This was never supposed to be a rivalry.
For over a decade in the Sun Belt, North Texas toiled away with no natural geographic rival, its closest conference-mates in Arkansas and Louisiana. They paid their dues, and finally— FINALLY— at long last, moved up to a larger conference, with more bowl opportunities, and a bigger payout.
And then there was UTSA, a school that didn’t even have a football team while the Mean Green were grinding it out in a conference no one outside of it seemed to think much of. Then all of a sudden they did, and before you could say “meep meep,” they were suddenly FBS, and just as suddenly full members of Conference USA.
Despite all this, it never occurred to anyone at conference headquarters to put together a trophy. Heck, even UCF and UConn have a trophy (RIP 2013-2019), but maybe no one thought much of these two little upstarts. Maybe all eyes were on big names from years past, like Marshall and Southern Miss. Whatever the reason, THINGS ARE GETTIN’ GOOD.
In Year Seven, in the hopes of gaining sponsorship and interest in a REAL I-35 trophy, the C-USA experts decided to sit down and see where we are: Managing Editor and UTSA Alum Jared Kalmus, and Associate Editor / North Texas alum Adam Woodyard:
Is this a rivalry?
Jared: Maybe, just barely. The games have been competitive enough, and you could definitely argue that the 2013 and 2017 games had a serious long term impact on each team’s trajectory. That counts for a lot more than just trash talk in my opinion. However, six games isn’t enough for the hostilities to really take off. It would be different if the two schools were playing each other in Olympic sports for years prior but I don’t think that’s really the case.
Adam: If a rivalry doesn’t get press and ESPN doesn’t show footage of fans yelling at each other, did it happen? The sports media in general treats this like just another game, but it’s bigger than UConn/UCF, we can agree on that. Like Jared said, there certainly have been some serious stakes in past years, and how are those somehow less worthy than UTSA/TxSt? My mentions say yes. Moreso if both teams can finish over .500 in the same year (this is not a dig, it’s just worked out that way on both sides).
How do fans of (UTSA/UNT) really feel about fans of (UNT/UTSA) ?
Jared: UTSA fans definitely don’t have a great perception of the Mean Green Faithful. The discussion on social media and message boards gets pretty heated, and I’ve had a lot of UTSA friends tell me that they’ve been harassed by UNT fans IRL at Apogee Stadium. I haven’t personally had that experience but I don’t doubt that it happens on both sides.
Adam: I have not had the pleasure of attending a game at the Alamodome, and I think even in 2019 the hump to get over is “stop wearing Big 12 swag on your C-USA campus.” Speaking personally, I think I’m a little mad we spent years paying our dues in FCS, then the Sun Belt, and here these guys just show up and get the same C-USA privileges. But I don’t have any ill-will toward their fans, except for that three hours a year we watch the teams duke it out.
Why don’t we have a trophy yet? What should that be?
Jared: Having a rivalry trophy already would feel a bit forced and we don’t want to turn this into the next Civil ConFLiCT. A few years down the line the two programs should wage war over a golden brisket.
Adam: These things need corporate sponsorship these days, and while I applaud Twitter for bringing HEB into the TxSt/UTSA situation, maybe Jared’s right. If there’s not enough interest online to push for those same shenanigans, we’ll have to wait. But “Underdog Dynasty Presents: The Golden Traffic Construction Barrel” works fine for me, plus it would take up a lot of room in a trophy case. A Battle of the BBQ is also a capital idea.
How has the rivalry changed since its inception?
Jared: I think there’s more respect between the two programs now since each side has won some challenging games. I would also say that It Just Means More now since we’ve seen a couple years where this game determined the success or failure of both teams’ seasons.
Adam: Despite what I said above, I think this really was ‘just another game’ the first year or two. UTSA fans were still getting used to the landscape, and North Texas had more than one new team to get used to in their new conference. I genuinely do look forward to this game, whilst simultaneously dreading it, which is the mark of a good rivalry. However this season ends, one team goes up 4-3 for a year.
Why does this rivalry matter?
Jared: Face it, both programs need a rival. UTSA has Texas State, but the Bobcats have not been competitive on the field. UTEP is an option for both schools but the geographic distance puts a damper on things. Rice could be a worthy rival but their fanbase isn’t as passionate as UTSA and UNT fans (sorry Owls).
Adam: I’d like to mock you guys for having a non-conference rival, but man, it will never not be fun for me when UNT beats SMU. So I get it. But having an in-conference rival is important too, and why should the East division have all the fun?
If this is a rivalry, where does it rank in C-USA?
Jared: Fairly low I’d say. There’s a pretty big gap between the Moonshine Throwdown or the Shula Bowl and whatever UTSA vs. UNT is.
Adam: It’s all about tradition, isn’t it? This match-up didn’t exist before 2013, all those match-ups are like a hundred years old. I do think the West division seems less steeped in tradition overall, but eventually journalists will realize how fun it is to sit in the Apogee press box, or get to watch an indoor college football game in San Antonio.
What’s been the highlight so far?
Jared: Pains me to admit it but Mason Fine’s 98 yard game-winning drive in 2017 is absolutely the stuff of legends.
Adam: That’s a good answer! That’s a “same” from me, but the Alamodome is a great venue, and I think it’s a highlight to watch the program grow, as well as getting to watch a game on that field, even online.
Say something nice about the other team’s stadium.
Jared: Apogee has great sight lines, concession lines are always pretty quick, and the beer selection is nice. It’s a great model for any G5 program looking to build a new on-campus stadium.
Adam: What’s better than watching a college football game indoors? The city may have struggled filling the Alamodome, and this is a match made in heaven and I’m legitimately happy such a young program can enjoy such a fantastic venue.
Neutral Site Rivalry: Yay or nay?
Jared: Sounds awful.
Adam: Last year in San Antonio, attendance was 19,874. The year before that in Denton, 23,068. If those numbers get higher, maybe, someday?
The first match-up of this series was in 2013, and in that time the largest margin of victory in any game was 14 points, in 2016. What can we expect on Saturday?
Jared: Probably something in that margin. We haven’t seen UTSA play against G5 competition yet this year so it’s hard to make a real prediction but I think the Roadrunners will look quite improved. UNT’s offensive line should be worried about the match up against UTSA’s super deep defensive line that manhandled Army last week.
Adam: Despite the lukewarm approach to this rivalry (and if anyone reading has stronger feelings, comments are open), this will be another intense game for that reason. Last year the season was effectively over for both teams, now this is a must-win for both. UTSA hasn’t played a G5 team yet, and North Texas got in some good punches against an even more impressive Golden Bears defense. Prediction? A thriller.