You’ve read the articles, you’d seen thumbnails for the retrospectives— ten years ago, then-FCS Appalachian State defeated Power Five juggernaut Michigan, and the world was never the same again, blah blah blah.
While some look back to that fateful, arguably high point in the history of the FCS (until North Dakota State came along), ten years ago the basement of FBS was undergoing some formative years of its own.
It is well-documented, but now perhaps lost to the public conscious, that North Texas was once the promising upstart that we now think of, when we think of Appalachian State or Western Kentucky. Joining the FBS (then I-A) ranks for the 2001 season, the Mean Green started a predictable 0-6, with the 6th loss being their Sun Belt conference opener against UL-Monroe. After losing a close one, 19-17, UNT would not lose another conference game until 2005.
This was back in the good old days, kiddo, before your fancy Facey Space pages and tumblr gifs commemorating every possible meme from the field. The FBS playoff was still a pipe dream, but popular theories at the time would of course include the top non-power teams, or at least the single best non-power team in the mix.
North Texas was frequently in that conversation.
Then times changed, as they inevitably do. Despite their continued runs over new additions like Utah State, it was another new conference member (Troy) that finally ended the streak on October 5th, 2005. Welcoming the Trojans into Fouts Field on a Tuesday evening, the Mean Green fell 13-10, and with that, one of the longest conference-win streaks in D-I history had come to an end.
UNT beat FIU the following week, then lost every remaining game that season, finishing 2-9. The very next season, UNT would go 3-9, and that was it. Golden child Darrell Dickey was out, a man whose name still graces a practice field in Denton. But still, the sky was the limit, wasn’t it? Look at what great things Denton could do! Who would be the next genius hire from then-AD Rick Villarreal?
After four outstanding years out of six, fans were willing to give Villarreal the benefit of the doubt. So when he made the rare straight-from-high-school hire of Head Coach Todd Dodge, people scratched their heads, but they trusted the system. Clearly, Villarreal knew something the rest of us did not.
As it turned out, Villarreal knew very little. Dodge’s first season was in 2007, the year of the App State/Michigan upset. As Michigan was losing to an FCS team, elsewhere in the country, UNT was busy losing their own conference opener to #8 Oklahoma, 79-10.
Remember when current head coach Seth Littrell turned the Green around, going 5-6 in his first year? Dodge’s first year finished with a 2-10 record, worse than the previous year, with their only wins coming against perennial underachiever UL-Monroe, and WKU, in their final year of transition from FCS.
And with that, UNT was out of the conversation. Like Ben Affleck after Pearl Harbor, Will Smith after Men in Black 3, and Ben Affleck after Live By Night, that was the end of any hype or any hope for years to come. Sayonara, dunzo, contact deleted.
UNT’s record during the Todd Dodge years were the aforementioned 2-10, followed by 1-11, 2-10, then 3-9 before he was mercifully fired after the 2010 season. Even Dan McCarney could turn that mess around, going 5-7 in his first year and projecting the illusion of competence, before eventually collapsing like all imposters tend to do (see also: Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman).
Despite the pain of McCarney’s 1-11 season in 2015, he was still a genius at the FBS level, compared to Dodge. And squandering that potential is what hurt the most, as upstarts like FAU and WKU and even Troy surpassed the tradition that North Texas had begun-- objects that appeared as tiny dots in the rear view were indeed closer than they appeared.
Since joining FBS, North Texas has had more bad seasons than good ones. But those good seasons were uncommonly good, and gave us a picture of what was possible, of the potential this program still has. That glimmer of hope has been dark since 2007, but a full decade later with a new AD and promising head coach (albeit one originally hired by Villarreal), UNT might finally be poised to crawl back up out of the basement.
We hope it finally happens, but if it doesn’t, maybe there’s another FCS team out there who wants to knock off Bama this season, to distract us from the pain.