Dallas Colleges: North Texas Mean Green
In a matchup between two programs that haven't been bowling in a while, North Texas came away with an impressive 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Wednesday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl. Let's take a look at how it all went down:
It was over when: North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson dropped a dime over the head of UNLV defensive back Kenneth Penny and safely into the hands of receiver Darnell Smith for a picturesque 34-yard touchdown pass to give the Mean Green a 28-7 lead with 6:59 left in the game. The Rebels scored another touchdown, but the way the Mean Green were playing on D, they weren't going to relinquish that kind of lead.
Game ball goes to: The Mean Green defense. It constantly pressured UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring, sacking him six times. The Mean Green shut down the Rebels' running game, holding it to just 66 yards. After a 9-yard touchdown pass from Herring to Marcus Sullivan in the first quarter, the Rebels were quiet on offense the rest of the way.
Stat of the game: North Texas held UNLV to a minuscule 2.4 yards per carry rushing. Any time a defense does that, it helps keep the opposing offense in difficult down-and-distance situations and aids the defense's overall strong effort. The Mean Green were able to pin their ears back and relentlessly rush Herring with the running game not being much of a factor.
Unsung hero of the game: Not really unsung, but definitely game-ball worthy is North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson. The senior played through a knee injury and finished 21-of-30 for 256 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Mean Green offense. It was a gutsy performance by the veteran quarterback.
What it means: This is a huge win for North Texas. It marks the Mean Green's third bowl win in school history and first since 2002. It had been a while since they've even been to a bowl game (2004 was their last trip) but Dan McCarney and Co. appear to be headed in the right direction. After finishing 4-8 a year ago, finishing 9-4 this season is a nice turnaround for the Mean Green.
To watch the trophy presentation, click here.
You can't blame them. North Texas hadn't won a bowl game since 2002. But on Wednesday, after struggling to get going in the first half, the Mean Green dominated the second half in a 36-14 win over UNLV.
Wednesday was one of those rare opportunities afforded a school like North Texas. With Dallas-Fort Worth area rivals SMU and TCU sitting at home for the bowl season, the Mean Green went 8-4 (6-2 in Conference USA) and happily accepted an invitation to stay close to home for bowl season and play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl.
North Texas made sure to take advantage of the spotlight.
"We sent a message today," head coach Dan McCarney said, following his team's ninth win of the season. "I think this is a program that is clearly on the rise. We'll miss the seniors, but the example these seniors set is important for us going forward."
While the Heart of Dallas isn't one of the bigger bowls of the postseason, it's still a New Year's Day game on ESPNU at the Cotton Bowl, a stadium with a rich tradition. And North Texas showcased its program while others around them weren't able to do so.
What fans and prospective recruits saw was a defense that swarmed to the football and an offense that capitalized on big plays in the second half. North Texas showed flash with senior Brelan Chancellor rushing for two touchdowns, but also catching six passes for 74 yards. Senior quarterback Derek Thompson was impressive, throwing for 256 yards on 21-of-30 passing with two TDs.
After the game, coach Dan McCarney made sure his team and fans understood the importance of the victory, saying half a dozen times into a microphone: "Bowl champions."
As the season was ending, McCarney asked his team which of the bowl options interested them the most. He figured they'd want to go to Hawaii. But his players wanted to stay close to home, where their family and friends could see them play in the school's first bowl game since 2004.
UNT came in as the favorite and, after a sputtering effort in the first half, got things together and took control in the final two quarters. The defense didn't allow UNLV to do much and sealed the win with a late interception. And the result was the school's first postseason win since beating Cincinnati in the New Orleans Bowl under coach Darrell Dickey in 2002.
"I'm proud of this group," McCarney said. "Our 22 seniors showed integrity and loyalty and once again today we found a way to win a ballgame."
McCarney hopes it's the beginning of many more bowl appearances.
North Texas and UNLV each haven't been to a bowl game in years, and both struggled in 2012, but both are back in the postseason and they'll meet today in the Heart of Dallas Bowl presented by PlainsCapital Bank (ESPNU, noon ET).
Here's a quick preview of the game:
Who to watch: UNLV senior quarterback Caleb Herring has thrown for 2,522 yards while posting a nice touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22-to-4. Rebels running back Tim Cornett possesses a lot of ability and has shown it by compiling 1,251 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Devante Davis has hauled in 77 passes for 1,194 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Rebels. On special teams, keep an eye on North Texas' Brelan Chancellor, who won the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year and is one of the top return specialists in the country.
What to watch: Don't leave your seat when the special teams are on the field. North Texas has scored five touchdowns on special teams, tied for the most in the FBS. Three of those have been the result of blocked punts. Offensively, the Mean Green have scored 378 points, second most in school history (they're averaging 31.5 points per game). UNLV has a quality offensive attack with Herring, Cornett and Davis leading the way and will be tested against a North Texas defense that allows only 355.5 yards per game (27th nationally). Meanwhile, the UNLV defense needs to play better, after allowing 31.5 points per game during the regular season.
Why to watch: Who knows when you'll see these teams in a bowl game again? It has been a long drought for both programs. The last time UNLV played in a bowl game was 2000. For North Texas, that drought goes back to 2004. Both are enjoying nice turnarounds, also. UNLV was 2-11 last season and has seen a five-game improvement to 7-5; while the Mean Green were 4-8 last year but have flipped that to 8-4. Both programs appear to be on the upswing under their respective coaches, Bobby Hauck at UNLV and Dan McCarney at North Texas.
Prediction: North Texas 30, UNLV 27. North Texas gets somewhat of a home-field edge based on location, with the game at the historic Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which isn't far from the Mean Green's home of Denton, Texas. They also have the better defense of the two squads, but the offensive skill players that UNLV offers will present the Mean Green a significant challenge. Still, I'll go with North Texas pulling out a close one.
He was coaching in the ACC and was doing a solid job at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were 20-14 last season, only the second 20-win campaign in school history. And when Petersen got there, they weren't a winning program.
That's been Petersen's pattern. He goes to schools that he believes have the necessary ingredients for success, but just haven't gotten there in a while. When he came to TCU in 1996, the program was one of the worst in Division I. In four years, he got things going in the right direction and posted a winning record in his final season. The Lady Frogs hadn't done that in 17 years.
He replaces Karen Aston, who left after one season for Texas. She was 15-16 for the Mean Green.
"I just thought that it looked to me like all of the pieces are here to build something really good," Petersen said about UNT. "That’s what I do. Some people look at places where they haven't had winning seasons in a while and want to stay away. I look at it and think of the potential there. Some places have it and others don’t."
He believes UNT has it. The program does have a history of winning seasons, just not recently.
I was a student at TCU for Petersen's first two seasons and broadcasted the women's basketball games. I watched many blowouts in my first two seasons on the job, but Petersen immediately altered the attitude. It took some time, but the Lady Frogs learned how to win. He could crack jokes and clearly enjoyed his job, but he knew when it was time to get down to business. His practices were always lively and involved constant motion and plenty of film study and he considered a good shoot-around as critical to a successful game.
He turned 54 this week and returns to an area that he's recruited and where he and his wife have friends.
"I just think it’s a place with really good potential," Petersen said. "We like the area and we're excited. It's got great facilities, a really good unveristy, a place kids like to go to school and our department at UNT is growing."
If the pattern holds, they'll be winning more than they lose quickly.
That’s how the former LSU point guard and assistant coach earned his dream job at his alma mater, which hired Jones to replace new TCU coach Trent Johnson.
That’s also why North Texas has never been a more attractive job for a head coach. Athletic director Rick Villarreal, who hired Jones about two weeks into his UNT tenure, should have a pretty impressive pool of candidates in his search to find an experienced head coach that can keep the Mean Green program’s momentum going.
