DRC Football From Page 7
C-USA move up,” UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said. “The No. 1 thing people say when they walk up to me is that they are excited about the new conference. Even people who have not been coming to games, they know who Rice is.” There is a good chance fans who follow UNT know someone who attended Rice, UTEP or UTSA or have a connection to a coach or player at one of those schools. Many UNT fans will look across at UTEP’s sideline this fall at Apogee Stadium and see former Mean Green assistant coach Spencer Leftwich. The Miners’ offensive line coach was a key part of UNT’s staff during a run that saw the Mean Green win four straight Sun Belt titles from 2001-04. Some might even remember Leftwich’s son Mack running around after games on the turf at Fouts Field. Mack Leftwich is now a freshman quarterback at UTEP. “That’s what I really like about the new league,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said. “There are Texas schools in there. We have six home games and maybe a game at North Texas would be a seventh and a game at UTSA an eighth our fans can get to.” Houston and San Antonio are within a day’s drive from Denton, which makes it possible for fans of each team to travel to away games. The close proximity of the schools should bolster the familiarity UNT fans develop with their new C-USA rivals. Fans of the four Texas teams in C-USA are not the only ones who will enjoy a heightened level of familiarity with opponents in the league. Players on the four Texas teams in the conference will also see the difference, especially those at UNT who have not had a chance to play other schools in the state on a regular basis. Texas ranks among the top states in the country when it comes to producing college football players. UNT, Rice, UTEP and UTSA all recruit the state heavily, creating situations where players on C-USA teams have known each other since high school. Some will have the chance to play close to their hometowns while starring for a CUSA team. UNT’s players have yet to reach that point, but UTEP defensive lineman Adam Ayala has enjoyed the experience throughout his career. “I grew up close to Houston, so that game was always big for me when they
COVER STORY NORTH TEXAS The impact of Texas rivalries on attendance Six of the top 10 home games in North Texas history in terms of attendance came in showdowns with Texas foes. UNT drew a crowd of 23,743 in the 2010 season for its game against Rice, its new C-USA rival. UNT’s Lance Dunbar (below) rushed for 105 yards in a 32-31 loss. Attendance Opponent Date 1. 29,437 Baylor Sept. 6, 2003 2. 28,315 Baylor Aug. 31, 2000 3. 28,075 Houston Sept. 10, 2011 4. 26,012 Navy Nov. 10, 2007 5. 25,231 SMU Sept. 9, 2006 6. 23,743 Rice Sept. 11, 2010 7. 23,647 Army Nov. 21, 2009 8. 23,112 Tulsa Sept. 17, 2005 9. 22,837 TCU Sept. 1, 2001 10. 22,785 Tulsa Sept. 22, 2008
were in the league,” Ayala said of a team that left C-USA after last season. “I look forward to playing the other in-state schools. Those games are always important to me.” The high school playoffs and recruiting process in Texas also create familiarity among players. The top recruits in the state are often members of teams that advance deep into the postseason, giving them a chance to square off with state titles on the line. Texas recruits also keep track of where the other top players in the state are headed, which fosters a sense of familiarity among them that continues at the college level. “We look forward to those games against Texas teams,” UNT senior tight end Daniel Prior said. “We were recruited at the same time as their players. I was recruited by Rice. That makes it interesting.”
What still needs to happen Where C-USA falls short in some instances in terms of rivalries is a lack of history among the programs in the league. That is especially true when it comes to UNT. The Mean Green will play UTSA for the first time on Nov. 23. UNT has played Rice twice since 2008, but just three times overall. UNT and UTEP first played in 1951 and have played 21 games, the last of them in 1980. More than 33 years will have passed since their last meeting when the teams play on Nov. 9 at Apogee. McCarney and Villarreal spoke about the possibility of the Texas schools in CUSA creating a series of traveling trophies to help spark interest in those games and begin establishing the history they sometimes lack. “There is the opportunity for a lot of
these games to turn into rivalries,” UTSA quarterback Eric Soza said. “It can be a situation where everyone is competitive and you mark down on your calendar teams like North Texas.” UNT hasn’t beaten a Texas rival that plays on the Football Bowl Subdivision level since a 24-6 win over SMU in the second week of the 2006 season, partly because it hasn’t had many opportunities. UNT is 1-5 against opponents from Texas since then, with its only win coming last year against Texas Southern, a Football Championship Subdivision team. SMU came back to beat UNT 45-31 in 2007, Houston beat UNT handily in each of the last two years and Rice edged the Mean Green 32-31 in 2010. What really stuck with UNT fans, though, was a 77-20 drubbing by Rice in 2008. McCarney and other C-USA coaches believe the in-state rivalries in the league will be a whole lot more competitive than that game in the long run. UTSA, which is entering just its third season in program history, will catch up with the other Texas C-USA schools, while UNT and UTEP will also benefit. Rice has been the best team in recent years among the four Texas teams that will be in C-USA, but Bailiff said he anticipates the other Texas schools in the league being competitive to the point the games between the four teams are hotly contested. The more competitive games that are played, the more history will be created, adding another element to the games CUSA’s Texas teams play.
Benefits of rivalries The potential benefits of having Texas rivals for UNT are apparent when one looks at the history of the Mean Green’s program and those of the league’s other
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Texas members. “You will see when UTEP comes to UNT that there’s a big group of UTEP people here in Dallas,” C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said. “You will look over at the stadium and say, ‘What happened? Where did they come from?’” The importance of games against Texas rivals to C-USA’s members from within the state is reflected in the attendance at those games. Of the 10 highest attended on-campus games in UNT history, six were for games the Mean Green played against a Texas rival. UNT drew 28,075 fans for the first game in Apogee in 2011, a showdown with Houston, which was a member of CUSA at the time. Rice’s 32-31 win over UNT in 2010 drew a crowd of 23,743 that ranks sixth in program history for a home game. Another key benefit of moving to CUSA for UNT will come in recruiting, where the Mean Green’s staff will have a chance to sell the proximity of rival schools and facing familiar Texas opponents to high school players across the state. UNT should benefit more than any of the other three Texas C-USA schools from the move. Rice, UTEP and UTSA were already facing in-state schools on a regular basis. McCarney has focused UNT’s efforts squarely in Texas and has started to see the benefit while landing some solid instate recruits. A total of nine high school seniors from Texas have committed to UNT since the school announced the move to C-USA, including highly regarded Flower Mound tackle Chris Miles. “Staying close to home was very important to me,” Miles said. “I like my parents being able to come and watch me play.” UNT’s coaches believe the opportunity to play close to home is important to a lot of players across the state. McCarney and his assistants had to convince players to come to the school and play in a league without another Texas team during its stay in the Sun Belt. UNT will have a whole lot more to sell now with the budding rivalries between the teams in C-USA listed on the Mean Green’s table placard at media day. That simple piece of paper brought home the reality of what lies ahead for Orr and McCarney. “Everywhere I have been, rivalries bring out the best in people,” McCarney said. “It’s the emotion, the excitement and the opportunity to win a game that means so much to everyone.”
Football 2013 is the Denton Record-Chronicle's look at the upcoming football season for the University of North Texas Mean Green and Denton...