It’s already making headlines that a Conference USA squad’s chances again an SEC team are “not zero.” This is considered highly unusual and is generally frowned upon by the college football world at large, and yet here we are, in a non-conference game that has suddenly risen into the national spotlight somewhat.
Separated by only 500 miles, the two schools probably don’t think about each other much. Even at that distance, members of the same family might attend both, but probably don’t worry much about divided loyalties on the football field. The only other FBS school to share the state with the Razorbacks— Arkansas State— is much more familiar with North Texas. Those two used to be conference rivals, the school in Jonesboro still holding a 14-8 lead in the series, indefinitely on hold as the Mean Green left the Red Wolves behind in the Sun Belt.
Historically speaking, this is just another paycheck game for the less-famous squad in Fayetteville this Saturday. It wasn’t always a guaranteed blowout, however, and there was a time when college football programs just wanted a local opponent, without promise of a big-ass check.
As North Texas rolls into Razorback Stadium this week, let’s take a look back at a not-really-a-rival, and the unique history shared by both schools, as we rank each of UNT’s nine losses from most indifferent, to the most devastating.
9. 2007 (Houston Nutt vs Todd Dodge)
Final score: 66-7
This might be the aftermath most SEC fans would immediately think of, when they think of an SEC vs. Conference USA situation. The Mean Green were never really in this one, got their butt kicked, got paid, went home. Despite this point, it was difficult to rank this one last.
UNT had originally scheduled two games to be played in Fayetteville. The first of those was scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001. That week, all NCAA events were canceled as the nation reeled from tragedy and uncertainty. The second game would go on as scheduled, in 2003 (see below), and the canceled game would not be made up until this one, years later.
Arkansas was not having a great year in 2001 (finishing 7-5), and even though UNT finished 5-6 in the regular season, history will never know how close the final score might have been, regardless of winner. Instead, we get this dumpster fire of a game, in which a high school coach jumped directly into FBS and was playing his first season, and is facing Houston Effing Nutt. Todd Dodge never should have been given this job, but perhaps the money for this game bought something nice.
8. 1965 (Frank Broyles vs Odus Mitchell)
Final score: 55-20
The winningest coach in Arkansas history vs. the winningest coach in North Texas history. Mitchell was the elder statesman at this point, having also coached “North Texas State” in their first-ever game against Arkansas, in 1947 (literally Broyles’ first year of coaching, one-year removed from graduation and working as an assistant at Baylor). The two teams had not met in 15 years, and Broyles rolled right over NTSU, in Mitchell’s penultimate season.
7. 1972 (Frank Broyles vs Rod Rust)
Final score: 42-16
Rod Rust was a middling coach at the college level (and disastrous at the national level), and was really just there to bridge the gap between Mitchell and Hayden Fry. Where Fry never faced Arkansas during his time in Denton, Rust did— three times— and lost every one of them. This game was the third and final of the meetings, and by this point the NTSU Eagles must’ve known what they were getting into.
6. 1950 (Otis Douglas vs Odus Mitchell)
Final score: 50-6
Otis Douglas was the Todd Dodge of Arkansas. He finished his three years in Fayetteville with a 9-21 record, and has the worst record of any Razorback coach who stuck around for longer than one season. And yet, Otis Douglas and his team won this game, 50-6.
5. 1971 (Frank Broyles vs Rod Rust)
Final score: 60-21
This one must’ve had hope on the field, at least in the opening moments. The two teams had just played each other a few years prior, after a long gap (see below), and expectations were high. Still, Rust had been a .500-level coach for a couple years at that point, and would be fired the next season. Probably no surprises in this one, either.
4. 1949 (John Barnhill vs Odus Mitchell)
Final score: 33-19
Barnhill only coached at Arkansas for four seasons, 1946-1949, before moving up to AD. He only coached against North Texas twice and won both times, though not as handily as others on this list. This was a rematch of #2 below, and while two touchdowns is a respectable margin, a loss is a loss.
3. 2003 (Houston Nutt vs Darrell Dickey)
Final score: 31-7
This one hurts a bit more because this was one of the best runs in North Texas history, in the midst of their 26-game conference win-streak. This was the year the Mean Green beat Baylor in Denton for the first and only time, a 52-14 thumping. The week prior, UNT lost a squeaker against Air Force, 34-21 on the road. Could North Texas pull this one off, and make national waves against #14 Arkansas?
Turned out, no, and UNT got beat almost as bad as they had in week one, against then-#1 Oklahoma (37-3). North Texas would still finish 9-4 that year, tied for the second best record in school history. Dickey never really turned the corner in non-conference play, and the conference streak ended the following year.
2. 1947 (John Barnhill vs Odus Mitchell)
Final score: 12-0
The first meeting between the schools, and for a while the closest final score. Mitchell was in his second year in Denton and trying to make a name for himself. While the effort was valiant, and the score close, North Texas State Teachers College just couldn’t get on the board. In spite of the loss, NT went 10-2 that year, still tied for best record in school history.
1. 1968 (Frank Broyles vs Rod Rust)
Final score: 17-15
It’s a short list of famous North Texas victories over national powers. There was the 21-14 win over Tennessee in 1975. In 1947, the year of the close game against Arkansas, NT actually beat Florida, 20-12. North Texas is 4-4 all time against Texas Tech, which is nice.
This game was nearly one of those historical victories. It was right in their hands, and was Rust’s best season, finishing 8-2 (the other loss to then-conference-rival Memphis). Despite a lot of up-and-down years, and a lot of different coaches, this one was the game that got away.
It may not be on the mind of every fan in Fayetteville this Saturday, or fans streaming the game elsewhere. But over four quarters, it might come up.