“You probably need somebody that you’re not taking a chance he’s pulling the trigger for the first time,” Villarreal said. “That’s my preference. As a program, we’re at that point.”
The program, which qualified for the NCAA tourney twice in the last six years, is at a point where it could be poised to join the midmajor powers.
The Mean Green’s five-year streak of 20-win campaigns was snapped this season, when UNT finished 18-14 and lost a down-to-the-wire Sun Belt tournament final for the second straight year, but the entire rotation should return intact with an impact juco big man headlining the recruiting class. Potential first-round pick Tony Mitchell has decided to wait at least a year to declare for the NBA draft, opting to focus on improving his game and leading UNT back to March Madness, unless he reconsiders following Jones' departure.
This will always be known as a football state, but there aren’t many more fertile basketball recruiting bases than the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. UNT has a 10,000-seat arena and has positioned itself, with a facilities overhaul highlighted by its new $78 million football stadium, to benefit from future conference realignment dominoes falling.
This is no longer a job for a man desperate for a chance to become a head coach. It’s a job for a proven winner who can build on the foundation Jones leaves as he heads home to LSU.
Alzee Williams scored 14 and Roger Franklin and Jacob Holmen scored 10 points apiece for the Mean Green. Freshman Tony Mitchell had 11 rebounds and tied his season high with six blocks for North Texas (17-13) at Hot Springs' Convention Center Court.
In Monday's semifinals, the fifth-seeded Mean Green will face No. 9 seed Arkansas State, upset winners over regular-season Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee State on Sunday.
Josh Brown led the fourth-seeded Ragin' Cajuns (16-15) with 14 points. Elfrid Payton had 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, Bryant Mbamalu scored 11 and Darshawn McClellan had 10 points for Louisiana-Lafayette.
Neither team led by more than five points and there were 20 lead changes, 12 in the second half.
UNT, which released its 2012 football schedule Thursday, opens the season Sept. 1 at national runner-up LSU. The Mean Green's home opener comes a week later against Texas Southern. Road games against Kansas State and Houston round out the schedule.
Troy's visit Sept. 22 marks the start of UNT's Sun Belt slate. With the addition of South Alabama to the conference schedule, the Mean Green will not play Florida International in 2012.
Five of UNT's 12 opponents played in bowl games last season.
The ESPN date against ULL gives UNT an opportunity to feature Apogee Stadium on a national stage. The facility opened last September, replacing Fouts Field.
Royce O'Neale had 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Brett Olson scored 10 points for the Pioneers (21-8, 11-5 Sun Belt), who set a school record with their 21st victory and fourth in a row.
Brandan Walton led the Mean Green (16-13, 9-7) with 13 points. Alzee Williams scored 10 points, and Tony Mitchell grabbed 12 rebounds.
The Pioneers nailed down the third seed and a bye in the conference tournament. They will play Sunday in Hot Springs, Ark.
The Mean Green, whose 52 points represented a season low, took fifth and will face No. 4 Louisiana-Lafayette in Sunday's quarterfinals.
The teams split the season series, with North Texas having won 75-74 in overtime Jan. 21.
"The exact cause and nature of the symptoms of his illness are not immediately known by us at this time," UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said in a statement. "The family has asked until a complete diagnosis and a course of treatment is established that their privacy be respected."
For more on the story, click here.
Two of those transfers come from BCS powers and will be eligible to play next season. Offensive lineman Cam Feldt (Arkansas) and safety Marcus Trice (Oklahoma) are expected to start immediately for the Mean Green.
Boone Feldt, Cam’s younger brother, is one of the jewels of UNT’s high school recruiting class. He was ranked as the No. 10 center in the nation in the ESPNU150.
