

For UNT, it's Seth Littrell leading the way. For Troy, it's Neal Brown.

Those coaches have a whole lot more in common than the positions they hold.

Littrell played for and coached with Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech head coach who has Washington State on the rise. Brown worked as an assistant under Leach at Tech.

Littrell is 39. Brown is 37.

Both have worked as offensive coordinators. Littrell served in that capacity at North Carolina, Indiana and Arizona, while Brown guided offenses at Troy, Texas Tech and Kentucky.

That common background is the big reason the coaches who will face off today have similar philosophies and approaches on the field -- not to mention a friendship away from it.

"Both of us have been around a lot of the same people," Brown said. "We have gotten together a lot in our careers to talk about offensive football. It makes it exciting to play one of my better friends in the coaching profession."

Having the two old friends on the same field could make for a thrilling shootout in the Superdome.

UNT enters the New Orleans Bowl averaging 35.9 points per game, the Mean Green's highest total since 1951. UNT's offensive production under Littrell is the big reason UNT (9-4) is playing in its second straight bowl game and has a chance to win 10 games in a season for the first time since 1977.

Mason Fine has set UNT records for passing yards (3,749) and passing touchdowns (28) in a season while spreading the ball around to a host of receivers, including four who have at least 500 receiving yards on the year.

UNT's players attribute their success largely to Littrell.

"Littrell comes with something new every day," wide receiver Michael Lawrence said. "It's fun to play for him and be out there with him and [UNT offensive coordinator Graham Harrell]. It's crazy the things they see out there. You can pick up on something new every day."

Troy's players had similar things to say about Brown, who has helped the Trojans (10-2) get on a roll of their own the past two seasons.

Troy already has reached one milestone by reaching a bowl game for the second straight season. The Trojans will be looking for another in the form of a second straight bowl win.

Troy beat Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl at the end of the 2016 season.

"His discipline and work ethic has made him successful," Troy running back Josh Anderson said of Brown. "When he got here, he had a plan to make us successful. He had commitment and a drive to see us be successful."

Anderson and his teammates attributed Brown's success largely to his personality as a young, hungry coach.

"We relate to him," Troy quarterback Brandon Silver said. "Practice used to be dead. Now we play music that we like. He knows what we like to listen to. There is always music playing in the locker room."

UNT's players have similar feelings about Littrell, who injected new life into the Mean Green's program and brought a fresh perspective.

Littrell took over for an older coach in Dan McCarney. Brown took over for a Troy legend in Larry Blakeney after he retired in 2014.

"We love playing for Littrell," UNT defensive end LaDarius Hamilton said. "It's easier with someone closer to your age. He can relate to some of the things we are interested in."

Littrell and his players attribute their success this season largely to the chemistry they have developed.

UNT has been able to work out of some tight spots and win a series of close games.

Littrell named the Mean Green's comeback win against Texas-San Antonio as the defining point in the season. UNT made a late stop, forced a punt and then drove 98 yards in the final 1:07 to pull out a 29-26 win.

UNT also pulled out wins late against UAB, Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech and Army.

Littrell attributed UNT's success in those games largely to chemistry.

"The biggest difference is culture, being in the system and the relationships we have developed," Littrell said. "That has been the key to our success. This team is extremely tight and has good chemistry. That has helped us win a lot of close games. There was no finger pointing. We believe in each other and find a way to win."

UNT will look to do just that one more time this season today in the New Orleans Bowl against Troy, a team that has built a similar culture under Brown.

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

FEATURED PHOTO: North Texas coach Seth Littrell talks with fans after a game at Apogee Stadium earlier this season. Littrell and Troy coach Neal Brown share a similar background and philosophy. They will face off in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday.