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New Year's resolutions for the UNT athletic department

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

We are now only hours away from entering a new year. College athletics runs through a bit of a different cycle, one that coincides with the school year.

But for the purposes of this exercise, let's take a look at some resolutions UNT should make heading into 2018, both for individual programs and for the department as a whole.

Before we get to our list, a quick point -- 2017 was a terrific time for Mean Green athletics.

UNT won nine games in football and earned a bowl berth for a second straight season. The school also finally fired men's basketball coach Tony Benford and replaced him with Grant McCasland. The former Arkansas State head coach seems to have UNT on the right track.

UNT is 9-6 on the season and 2-0 in Conference USA play. UNT went 8-22 overall and 2-16 in conference play last year.

The Mean Green women's basketball team is also off to a terrific start at 9-3 heading into C-USA play and is on course to snap a string of 11 consecutive losing seasons under Jalie Mitchell.

The challenge for UNT athletics now is to keep the momentum going. Here are some thoughts on a few New Year's resolutions that would go a long way toward helping the Mean Green do just that.

1. Capitalize on momentum as an athletic department

One of the bigger regrets among longtime UNT fans is that the program has been in a similar spot to where it is now -- at least as far as football goes -- several years ago.

UNT won four straight Sun Belt Conference titles from 2001-04, won the 2002 edition of the game, hammered Baylor at home in 2003 and generally seemed to be headed in the right direction.

And just like that, the momentum was gone. There were a host of reasons why. The death of quarterback Andrew Smith was a huge blow, as was Joey Byerly being ineligible. Recruiting didn't pick up enough to maintain the momentum.

UNT  opened the Mean Green Athletic Center in 2004, which helped quite a bit, but one looks back and wonders if there was anything else that could have been done to avoid the huge downturn that started in 2005. The Mean Green made a disastrous hire in football that resulted in the infamous Todd Dodge Fiasco and didn't come out of its funk until Dan McCarney led UNT to the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl.

There is little doubt that Seth Littrell will do everything he can to keep UNT moving in the right direction. The Mean Green are having more success in recruiting than they have in years. 

What UNT's athletic department has to examine is what it can do to keep things moving in the right direction. There are plans in place to build a new indoor practice facility and continue renovating the Mean Green Athletic Center.

That will help. It will help a lot, but is there anything  else that needs to be done?

UNT must also be prepared in case 2018 is Littrell's last season with the Mean Green. The success that he has had in taking a 1-11 team and guiding it to a five-win season and a nine-win campaign won't go unnoticed. 

UNT has played in bowl games in each of the last two seasons and won the C-USA West Division title this season.

If Littrell gets plucked away, UNT will have to be prepared to act. 

UNT can't afford to let the momentum it has now get away.

2. Finish off what appears to be a good recruiting class in football

UNT has always been a  tough sell in football recruiting, despite the improvements the school has made in terms of facilities over the years. The success UNT has enjoyed the last two years appears to be helping turn the tide.

UNT is currently sitting sixth in 247Sports rankings of the top recruiting classes in C-USA.

The Mean Green have landed a series of impressive commitments, including Ennis safety/linebacker Kevyon Davis, Grand Prairie safety Reggie Williams and Alief Hastings wide receiver Austin Ogunmakin. All are three-star prospects.

The key now for UNT is finishing on a high note with the last few scholarships it has available. Meeting that resolution will go a long way toward setting the program up for extended success.

3. Win a championship game in football

One comment quarterback Mason Fine made in UNT's post game press conference following the New Orleans Bowl stuck with me.

Fine talked about how the Mean Green are 0-3 in championship games. I never really thought about it that way, but UNT did fall to Army in last season's Heart of Dallas Bowl in addition to losing to Troy this season's New Orleans Bowl. Florida Atlantic took out the Mean Green in the C-USA title game. 

The next step for UNT is winning one of those key games.

4. Post winning seasons in men's and women's basketball

UNT is well on its way to posting winning seasons in men's and women's basketball and will look to finish the deal in C-USA play.

The UNT men are already 2-0 in league play. The UNT women will open C-USA play on Wednesday at Louisiana Tech. 

The Mean Green men are riding a string of five straight seasons without finishing over .500, all under Benford. The UNT women's streak dates all the way back to the 2005-06 season.

5. Continue success in Olympic sports

UNT has been consistently successful in a host of Olympic sports over the years.

The Mean Green soccer team played in the NCAA tournament this year, its fifth appearance all-time.

UNT's volleyball team won the C-USA regular season title and won its first postseason game ever in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, where the Mean Green toppled Oral Roberts.

The UNT tennis team also advanced to the C-USA semifinals.

Maintaining that success would go a long way to helping UNT's program overall.