Dallas Colleges: North Texas Mean Green
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.
UNLV Rebels (7-5) vs. North Texas Mean Green (8-4)
Jan. 1, noon ET, Dallas (ESPNU)
Getting bowl eligible earned Bobby Hauck a three-year contract extension through the 2016 season.
A 7-5 finish now has UNLV playing in the postseason for the first time in 13 years. The Runnin' Rebels will ring in the new year against North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl. There they will try to extend the program's postseason unbeaten streak to four.
They can do that thanks to a five-win improvement from last year's 2-11 squad, which has done a good job of containing some of the Mountain West Conference's potent aerial attacks. UNLV ranks first in the MWC in pass defense and fifth in scoring defense, as they finished tied for third in the West Division with a 5-3 record in conference play. -- Matt Fortuna
NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN BREAKDOWN
The Mean Green are one of the better defensive teams in the country, allowing only 18.1 points per game, which ranks No. 9 nationally.
They're also No. 6 nationally in preventing touchdowns once teams enter the red zone, allowing them on just 45.5 percent of opponent's red zone trips.
Special teams is also an area of strength for North Texas.
The Mean Green have blocked eight kicks in 2013, and they have one of the country's best return men in Brelan Chancellor. The senior has a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown and ranks 11th in yards per kick return (28.14) and fifth in yards per punt return (16.82).
-- Sam Khan Jr.
Still, we have not yet reached the basketball fan utopia we all seek. How do I know? Because Creighton-North Texas, one of Friday's sneaky-best season openers, is somehow not being televised.
And I don't mean nationally televised; I mean not televised at all. The Creighton athletics information packet, like all such documents, lists television broadcast information; next to "television" the field simply reads "none."
I have to say, this is somewhat surprising, given how good Creighton is going to be, how much forward Doug McDermott has burst onto the national scene, and how much the hype for North Texas forward Tony Mitchell has grown. Some think Mitchell will be an All-American this season; at the very least, he's a likely first-round NBA draft pick, if not a lottery guy. McDermott is the best scorer in the country, playing for a team that usually sells out its 17,260-seat home arena, that plans on a deep tournament run this March.
There is some good news, however. There is a workaround. Once more, the Internet comes through:
Creighton University Athletics and Jump TV will present a live, pay-per-view video webcast of approximately 12 gamesthis season, including Friday. To sign up for the video webcast, fans can register by going directly to http://www.gocreighton.com. Cost for a monthly pass is $10.95 and a four-month pass is $34.95. Fans can also purchase a 24-hour pass ($4.99) or a 48-hour pass ($5.99) that begins the moment you sign up.
Were I Creighton and/or North Texas, I would probably do everything in my power to make that Internet stream free. If I'm Creighton, I want people to see as many Grant Gibbs-to-McDermott entry passes as possible. Sure, maybe you can't do it for the whole season; bandwidth costs for streaming web video are heavyweight and prohibitively expensive, and that $34.95 may not represent all that much profit per subscription. But for this game, I'm taking down the paywall, and getting the word out early: Don't miss the Bluejays.
Oh well. That's probably why I'm not in marketing, I suppose. In any case, who am I kidding? I'm totally paying $5 to watch that game. That's one less latte tomorrow. Totally worth it.
Before getting to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Sun Belt, read Dana O'Neil's profile of new Florida International coach Richard Pitino, Myron Medcalf's look at North Texas' nonconference schedule and Western Kentucky's place in ESPN.com's 50 in 50 series.
Blue Ribbon's in-depth previews of all 11 Sun Belt teams:
As for an added bonus, ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan picked the top 10 national rebounders heading into the season, and North Texas' Tony Mitchell made the list. His take:
7. Tony Mitchell, North Texas: The former Missouri signee is the kind of talent you don't often see in the Sun Belt, and his rebounding numbers back it up. He averaged 10.3 rebounds per game, and notched the fourth-highest defensive rebounding rate in the country (28.8 percent). He wasn't quite as effective on the offensive end -- he barely missed the 10 percent mark in offensive rebound rate, at 9.6 -- but that is also a byproduct of being the primary focus of the Mean Green offense. Mitchell has already proven his bona fides; the next step is a truly dominant season.
Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21), vs. Georgetown (Dec. 4 at the Jimmy V Classic in New York), vs. UCLA (Dec. 8 in Houston), North Carolina (Dec. 19), at Michigan State (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Fresno State (Nov. 9)
The rest: Coppin State (Nov. 12), Sam Houston State (Nov. 27), UT-Arlington (Dec. 1), Texas State (Dec. 15), Rice (Dec. 29)
Here it is, folks -- the nation's toughest nonconference schedule of 2012-13. Maui has quality opponents, as mentioned above, but the Longhorns' schedule is so much more than Maui. Georgetown is a quality neutral-court opponent, UCLA with a full roster is arguably a top-5 team, North Carolina won't be easy to host, and Michigan State is nearly impossible to take down in the confines of the Breslin Center. What's especially interesting about this schedule is where Texas sits in relation to most of the other teams on this list. Duke, UCLA, Memphis, Florida, Kansas -- these are teams expected to contend for (or win) conferences titles, teams with designs on deep tournament runs, teams with tons of talent. The Horns are talented too, of course, but probably not as much as we've grown accustomed to. They're also very young, and few expect them to contend on the national stage this season. But Rick Barnes didn't noticeably lighten the load for his young team. Indeed, this baptism will come by fire.
-- Eamonn Brennan
Toughest: South Florida (Dec. 5), Gonzaga (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18), at Virginia Tech (Dec. 1)
The rest: UC Davis (Nov. 9), Portland State (Nov. 25), Missouri State (Dec. 8), Central Arkansas (Dec. 16), UT-Arlington (Dec. 19), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 22)
This nonconference schedule ranks among the worst nationally, especially considering the Cowboys have two McDonald's All-Americans on their roster. There are no true road challenges, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off field is good but not great, and Gonzaga is the only top-25 team anywhere near the slate if the Pokes fall flat in San Juan. This isn't a great nonconference schedule by any metric, but when you take into account Oklahoma State's talent level -- and their chances of playing spoiler in the Big 12 this season -- it is rather blasť.
-- Eamonn Brennan
Toughest: South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 23-24)
Next-toughest: Houston (Dec. 4), at Tulsa (Dec. 9)
The rest: Cal Poly (Nov. 9), Centenary (Nov. 12), SMU (Nov. 15), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 18), Navy (Nov. 20), Southern Utah (Nov. 29), Southern (Dec. 18), at Rice (Dec. 22), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 30)
Look, it's hard to fault TCU -- and especially first-year coach Trent Johnson -- for having one of the worst nonconference schedules in the country. Of course the Horned Frogs are scheduling soft. They've been rebuilding for ... forever, basically. But still, we're in high-major territory now. Let this be a friendly reminder that it's time to start scheduling like it.
-- Eamonn Brennan
Toughest: Arizona (Dec. 1), Alabama (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: Arizona State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Prairie View A&M (Nov. 9), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 14), Grambling State (Nov. 20), Jackson State (Nov. 26), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 4), McNeese State (Dec. 16), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 28), Florida A&M (Dec. 31)
Perhaps this is now-deposed Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie's final legacy at the school: The strategy of somehow getting away with not scheduling any road games whatsoever. Arizona is a quality opponent (if young), and Alabama is fundamentally solid (if somewhat retooling), but other than those two "highlights," most of this schedule comprises low-major guarantee games and few real challenges. Oh, and Arizona State. You get the point.
