Conference USA takes up a lot of space. From Florida to El Paso, the conference is broadly defined, with fans from the metroplexes of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, to the smaller, quieter towns of Murfreesboro TN, or Hattiesburg, MS.
And while it's easy for the national media to paint them all with the same brush (or eraser), by early October the wheat will have separated itself from the chaff, and we'll know exactly which CUSA teams will be talked about on national TV, and which will be ignored as if they didn't put in the same amount of work as every other FBS squad.
North Texas, in particular, sits just within the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, one of three FBS schools to do so. The local population and potential fanbase is huge (3+ million in the DFW area), the city of Denton ain't no slouch either (120,000+), and the campus itself boasts the 4th most populous campus in the state (36,221 for 2014). North Texas also charges a dedicated student athletic fee ... that didn't kick in until AFTER the school was already FBS (then I-A).
This is ultimately a school that should be lighting it up year after year. The largest student body in the metroplex, and a ten-year head start in FBS over UTSA and Texas State? North Texas should be reaping the benefits and crushing all comers by now. And yet, despite early success in the Sun Belt, the Mean Green have yet to duplicate that success in Conference USA.
Is there any chance that, at long last, 2015 will finally be The Year?
As is always a good place to start, let's look at the Facts, with a Capital F. I have divided these into two highly scientific categories. For science.
2015 IS THE YEAR OF THE MEAN GREEN:
(or, "Everything is Sunshine and Rose Petals")
(1) Post-Dodge Turnaround
When Dan McCarney came aboard, he wasn't left with much to work with, but over four years has grown the program back into something resembling an FBS team. He took the team to a bowl game in 2013, and would have gone all the way to the C-USA championship game that year if not for a late-season loss to UTSA. He's a proven coach with experience in the Big 12, and has more experience on the sideline than any UNT head coach has had in years.
(2) Location! Location! Location!
Marshall and Louisiana Tech can't possibly sustain their success, can they? I mean, c'mon. The state of West Virginia sustaining two FBS schools? Flimshaw! Pish-posh! Their days are numbered and as North Texas snaps up the midwest and Texas recruits who didn't go into the Big 12, plus the resources of the most football-crazy metroplex west of Ohio... success is surely right around the corner. This is a school larger than SMU, and with more room for growth-- both geographically and academically-- than TCU. The sky is the limit, the new conference and new stadium proves it, as the Mean Green claw their way back to the top, and beyond.
(3) Year Five
The fifth year of the McCarney era means all of ex-coach Dodge's players have graduated or moved on. 100% new recruits means we finally get to see McCarney's vision the way it was meant to play out, all his players on the field, his coaching style, unfiltered. No excuses and the team he's been building from the beginning, 2015 is the year we've been waiting for! MEAN! GREEN!
(or, "I Await the Sweet Release that Only Death Can Give Me")
(1) That Line is Offensive
YES, the prospect of wall-to-wall McCarney players is good in theory, but the entire offensive line graduated last season. You can recruit the best players in the country, but four new guys is four new guys. You open the season against the "rebuilding project" that is SMU, sure, but Rice is no slouch, then you head up to Iowa. This isn't a trial by fire, this is trial by Nuclear Detonation: You will get that experience instantly or the Big Ten will scorch the Earth where you stand, and a week later won't even remember looking at tape of you.
(2) Dan McCarney
Unless McCarney goes 10-2 this season, we're done trumpeting the resume of Dan McCarney. He's a lifetime 78-112 coach headed into this season, and while yes, he has head coaching experience at the highest college level, he was fired for a reason, and sub-mediocrity at the highest level doesn't mean you'll be some genius outside the Power Five. Why doesn't Southern Miss just hire Ron Zook, then? Or Charlotte hire Lane Kiffin? Because, dear reader, that would be A TERRIBLE IDEA. I know the Dallas area has a history of talking themselves into sub-mediocre head coaches, but this experience has played out. You're out of the Sun Belt now, hire someone who can win games.
(3) The 2015 Schedule is a Dumpster Fire
Hey, I don't know if you've looked into this, but the 2015 schedule is a dumpster fire. Remember before, about opening the season at SMU? That's not quite accurate, because they play SMU in Week TWO, after having the first week off. Then they play 12 games in 12 weeks, including three November road games in a row, against Louisiana Tech, Tennesee, and then Middle Tennessee. There are reasons to be optimistic, and there are none to be found here. Hope for a ten loss season, then hope it's coupled with CUSA money to get that new head coach. There's nothing more to see here.
But hey, there's always next season. Right, Cowboys fans?