There’s an outdated hashtag on Twitter.
Since Seth Littrell took over North Texas football in 2016, the #NewDenton trend emerged on Twitter, signifying a change in the program. After a 1-11 record in 2015, the Mean Green improved to 5-8 and made a bowl game the next year. Last season, UNT won the Conference-USA West Division after a 9-3 regular season before losing in the C-USA title game and New Orleans Bowl.
As a redshirt-senior linebacker, Brandon Garner was in Denton for the 1-11 season and last year’s C-USA conference game appearance. He was also a key asset in UNT’s 46-23 win against rival SMU on Saturday night, the Mean Green’s first victory against the Mustangs in in three years.
“I see more people buying into the program and really just trying to like give it their all for North Texas,” Garner said. “When I first got here, people were about themselves, they were about, ‘Oh, I’m gonna get mine.’ You don’t really see that here this year. You rooting for everybody. If you’re not in, you’re rooting for the person in front of you.
“It’s just a mindset here and what we have now. It’s not even ‘New Denton’ no more. It’s like the standard. Everything we do now is just a standard. We’re not going back to where we used to be.”
That new standard set new expectations from fans and outsiders, many predicting the Mean Green to compete for a C-USA title again. A lot of that attention came because of the return of a plethora of offensive weapons, including reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year Mason Fine at quarterback.
“That’s just the expectation, not just outside that room, but the expectations inside the room,” Fine, a junior, said. “Our coaches always hold us to a high standard. That’s how it’s been since year one when we got here. They expected a lot from us, and in return, we tend to go out there and execute and be special. We don’t want to be mediocre so every day we’re shooting to be a special unit, a special team, and always just keep trying to reach our full potential and just keep getting better and better each day.”
Fine threw a career-high 444 yards in Saturday’s win, along with three touchdowns on 40-of-50 passing, on his way to becoming C-USA’s first offensive player of the week this season. Garner and the defense also shined, forcing SMU to six three-and-outs and returning an interception for a touchdown. On special teams, kicker Cole Hedlund was perfect, including a 51-yard field goal, and DeAndre Torrey returned a kickoff for a 96-yard touchdown.
“There’s no doubt in my mind going into this game I felt like we were the best team that we’ve been since I’ve been here; just overall, just the depth, the team chemistry, the way they’re working, the leadership has really grown, they hold each other accountable,” Littrell said. “But what does that mean? We’ll see kinda as the season goes on. We still gotta prepare the right way. Every week, it’s a grind.
“It only takes to be a little bit off and not prepare the right way one week here or there, and you’re gonna get your butt beat. Anybody on our schedule can beat us in a heartbeat if you don’t do the things necessary to have success. But at the same time, if we prepare the right way, I truly feel we can win every game this year.”