Other jewels include Clarksville linebacker Jarrian Roberts, who turned down offers from Iowa State and Tulsa; Coppell defensive back David Busby, a two-time all-state selection with 15 career interceptions and Baton Rouge Woodlawn safety Devante Davis, the No. 63 player in the nation at his position.
David Busby, DB, 5-11, 180, Coppell, Texas (Coppell HS)
Dustin Clark., LB, 6-1, 205, Borger, Texas (Borger HS)
Devante Davis, DB, 5-11, 185, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Woodlawn HS)
Malik Dilonga, DE, 6-4, 250, Cedar Hill, Texas (Trinity Christian School)
Boone Feldt, OL, 6-3, 276, Buda, Texas (Hays HS)
Carlos Harris, WR, 5-8, 175, Frisco, Texas (Frisco HS)
Mustafa Haboul, DT, 6-0, 247, Arlington, Texas (Martin HS)
Brad Horton, DE, 6-6, 230, Argyle, Texas (Liberty Christian HS)
Jamarcus Jarvis, RB, 5-10, 195, Houma, Louisiana (East Ascension HS)
Xavier Kelly, DB, 5-11, 165, Katy, Texas (Mayde Creek HS)
Roderick Lancaster, WR, 6-2, 200, Dallas, Texas (Life School of Oak Cliff)
Mark Lewis, RB, 5-10, 210, Livonia, Louisiana (Livonia HS)
Jamal Marshall, DB, 6-3, 185, Missouri City, Texas(Fort Bend Elkins HS)
Ryan Rentfro, OL, 6-4, 280, Flower Mound, Texas (Marcus HS)
Jarrian Roberts, LB, 6-2, 220, Clarksville, Texas (Clarksville HS)
Rex Rollins, DB, 6-1, 185, Tyler, Texas (Chapel Hill HS)
Nick Schrapps, WR, 6-3,197, Beaumont, Texas (Kelly HS)
LaJaylin Smith, LB, 6-0, 218, LaPlace, Louisiana (St. Charles Catholic HS)
Connor Trussell, OL, 6-5, 285, Arlington, Texas (Martin HS)
Sir Calvin Wallace, DT, 6-2, 300, Tyler, Texas (Chapel Hill HS)
Dutton Watson, DT, 6-3, 250, Midland, Texas (Midland HS)
Cam Feldt, OL, 6-5, 308, Pilot Point, Texas (Arkansas)
D.Q. Johnson, DB, 5-11, 185, Des Moines, Iowa (Iowa Western CC)
Marcus Trice, DB, 5-8, 190, Mesquite, Texas (Oklahoma)
Oklahoma at FSU, 7 p.m., ABC: FSU wasn't very competitive last year in Norman, but they are a better team this season. So I don't expect any 30-point blowouts. At the same time, I don't think the 'Noles are a top-10 team yet. They could prove me wrong on Saturday, but I'm going with the Sooners. They've got plenty at the skill positions and this is really their only test before conference play. Look for Landry Jones and Dominique Whaley, the surprise at RB, to lead this team to a win. Oklahoma 30, FSU 21
Louisiana-Monroe at TCU, 1 p.m.: The Horned Frogs bounced back last week against an opponent that couldn't throw vertically on them like Baylor did. Still, TCU's defense was much more solid and it's clear with each week that Casey Pachall has plenty of talent at the QB position. The Frogs will play amid the construction at Amon G. Carter Stadium and won't have any issues. TCU 45, Louisiana Monroe 10
Texas at UCLA, 2:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN3: It's tempting for some to take UCLA at home against a Texas team that we still don't know a whole lot about. But after pulling out a win against a gritty BYU team, this is a good time for Texas to get a road test. They'll pass that test. Texas 27, UCLA 24
Texas Tech at New Mexico, 2:30 p.m., Versus: For those of you with Versus, you can see Tommy Tuberville's team on display on Saturday. What I'm interesting in is the defense and how much they've improved from last year. Tech is favored by 24 on the road. I think they'll cover. Texas Tech 45, New Mexico 14
Idaho at Texas A&M, 6 p.m.: This is no problem for the Aggies coming off an impressive effort against SMU and before they face Oklahoma State. They'll need to avoid the temptation to look ahead. Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill was 21-of-26 for 246 yards and 2 TDs against the Mustangs last week. Those numbers should get even better this week. Texas A&M 52, Idaho 13
Stephen F. Austin at Baylor, 6 p.m.: The Bears are ranked 19th in the AP poll and get a breather at home. They face Rice next weekend before getting into conference play. This is the team's first game since beating TCU in Waco to start the season. It's just another chance for Robert Griffin III to build on his Heisman resume. Baylor 48, SFA 20