-- Eamonn Brennan
Toughest: at Creighton (Nov. 9), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23), at Saint Louis (Dec. 5)
Next-toughest: Lehigh (Dec. 20)
The rest: Cameron (Nov. 16), Texas-Arlington (Nov. 28), Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 1), Jackson State (Dec. 8), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 16)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Tony Mitchell could lead the Mean Green to a regional round upset of Kansas State in the NIT Season Tip-Off. And if that happens, a matchup with Virginia at MSG could happen, with Michigan or Pitt waiting in the wings. Even if the program stumbles, however, road trips to Creighton and SLU, a pair of top-25 squads, will boost its nonconference schedule in Tony Benford’s first season as head coach. C.J. McCollum and Lehigh come to Denton five days before Christmas for a meaningful mid-major matchup. No complaints for this slate.
-- Myron Medcalf
Toughest: at Kentucky (Dec. 1), at Gonzaga (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: Lehigh (Nov. 9), Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-18), Northwestern (Dec. 4), BYU (Dec. 21)
The rest: Jackson State (Nov. 11), Charleston (Nov. 24), Lamar (Dec. 12), USC Upstate (Dec. 17), Hardin-Simmons (Jan. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Gone are the days of Baylor's being criticized for a weak out-of-conference schedule. For the second straight season the Bears will play one of the most challenging nonleague slates in the Big 12. Kentucky and Gonzaga boast two of the most raucous road environments in the country. Northwestern and BYU will try to avenge last season’s losses to the Bears. The Charleston Classic could be one of the more exciting tournaments of the season with teams such as Colorado, Murray State, St. John’s, Charleston and Dayton.
-- Jason King
Toughest: at Arkansas (Dec. 4), Ohio (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25 in Orlando), at Oral Roberts (Nov. 28), vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 15 in Oklahoma City)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 11), at UT-Arlington (Nov. 16), Northwestern State (Nov. 30), Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 18), Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- It’s understandable that Lon Kruger would want to schedule soft as he attempts to rebuild the Sooners’ program. Beating Arkansas in Fayetteville would be a signature win. And although it wouldn’t get much publicity, a victory against D.J. Cooper and Ohio would be impressive, too. Oklahoma opens the Old Spice Classic against UTEP and will likely face Gonzaga in the second round. West Virginia, Davidson and Vanderbilt are also in the field.
-- Jason King
2. North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal said Thursday night that he has a policy that he doesn’t release players who have signed with North Texas or leave the program during their career. Conversely, he won’t allow his coaches, even new ones like men’s basketball coach Tony Benford, to cut a player based on ability. He said the only way a player will be released is if there is an academic or behavior issue. This is relevant because signee John Odoh may want to follow former coach Johnny Jones to LSU. Villarreal said Odoh hasn’t asked for a release yet. If he does, don’t expect a release -- or at least not one to LSU. Villarreal was adamant that Odoh was recruited by Jones with Mean Green funds. Players may leave, but without a release, meaning they would then have to pay their own scholarships.
3. Incoming NCAA tournament selection committee chair Mike Bobinski said that 2013 East Regional sites were discussed Thursday in Indianapolis, and that a decision is due in two weeks. Syracuse and Brooklyn, N.Y., appear to be the favorites. The initial four candidates also included New York City (Madison Square Garden) and Newark, N.J. MSG is booked. Newark hasn’t been eliminated yet.
1. There is a real chance schools can lose current players and recruits if the situation feels uncertain. And who knows what those players are hearing from opposing coaches gently (or not so gently) nudging them toward a transfer.
2. The perception is such that if you can't find a coach within a few days, well, clearly there is something wrong with your program. What's wrong with your program, dude?
Still, the deadlines can be counterproductive, and they were for Illinois. When Shaka Smart turned the job down, Thomas had to scramble to find a second and third and fourth option, and when those possibilities fell through he found himself rushing to sign a deal with Ohio coach John Groce -- a good, well-respected coach, but also one that went 34-30 in the MAC in four seasons -- before the deadline Thomas himself created. It was a bit of a mess for a variety of reasons. The rushing around was one of them.
