August 29, 2013
C-USA switch gives UNT bigger stage By Brett Vito Staff Writer
There was nothing special about the placard designating the table reserved for the North Texas football team’s contingent at Conference USA media day this summer. Head coach Dan McCarney’s name and that of linebacker Zach Orr were spelled out in black lettering on a white, blue and red sheet of paper along with the phrase “2013 Football Kickoff” and the C-USA logo. McCarney eyed that nondescript piece of paper that represented so much for UNT before turning to Orr. “Conference USA,” McCarney said. “It feels good, doesn’t it?” Orr didn’t have to say anything. He just smiled. Seeing UNT listed as a member of a conference that also includes Rice, UTEP and UTSA, not to mention other regional rivals like Louisiana Tech, felt terrific for McCarney and Orr. The feeling is one shared by those associated with the program. Joining C-USA will offer UNT a host of benefits. None is more important than the opportunity to develop long-term rivalries with Texas schools that will increase the exposure the program receives across the state. The opportunity to shine on the stage rivalries provide — one so many other schools take for granted — was out of reach over the last 12 years when UNT was the lone Texas school in the Sun Belt Conference. “We will be able to get some rivalries going in Conference USA,” said McCarney, who is entering his third season at UNT. “I asked, ‘Who are North Texas’ rivals?’ when I interviewed for the job. To this day, I still haven’t found out who they really were before I got here. I’ve never coached at a place where we didn’t have a traditional rival.” McCarney spent most of his coaching career on either side of the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry and also worked as an assistant at Wisconsin and Florida. All have traditional rivals. Orr didn’t have the opportunity to play in-state rivalry games often during the first three years of his college career. UNT played just three Texas programs that compete in the top division of college football during his first three seasons with
Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton
North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal speaks at a press conference on May 4, 2012, announcing that UNT will join Conference USA. UNT officially joined the league this summer and will play its first C-USA football game this fall. The switch to C-USA from the Sun Belt is expected to bolster UNT’s program, largely because the league includes three other Texas schools — Rice, UTEP and UTSA. the Mean Green. UNT lost each of those games, twice to Houston and once to Rice. More than once, Orr had to explain to a fellow UNT student who the Mean Green was set to play the following Saturday. That won’t be the case when UNT hosts Rice, UTEP and UTSA in consecutive games beginning with a nationally televised showdown with the Owls on Oct. 31. “Conference USA will be really good for North Texas because a lot of the teams we played in the Sun Belt no one had heard of,” Orr said. “Everyone knows who Rice is, who Tulsa is. Everyone has heard of Louisiana Tech. Fans and recruits know who we are and who we are going to be playing.”
Favorable factors Nothing matters more in Texas college football than games against in-state rivals. SMU and TCU began playing in 1915 and developed what has at times been a
C-USA A closer look For a closer look at Conference USA, the league’s lineup and references to it at North Texas, see Pages 55-66.
fierce rivalry now known as the “Battle for the Iron Skillet.” When Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC before the 2012 season, the move fostered statewide debate because it ended several long-standing in-state rivalries, none more important than an
annual showdown with Texas that was first played in 1894. State representative Ryan Guillen, DRio Grande City, filed a bill in the Texas legislature earlier this year that would require the schools to play annually. Developing Texas rivalries with just a fraction of the passion the Texas-Texas A&M showdowns created would make a huge difference for UNT. The focus on football in Texas and its new in-state rivalries should help UNT more than anything in terms of reaching that goal, but two other factors will also play vital roles — the familiarity fans and players have with one another and the close proximity of the four Texas teams in the league. UNT has yet to play a C-USA game and has already felt the impact. “There is no doubt interest has picked See C-USA MOVE on 7
Football 2013 is the Denton Record-Chronicle's look at the upcoming football season for the University of North Texas Mean Green and Denton...