North Texas at Alabama, 6:30 p.m.: Things don't get any easier for the Mean Green, who face an Alabama team some consider the best in the nation. UNT hung around for a while against Houston last week as they opened their new stadium. It's tough to believe they will hang around for a while in this one. Alabama 54, UNT 16
Oklahoma State at Tulsa, 9 p.m.: The Cowboys can't afford to overlook this one before facing the Aggies next week. Tulsa can still score points and scare people, despite what OU did to them last week. Still, the fact that this game is on the road helps OSU stay focused, in my opinion. OSU 42, Tulsa 24
Your turn. Who do you like in these games?
DENTON, Texas -- Hours before the inaugural game at Apogee Stadium on Saturday, North Texas fans lined up at the locked front gate and waited.
"Let us in!" Let us in!" they chanted.
Mean Green fans had waited long enough, and they didn't want to wait anymore.
Since 1952, they've cheered for North Texas in a stadium that was deficient in just about every way -- Fouts Field. For years the athletics department lobbied for a new home.
Saturday was the culmination of all that time and effort. The school finally played its first game in Apogee Stadium -- a 48-23 loss to Houston in front of 28,075 fans, just shy of capacity.
"This is terrific," said Scott Flynn, a Southlake resident and 1980 alumnus of North Texas. "We've always had a track around our field but now we're right on top of the action. I hope we can perform up to our facilities."
When the gates opened, fans walked in and marveled at the size, beauty, and cleanliness of the stadium.
They perused the numerous concession stand options in the corridor that weren't available at Fouts, including ice cream vender Beth Marie's, a local staple from the square in downtown Denton.
"It's unbelievable," said Tom Klammer, a retired North Texas accounting professor. "Fouts was a dump in the 1970s. It's [Apogee] just going to do wonders for the program."
And they came from near and far to christen the building. North Texas alumnus Robert Middaugh flew in from his residence in Washington D.C. to attend the game.
"I don't know that I've felt this excitement in the eight years I've been involved with North Texas," Middaugh said. "I flew all the way across the country for this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There's no way I wouldn't be here for this."
Middaugh joined the tailgate at noon Saturday. Many of his fellow fans had already been there for almost 24 hours as the first tailgaters began trickling in around 4 p.m. Friday.
Most tailgates set up on the east side of the stadium around a pathway the school dubbed "The Hill" where fraternities, sororities, venders and cover bands set up to entertain the crowd.
The team made its entrance into the stadium along The Hill at 4 p.m. with the band, cheerleaders and dance team leading it in while fans gathered around and cheered them on. Head coach Dan McCarney gave high fives to onlookers all the way into Apogee.
"We came in on the Mean Green Walk and it was electric," quarterback Derek Thompson said of entering the stadium. "The atmosphere was great. We had a lot of fan support. We wanted to take that electricity to the field tonight."
North Texas officials believe it was by far the largest tailgate the school has ever had. It included more venders and entertainment than ever before, so fans also camped out on the west side of the stadium. Some even staked out in the parking lot at Fouts Field across I-35E.
"I was real emotional and I don't get that way at the start of any football game," McCarney said. "When I walked out there and saw that crowd and saw those students and saw the green after seeing an empty stadium for nine months, I was overcome with emotion."
