For the last eight years there’s been a slumbering giant in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex that has finally stretched its arms, let out a big yawn and started stomping around a little. The North Texas Mean Green, led by former Iowa State Cylcones head coach Dan McCarney, took home an impressive 36-14 win over the UNLV Rebels on Wednesday in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, showing they’re back on the map in the Lone Star State.
In the early 2000s North Texas had a solid run of success under former head coach Darrell Dickey, winning four consecutive Sun Belt Conference championships from 2001-2004 and playing in four consecutive New Orleans Bowls over the same stretch, but winning only one. The stretch of 2005-2012 was a disastrous one for the Mean Green as things regressed under a number of new coaches, and the program floundered to a 13-58 record overall, effectively negating any momentum created by the success of the early 2000s.
Plenty of optimism surrounded the arrival of McCarney to Denton, and with just cause. The energetic and fiery Iowa native is slowly moving things back in the right direction, and has compiled an 18-19 record in three seasons for North Texas. Obviously, these aren’t earth shattering numbers, but the 9-4 finish this season and a noted dedication to recruiting local high school talent over the traditional focus on junior college fill-ins has several implications for the program, and the overall balance of power in college football in the state, going forward.
The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is a hunting ground for several major college programs within Texas, but also outside of the state. Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and countless others have been able to attract its top talent for decades without any real threat from the state’s fourth largest school according to enrollment. With even one more winning season that includes a bowl victory for North Texas, the program’s “market share” — for lack of a better term — could increase from minimal to notable in short order.
According to ESPN’s metrics, North Texas has five three star commitments, three of which are from Dallas and the surrounding area. Out of a total of 16 commits in the 2014 class for the Mean Green, 13 are from either high school programs or junior college programs within striking distance of Denton. While this isn’t necessarily different from past years for the Mean Green, it’s a good sign that McCarney and his staff are no longer missing on the guys they have targeted close to home.
Soon enough, there will be enough depth in the program, on campus, to be able to shift recruiting philosophy from locking down three stars to making a stretch effort toward a few four stars. All the pieces are in place. The Mean Green have a first-class new facility in Apogee Stadium. Fan support is on the rise, as illustrated by the large and vocal crowd at the Heart of Dallas Bowl — even though it was just down the road at the Cotton Bowl. A greater sense of school spirit is part of the picture with new dorms on campus, and more students actually living in Denton rather than commuting.
By appearances, Dan McCarney is the right guy in the right place at the right time.
Is North Texas a sleeping giant who could make its presence known very soon?
It certainly appears so.
Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer, Business Analyst and College Content Coordinator for Rant Sports.