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Is UNT vs SMU a rivalry? Seth Littrell says ‘definitely’

The Safeway Bowl has been inconsistent during its history, but because of proximity, Seth Littrell says UNT and SMU ‘definitely’ have a rivalry

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Methodist Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

The Safeway Bowl is starting to see consistency again. It’s something every rivalry seems to have, but is the matchup between North Texas and SMU actually a rivalry?

Saturday, SMU will travel to Denton for the second time in 10 years to play UNT at Apogee Stadium. It’s not a long journey-- only about 40 miles—but before 2014, the Mustangs’ last trip north was 2006.

The location might be the only thing the two programs have in common, being in different conferences and having contrasting histories. But the proximity of campuses-- one being in the heart of Dallas and the other on the outskirts of the Metroplex-- might be all that’s needed to make the UNT-SMU matchup a rivalry.

“Any school that’s 30 miles down the road, you recruit against them, your fans are passionate about this game on both sides, it’s talked about, it’s the first game of the year, everybody’s talked a lot about it,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “yeah, it’s definitely a rivalry. It’s something I would imagine that both schools have circled.

“… I embrace the rivalry. I think it’s great for a team to have those rivalry games.”

UNT hasn’t beaten SMU since Littrell took over in 2016. The last time the Mean Green came out on top of the rivalry was a 43-6 home win in 2014. That game rekindled the rivalry after a six-year hiatus.

But the three-year skid isn’t the longest for UNT in a rivalry that SMU has dominated since the first meeting in 1922. The Mustangs won the first nine until UNT secured a tie in 1932 before notching its first win the next year. The Mean Green again lost the next nine until the two teams stopped playing in 1943 and didn’t meet again until 1974. The Mustangs extended their streak to 11 before UNT snapped it in 1977. With only two more wins since, the Mean Green drastically trail the series, 31-5-1.

This season, as the Mean Green come into fruition after two seasons under Littrell, SMU is on the opposite spectrum, with Saturday being the Mustangs’ second game with Sonny Dykes as head coach.

“Rivalry, no rivalry, every win’s huge,” Littrell said. “… It’s huge in the fact that it’s Game 1. It’s huge for the fact that we’re playing at home in front of our fans, our alumni, our students. It’s big that they are 30 miles down the road. Our fans, our players, our coaching staff, we take great pride in competing against a school 30 miles down the road.”