Which is why it's somewhat interesting to see North Texas athletic director Rick Villareal be so laissez-faire about the idea of hurrying to find a new men's basketball coach. Villareal is charged with finding a replacement for Johnny Jones, who left for the vacant LSU job last week, and while Villareal doesn't want the search to take all summer -- he wants to finish up in the next 10 days -- he told the Denton Record-Chronicle that he isn't hurrying just to hurry, either:
“I know there is some angst and concern, but what I would tell people is that we hired Johnny Jones,” Villarreal said. “We had the foresight and I had the intuition to do that. We hired Karen Aston a year ago, and she did a great job. We hired Dan McCarney, who has increased our program tremendously.We are going to get that kind of person.”
“I’m not going to try to do it in two days, because we don’t have to,” Villarreal said. “We have got some time. I’m going to be diligent and see just who is interested, and at the end of the day make sure that we have the best pool to pull from.”
At this point in the calendar, with much of the high-level coaching intrigue finished for now, this seems like the appropriate approach. Jones made the North Texas job a surprisingly desirable one; Villareal will have a solid pool of candidates to work through. If fans are willing to trust the process, why rush it?
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Teeng Akol scored 23 points and Western Kentucky rallied for a 74-70 win over North Texas on Tuesday night in the championship game of the Sun Belt conference tournament.
The win caps a stunning run for the Hilltoppers (15-18), who earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 2009 by winning four games in as many days. Western Kentucky, which has won six straight overall, opened the season 5-11 -- resulting in the firing of coach Ken McDonald.
George Fant finished with 17 points to help the Hilltoppers rally from a 13-point deficit in the second half.
Tony Mitchell scored 18 points to lead the Mean Green (18-14), who were playing in their third straight league championship game.
Alzee Williams added 12 points, Brandan Walton and Tony Mitchell 11 each and Roger Franklin 10 for the fifth-seeded Mean Green (18-13), who will play No. 3 seed Denver or No. 7 seed Western Kentucky in the championship game on Tuesday. It is the team's third straight trip to the finals, and the fourth in six years.
Trey Finn had 21 points and made five 3-pointers for the ninth-seeded Red Wolves (14-20). Marcus Hooten had 18 points and Malcoln Kirkland 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mean Green will play Western Kentucky for the conference championship at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
"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.
Dodge was hired Monday night at Marble Falls, ending a college stint that started when the University of North Texas hired Dodge after he went 79-1 in a five-season stretch at Southlake Carroll.
The rare move from high school to a Division I program didn't work out for Dodge. He was 6-37 before getting fired in the middle of his fourth season at UNT. He was the quarterbacks coach at Pittsburgh last year.
Dodge's overall high school record is 124-46 at four schools.
Marble Falls is a Class 4A school 50 miles northwest of Austin, where Dodge has family ties and was a starting quarterback for Texas in the 1980s.
Mitchell becomes just the second player in league history to receive three consecutive weekly honors and the first since the 2008-09 season, when Brandon Hazzard of Troy received three consecutive honors.
Mitchell, a Pinkston High School grad, had 30 points and a Sun Belt-season high 17 rebounds to lift North Texas (12-8, 5-2 SBC) to an overtime win over Denver and into a tie for first place in the West Division.
The Mean Green has now won five of its last six games, with the only loss coming on a half-court buzzer beater on the road at Arkansas State on Jan. 7.
The report said Dodge visited the school Wednesday and was introduced to the booster club.
"The primary purpose of this evaluation is to allow [Dodge and his family] to see if this is the place they want to be," Marble Falls school district spokesman Bruce Peckover told The Daily Tribune.
Marble Falls, which is about 45 miles northwest of Austin, went 4-6 last season, including 1-5 in District 25-4A.
Dodge coached for seven seasons at Southlake Carroll, leading the Dragons to state championships in 2002, '04, '05 and '06. He left for the North Texas job starting in 2007 but went 6-37 before being fired during the 2010 season. He was quarterbacks coach at the University of Pittsburgh last season.