Key questions UNT’s new AD will face Part III — What’s the scheduling philosophy?

North Texas beat Indiana in the 2011 season at Apogee Stadium. One of the issues UNT's new athletic director will face is what his or her approach to scheduling will be. (DRC file photo)

North Texas beat Indiana in the 2011 season at Apogee Stadium. One of the issues UNT’s new athletic director will face is what his or her approach to scheduling will be. (DRC file photo)

Over the last few days, we have started to take a look at some of the key issues North Texas’ new athletic director will face.

Rick Villarreal is stepping down after 15 years. One of the improvements he should be credited for is the gradual improvement in UNT’s scheduling.

UNT played a ton of football games on the road early in his tenure to pay the bills. Ah, yes, the Body Bag/Opportunity Game.

One of the reasons the Miracle Bowl Run of the early 2000s really was a miracle was because of the nonconference games those teams played.

UNT played on the road at Texas, Alabama, TCU and Arizona in the first five weeks of the 2002 season and recovered to finish 8-5 and beat Cincinnati in the New Orleans Bowl. A year later, UNT played at Oklahoma, Air Force and Arkansas with a home game against Baylor stuck in there. In 2004, UNT went to Texas, Colorado and Baylor with a game against Florida Atlantic thrown in.

Somehow, UNT recovered every year to play in a bowl game.

Life has gotten significantly better for UNT in terms of its football schedule since. One of the big reasons that is the case is Apogee Stadium. One of the big selling points when UNT was getting its ducks in a row to have it built was that the school would be able to improve its scheduling.

There has been a payoff.

UNT has the series with SMU it long desired on the books each season, not to mention one with Army. The Black Knights are another good draw.

Former UNT coach Dan McCarney was not a big fan of the Body Bag/Opportunity Game and spoke about the need to balance those games with games against FCS teams. Those games were eventually added.

There were a few pretty major snafus along the way. UNT only managed to get five home games on the books in two of the first five years Apogee was in place, including last year.

UNT has vowed to avoid that fate in the future and has these games on the books

Season Non-conference opponents
2016 Home – SMU, Bethune-Cookman
Away – Florida, Army
2017 Home – Army, Lamar
Away – SMU, Iowa
2018 Home – SMU, Incarnate Word
Away – Arkansas, Army
2019 Home – Army, Abilene Christian
Away – SMU, Wisconsin

Essentially, it sets up like this: SMU and Army on a rotating basis, a Body Bag/Opportunity Game and an FCS team UNT should beat. UNT doesn’t have the FCS games on the schedule yet for 2020 and 2021.

Memphis is on the books beginning in 2022 for a two-game series and could take Army’s place, depending on what else UNT does in those years in which SMU is the only other team on the books.

The question a new athletic director will have to answer is if UNT’s current approach is the best approach.

Other teams in Conference USA are bringing in Power 5 conference teams over the next few years. Rice will host Baylor next season when Arizona State visits Texas-San Antonio. Louisiana Tech gets Mississippi State at home in 2017.

There are a number of issues that go along with landing a Power 5 team for a home game. First off, UNT isn’t going to get a huge check for hosting a Power 5 team like it would if it went on the road.

Villarreal also talked in the past about how he didn’t want UNT’s players to feel like the visiting team at home. That could end up being an issue if UNT were to host a Big 12 team with a huge Metroplex following like Texas Tech.

There are a lot of benefits to the way UNT has things lined up now, but would the school benefit from bringing in a higher-profile team on a regular basis?

The top three attended crowds in history for a UNT home game are two games against Baylor and the first game in Apogee against Houston.

Some of the more memorable performances in recent UNT history also came at home against Power 5 teams. The Mean Green beat Indiana at home in 2011 for the first win of McCarney’s tenure at UNT.

UNT also took Kansas State to the wire at Fouts Field in 2010. The Mean Green beat Baylor at home in 2003. Would switching things up for more games like those against Indiana, Baylor and Kansas State be worth the price? Would two-for-one arrangements that would have UNT play twice on the road for one home game be worth it, especially if they resulted in a season with five home games?

UNT is 1-46 all-time against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 and 0-44 on the road.

The program could really use an attention-grabbing win and would have a better chance at home.

The question UNT’s new athletic director will have to face is if the way the school is going about scheduling games is putting it in the best position to succeed.

Here’s our list of challenges UNT’s new athletic director will face:

No. 1 — Decide what to do with UNT’s administrative staff that is already in place

No. 2 — How can the school expand its fan/donor base?

The Sunday leftovers (Stewart headed to NCAA finals)

Stewart

Stewart

It’s Sunday night and time for the leftovers, that time of the week where we pick back through the events of the weekend — reheat the good stuff, and some of the bad — while hopefully putting it all in perspective.

