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Three key games for the Mean Green football team

We know that North Texas drew a tough schedule, but if there's any hope for the team to get back to a bowl game, there are three games that they need to win.

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Mean Green football team's schedule features: an opening week bye, a month of November where three of its four games are on the road and two tough Conference USA opponents that the team didn't play last year. Needless to say, North Texas was unlucky when it came to its slate of games.

Last year's schedule was relatively soft compared to this, and the Mean Green still only managed to win four games. North Texas should be better this year, but still, winning six games to be bowl eligible with this schedule is a tough ask. For that to happen, there are three key games on North Texas' schedule that they absolutely need to get:

Sept. 19, Rice: The second game of the season usually doesn't carry a ton of importance, but in this case it's North Texas' home opener, first C-USA game of the year and it's against arguably its biggest rival of the past two years in Rice. The Mean Green has a week one bye and will then play SMU before Rice. North Texas destroyed SMU in last season's home opener, but the Mustangs should be better and tougher this year under new head coach Chad Morris. Whether they win or lose to SMU, the Rice game the next week is still of utmost importance. Rice is a solid C-USA team and beat North Texas last year in Houston, after coming back from a halftime deficit. In 2013, the Mean Green beat Rice on Halloween in Apogee Stadium in one of the most memorable games in recent program history, highlighted by that eight-play goal line stand. North Texas is good enough to beat Rice, and in terms of the C-USA standings and position at the end of the year, they're going to have to do it. A win over a big C-USA rival in the home opener would also get fans excited, which is something North Texas needs.

Oct. 31, UTSA: For whatever reason, North Texas hasn't been able to figure out UTSA over the past two years. In 2013, the Roadrunners ended the Mean Green's five-game winning streak, and UTSA also beat North Texas in the last game of 2014. The thing is, the Mean Green were a better team than UTSA in 2013 and were probably a better team than the Roadrunners last year. The 2013 loss particularly hurt because it hurt the Mean Green's chances at getting to the C-USA title game. Last year's loss didn't hurt as bad considering North Texas was already out of bowl contention by that point, but it still stings to lose to an in-state rival. It's time for the Mean Green to figure out the pesky Roadrunners if it wants to get to a bowl game again. The fans should be out and ready to go on Halloween at home, so this is one the Mean Green can't let get away.

Nov. 28, UTEP: Another home game against another in-state rival (see a pattern?). In it's final game of the season, North Texas has to go up against the UTEP Miners, who beat the Mean Green on the road last season. The Miners went 2-10 in 2013, but drastically improved to go 7-6 last year. We'll see if the Miners end up regressing a little bit, but they should still be a solid team. But, at home and on senior day, this is a game North Texas NEEDS to get if it is in bowl contention. Who knows? By this time, the Mean Green might not have anything to play for except for pride, but this could end up being a must-win, or an important game for C-USA and bowl position.