Most importantly for the opener at Apogee, the team gave fans a reason to stay even after they got a look inside.
Backup quarterback Andrew McNulty became the answer to a future trivia question by scoring the first touchdown at Apogee Stadium on an 11-yard run to give North Texas (0-2) a 7-0 lead.
Houston (2-0) took a 17-7 lead thanks to three early North Texas turnovers, but Thompson helped North Texas erase the deficit in the second quarter when he hit Andrew Power in the end zone from 5 yards away.
Houston took a 20-17 lead into halftime, but the crowd gave the Mean Green a rousing ovation as it headed to the locker room after a strong effort that saw the heavy underdogs hanging in the game.
"We came out on fire," Thompson said. "The fans were in it. That was more than what I expected. They did a great job of keeping us in the game. They caused a lot of problems for Houston's offense. I couldn't stand next to a teammate and hear what he was saying."
But the Cougar offense was too much for North Texas in the second half. Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw touchdown passes on Houston's first four drives of the half and the Mean Green never recovered.
"They executed and we didn't," McCarney said of the second half.
We missed one game in week one, incorrectly picking against the Baylor Bears (that was a big home win over TCU), but we were right that Boise State would beat Georgia and LSU would take care of Oregon, though neither game was as close as predicted.
Let's try again this week with a look at some Big 12 games and other big ones around the country:
Missouri at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m., ESPN: It's a road game for the Tigers and should be entertaining, but I think Missouri finds a way to get this done. Keep an eye on sophomore QB James Franklin from Corinth, Texas. He'll lead Missouri on some key second-half drives. Missouri 24, Arizona State 16
TCU at Air Force, 2:30 p.m., Versus: The Frogs have two main missions this week: Put the Baylor loss behind them and fix a secondary that was lit up by Robert Griffin III. It's never easy to beat Air Force at their place, but you can bet Gary Patterson and his staff had the attention of the players this week. TCU must avoid a letdown and learn to live with a loss, something that has rarely happened the past few years. TCU squeaks one out. TCU 27, Air Force 24
BYU at Texas, 6 p.m., ESPN2: We'll get a much better idea of what the Longhorns have after this game. Something tells me the run game will be key for Texas in this one as will the ability to force turnovers. Seems like lots of folks taking BYU, but I'll go with the Longhorns in a close one. Texas 31, BYU 28
UTEP at SMU, 6 p.m., FSSW: The Mustangs did not put up the type of fight that coach June Jones had in mind against the Aggies and he felt like his defense wasn't physical enough. Two turnovers early by QB Kyle Padron also put him on the bench and SMU will start J.J. McDermott behind center this week. But SMU is at home and UTEP needed OT to beat Stony Brook. SMU gets it done. SMU 34, UTEP 24
Houston at North Texas: The Mean Green open their new stadium against a tough Cougar team. It's going to take time for Dan McCarney to get his system and culture in place. But he's going to be able to recruit to a new stadium and better facilities and that won't hurt. As for this Saturday, Houston has too much firepower for the Mean Green. Houston 38, UNT 24
Other notable games:
Mississippi State at Auburn, 11:21 a.m., Ch. 21: The Tigers needed a minor miracle -- two TDs in the final four minutes or so -- to beat Utah State at home last week. They are an extremely young team and it showed. Barrett Trotter will likely grow into a solid quarterback, but it's going to take time. MSU has a balanced offense and too many playmakers for the Tigers, who keep it close at Jordan-Hare Stadium. MSU 27, Auburn 24
Alabama at Penn State, 2:30 p.m., ABC: The Nitnany Lions are ranked in the top-25, but that's likely a short stint. Alabama has the talent to win the BCS Championship if they can get through the SEC. This game won't be an easy one for them at Happy Valley, but Nick Saban and company will get it done. They'll wear down Penn State in the final quarter. Alabama 34, Penn State 21
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