The big new of the weekend came in track, where UNT hurdler Chastity Stewart advanced through the NCAA West Preliminaries and into the national finals in both the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles.

I posted a tweet from UNT with a video of Stewart winning her heat the 100 hurdles earlier in the weekend.

Stewart was in the slow heat and posted the sixth-best time in the 100 hurdles in the meet at 13.19 and the seventh-best time in the 400 hurdles at 57.71.

Stewart will now head to Eugene, Oregon, for the national finals on June 8-11.

And in a side note, seniors Connor Bey and Susie Kemper were both named to the All-Conference USA academic teams.

UNT recruiting target series — Kazon Edwards

Spring practice is over, which can only mean one thing here on the blog.

It’s time to kick off the now annual UNT recruiting target series.

Over the next few months, we will talk to a few of the players UNT has offered a scholarship or is recruiting in the Class of 2017. The exercise provides some insight into the players UNT is after and also gives us the pulse of Texas high school/junior college players when it comes to their perception of the Mean Green.

We kick it off today with Kazon Edwards, an outside linebacker at LA Valley JC.

If the name of that school sounds familiar, it’s because UNT is in the hunt for LA Valley defensive end Raveon Hoston.

Edwards finished with 32 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season. Unfortunately for Edwards, he broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot and will not graduate in time to transfer to an FBS school this fall.

Edwards will redshirt this fall at LA Valley. Here are his Hudl highlights.

UNT has yet to offer a scholarship, but Edwards believes the Mean Green could soon put one on the table. UNT defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler is recruiting Edwards.

“North Texas is very close on pulling the trigger,” Edwards wrote in a message. “I have a very good relationship with coach [Ekeler].”

Edwards is hoping that he will play with Hoston again at UNT.

“North Texas is going to take me with or without my brother Ray, who I feel is going to commit,” Edwards said. “I hope he does. It will be great to play with him again.”

Hoston is announcing his decision on June 1.

“He will make the right decision that’s best for him and his family,” Edwards said. “We will find out on his commit day.”

Edwards is also considering heading to UNT, which he is hoping will offer him a scholarship, despite the foot injury he is recovering from the the extra semester it will take him to graduate.

“UNT understands,” Edwards said. “They want to get me to the next level.”

Chastity Stewart qualifies for NCAA finals in two events

Chastity Stewart had herself a heck of a weekend in the NCAA West preliminaries meet in Kansas.

The North Texas senior qualified for the national finals in the 400 hurdles on Friday and came back to win her preliminary heat and qualify in the 100 hurdles as well.

Stewart took last year off, but has long been one of the Mean Green’s top performers.

Her performance over the last few days will ensure she goes down as one of the more accomplished athletes in recent UNT track history.

“It means a lot to advance athletes to the NCAA finals,” UNT coach Carl Sheffield said in a prepared statement. “To advance out of such a competitive region says a lot for the talent of our athletes. Chastity Stewart is a phenomenal individual competitor and she continues to step up in big competitions.”

Stewart will now prepare for the finals that will take place June 8-11 in Eugene, Oregon.

Saturday afternoon recruiting football recruiting tidbits

It’s been a pretty eventful weekend across Texas in terms of recruiting news.

It sounded like UNT was going to land a commitment from an offensive lineman last night. That story fell through, but there are a couple of other items of note I wanted to get to.

First off, late 2016 target Raveon Hoston is going to announce his decision on June 1 at a signing ceremony at Los Angeles Valley.

UNT already has a commitment from LA Valley running back Anthony Wyche.

Could UNT get the package deal?

That’s the plan, but Nebraska has come into the picture late for Hoston. Like a lot of other prospects in similar situations, it comes down to this for Hoston — take a near guaranteed prominent role at UNT or roll the dice and see if he can carve out a role with a national power.

UNT has not had a whole lot of luck in those situations historically.

Another player to keep an eye on is quarterback Will McBride. The Clear Springs product is a good prospect with a half a dozen offers who committed to SMU a while back.

SMU has since landed a higher rated player in Lake Travis quarterback Charlie Brewer.

UNT smartly came in and offered McBride. There are a number of schools who could try to take McBride out heading to SMU with Brewer headed to Dallas.

Friday evening notes (Littrell’s first pitch at Rangers game, recruiting tidbits)

Tonight is North Texas Night at the Rangers game.

UNT has had a number of different coaches and players throw out the first pitch over the years. New UNT football coach Seth Littrell took his turn this time around.

Evan Nemec posted the video of the pitch at the top of this post. Nemec worked in radio and television as a student at UNT and is now an intern at CBS 11.

