Every team has a "must-win game." Sometimes it’s a rivalry game, sometimes it’s a division foe or maybe even a non-conference opponent. No matter the case, every team has a game that they absolutely must win in order to accomplish their goals.
In our continuing series, today we bring you “Easy Mode” as by now even the most casual fan is aware of the utter disaster what was North Texas in 2015, and in fact every season from 2007 to present, with a lone bowl game thrown in the middle of it all, just to play with our emotions. What is the game they must win to accomplish their goals? First, let’s define “goals.”
Sept. 10 – vs. Bethune-Cookman
Tier 1: Goal of “Not Being a Disaster.”
The season opener against SMU is, from a larger perspective, irrelevant—SMU had a bad enough season last year that a loss to UNT could be excused by “trust the process,” and a win is considered just business as usual. But after the Mean Green’s 66-7 blowout against FCS Portland State last year (and we’re going to keep saying that until UNT gets its act together), this is the game that not only redeems the season, it redeems the entire program.
One loss to an FCS team? Not great, Bob. Losses in consecutive seasons? This would be devastating to both their national profile and the program itself. The team must win this game to show they’ve put the 2015 season (and the 2015 coaching staff) behind them. To show this is a program that’s turning it around and that last year was the lowest point, not some part of a larger, never-ending Eastern-Michigan-like slide. Accomplish your goals? Start by winning the game you’re supposed to win, then move on to the games you want to win.
Oct. 22 -- @ Army
Tier 2: Goal of “Meeting or Exceeding Expectations.”
Unlike Bethune-Cookman, Army is an FBS team, and that comes with its own stigma-- even if Army has its own problems dating back to the Eisenhower Administration. These problems could benefit North Texas greatly, as a win here would be an expected win once again, while a loss would be only slightly less devastating than a loss to B-C.
A win here, even with a loss to B-C, can at least bring back a little swagger, as beating a nationally ranked household name will at least get you on SportsCenter. Sorry, Army. (P.S. Support Our Troops!).
Nov. 5 – vs. Louisiana Tech
Tier 3: Goal of “Whatever the Hell It Is that Charlie Strong is Doing.”
The homecoming game, in Denton, against last-years divisional runner-up. The lone win last year against UTSA was fine and all, but UTSA was hardly competitive either at the time. The Bulldogs are a legit contender, even during a rebuild, and Skip Holtz is an experienced coach who’s been making waves in CUSA.
A lone win against UTSA? A notch in the win column, but no one’s raising any eyebrows. Beating a contender with your first-year coach? That, my friends, is the equivalent of Texas beating OU en route to a 5-7 season. Yeah, you missed the bowl, but you can hold your head high going into next year.
At the end of the day, with an entirely new coaching staff and an entirely new system, even winning two games all season would be considered an improvement. So the game against Army gets my vote. This is arguably the most competitive CUSA West we’ve seen since realignment, but the non-conference opponents put UNT in a place to at least take baby steps forward. If you’re reading team previews for the rest of the division, expectations are huge, but it takes only one of them to stumble for North Texas to start climbing again, and at least avoid the basement. Which is all we’re asking.