The early 2000’s were a good time for North Texas, where they won four conference championships from 2001-2004. The very next year was not so good, and 2006 less so, and at the end of that, the architect of those titles, Darrell Dickey, was let go.
Also in 2006, the the University of Texas-San Antonio approached Carr Sports Associates, Inc to do a feasibility study about maybe, if it was cost-effective, possibly expanding their athletic department to incorporate a football program.
UTSA received the results in November of that year, and from that day forward, UTSA athletics has improved steadily, while North Texas football got bad and stayed bad until very, very recently.
Through all the growing pains, FBS transition, and brief time in the WAC, the Roadrunners didn’t meet the Mean Green on the field until 2013.
2013 - UTSA 21, North Texas 13
When the Roadrunners announced their first head coach would be Larry Coker, winner of a national title at Miami, that was what sportswriters describe with the typical understatement as “a splash hire.” People knew the name and it was considered a huge get. Instant success was all but guaranteed, wasn’t it?
North Texas was having an outstanding season that year, an eventual bowl season under former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney. Going into this game, the Mean Green were 7-3 (5-0), for their best season since 2004. A win against these upstarts, these nobodies, would catapult them into their first conference title game ever, as the Sun Belt didn’t have a title game when UNT was a member. UTSA was perceived in the conference like Charlotte is now— like, hey, we’re glad you’re here, but you don’t really deserve to win any games yet, do you?
Well, North Texas did not win this game, which allowed Rice to slip into the title game that year, which they won. Rice, people. RICE. That’s how you know things are bad.
North Texas would still go to a bowl that year, defeating UNLV in the Heart of Dallas bowl. It would be their only bowl under McCarney, who never had a season this good again.
2014 - UTSA 34, North Texas 27
After the previous year’s fireworks, these two teams were scheduled to meet in the final week of the 2014 season. McCarney was on a downward slide he would never recover from; Coker’s job was just to put a team on the field, no one expected anything yet from a team so fresh.
This game was effectively meaningless, as both teams were already eliminated from bowl contention by that point. With UTSA’s win, both squads finished 4-8. What a difference a year makes— the rivalry was dead before it even started, as both teams returned to their respective offseasons to lick their wounds and ponder what the future might hold.
2015 - North Texas 30, UTSA 23
On Oct. 10 of that year, homecoming, Dan McCarney lost 66-7 to an FCS team and was fired at the end of the game. Offensive coordinator Mike Canales took over as interim coach and lost the next two weeks against WKU and Marshall, no surprises there.
In his third game at the helm, Canales & Co. welcomed UTSA into Denton. The Mean Green had yet to win a game at that point in the season. UTSA was also flailing at 1-6. While Dalton Sturm threw for over twice as many yards as new UNT QB DaMarcus Smith, it was Smith (also a prolific runner) and some upstart sophomore named Jeffrey Wilson who combined for over 260 rushing yards and two touchdowns (Willy Ivery would provide a third).
You could argue that this was the game that cost Larry Coker his job, as Mike Canales did not end up keeping the head coaching gig, and this was UNT’s only win this year, finishing 1-11. UTSA would go on to finish a disappointing 3-9, with wins against Charlotte and Rice.
2016 - UTSA 31, North Texas 17
A new beginning. UTSA had hired Frank Wilson, and North Texas had brought aboard Seth Littrell, both turning around their programs immediately.
Despite this, North Texas struggled with turnovers, as a shaky (and still freshman) Mason Fine threw two interceptions while passing for “only” 257 yards. Dalton Sturm passed for 142 (and two TD’s), but that didn’t matter, because Jalen Rhodes ran for 74 yards and two TD’s and the Roadrunners decided, hey, maybe let’s not turn the ball over today. Jeffrey Wilson, meanwhile, fumbled twice, losing one.
With Wilson stopped and no standout receiver for North Texas (Thaddeous Thompson led UNT receivers with six catches for a whopping 65 yards), North Texas had their win streak end at one, unable to pull this one out under the Alamodome lights.
Both teams would go on to a bowl game that year, UTSA finishing 6-6 and North Texas finishing 5-7 but getting in anyway thanks to their high graduation rate.
For the past two years, these games had become largely meaningless again, but in 2016, it felt like something was started to grow again.
None of these games had such high stakes as they did in 2013, when what was basically a meaningless game for a bowl-ineligible UTSA meant everything in the world to North Texas.
In 2017, this game means everything in the world to both teams. North Texas comes in at 2-0 in conference play, a win here would establish dominance over the entire division. The Roadrunners, meanwhile, held the top recruiting class in Conference USA this offseason; despite a close loss to Southern Miss, a win here could show that was all a fluke, and they’re ready to challenge Louisiana Tech for Western superiority.
It’s not an understatement to say this is the biggest conference game for either of these squads, possibly even the biggest game in their program’s history. On top of that, one of these teams is going to lose, and that team will want revenge in 2018. We will be there for it.
We’ll see you at Apogee Stadium on Saturday, October 14th, at 6 p.m. local time.
Larry Coker and Dan McCarney are not invited.