Littrell will probably take some grief for bouncing it. Just remember, that’s a tough spot to be in. You take a coach/player out of his element/sport, stand him up there in front of thousands of people and a television audience and ask him to throw a strike, something he hasn’t done in years.

To his credit, Littrell was a good sport about the whole deal.

And in other news, I spent time today on a wild goose chase for what sounded like it would be UNT’s next football commitment.

I didn’t find the goose, but as is the case with a lot of these deals, I did run across a few ducks along the way.

Josh Donovan, a highly regarded center/guard prospect from College Station will visit UNT on Monday. UNT will have a chance to make a good impression on the three-star prospect, who said how the visit goes will impact his decision.

Seth Scott, a guard from Dallas Skyline, was another suspect. He said he hasn’t committed, but that UNT is his top choice. E.J. Holland, who has been around in Texas recruiting circles for a long time, recently predicted Scott would end up signing with UNT on 247 Sports crystal ball. I totally agree.

Segun Ijiyera was suspect No. 3. I chatted with him at Lake Dallas’ spring game a few days ago. He’s another guy I think could be headed to UNT. He has not yet committed to a school. I will have a story on him in the next few days.

Key questions UNT’s new AD will face Part II — How can the school expand its fan/donor base?

One area North Texas has struggled in over the last few years of Rick Villarreal's tenure as the school's athletic director is attendance. UNT finished with one of the lowest per-game attendance averages in Conference USA for men's basketball last season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

One area North Texas has struggled in over the last few years of Rick Villarreal’s tenure as the school’s athletic director is attendance. UNT finished with one of the lowest per-game attendance averages in Conference USA for men’s basketball last season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

There are a number of challenges North Texas’ new athletic director will face when he or she takes over for Rick Villarreal, who is stepping down after more than 15 years.

We began our series looking at some of those issues a few days ago by posing the question of what he/she will do in terms of the athletic department staff. Just to reiterate, UNT has a lot of good people in the athletic department who do great work.

Personnel decisions are a short-term issue.

How UNT can go about building a larger following has been a dilemma for years and will continue to be an issue for the school’s next athletic director.

UNT ranked dead last in Conference USA in home football attendance last season, when the Mean Green averaged just 13,631 fans in five home football games. That was the lowest total UNT has posted since 1998.

Attendance at UNT’s men’s basketball games last season averaged 1,979 fans per game, a total that ranked 11th out of 14 teams in C-USA and represented a 50.6 percent decrease from the 2011-12 season.

The simple answer is UNT needs put better teams on the field/court. The school has really struggled to reach that goal over the last decade.

UNT has enjoyed just one winning season in the last 11 in football, has suffered 10 straight losing seasons in women’s basketball and hasn’t posted a winning season in men’s basketball since Johnny Jones left for LSU in 2012.

UNT has gone .500 or worse every year since Jones departed and finished 12-20 twice, including last season.

Winning would certainly help UNT build and maintain a following, but history shows that at UNT winning isn’t the cure-all it seems like it should be.

UNT posted one of the best seasons in the 100-year history of its football program in 2013, when the Mean Green finished 9-4 and beat UNLV in front of a crowd of nearly 40,000 people in the Cotton Bowl. A study on the UAB football program included a season-by-season rundown of season ticket sales by Conference USA schools.

UNT’s ticket sales actually declined slightly after its bowl win – falling from 4,468 to 4,285.

UNT’s basketball attendance grew under Jones and hit a high of 4,006 fans a game in 2011-12, but never really exploded like one would have expected during a run of six straight winning seasons, including five 20-win campaigns, and two NCAA appearances. Jones put a ton of effort into promoting the program and was generally loved around town.

Jones spoke several times over the years about his frustration over attendance during the good years.

The idea that consistent winning with wins over relevant teams would fix UNT’s attendance/fan base problems has been offered up.

UNT beat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and LSU during its run under Jones and consistently won games while bringing in some of the greatest players in school history, including Josh White, Tristan Thompson and Tony Mitchell.

Once Jones was gone, UNT fell off the map to 12-20 and saw its attendance issues worsen.

If UNT is going to get to where it wants to be as a program, it is going to have to grow its fan base and home attendance, not to mention its donor base. A study conducted by Houston showed that UNT brings in fewer donations to its annual fund, in UNT’s case the Mean Green Club, than any other FBS program in the state.

The study listed UNT with annual donations of $800,000.

One of the key challenges for UNT will be improving those attendance and donation totals.

Here’s our list:

No. 1 — Decide what to do with UNT’s administrative staff that is already in place

Thursday night notes (Could a hoops shakeup be coming? Et cetera)

It’s Thursday night and time for a quick lap around the bases as far as North Texas athletics goes.

There have been a number of tidbits I have been meaning to get to that have stacked up in the last few days.

First off, on the recruiting front, a couple of quarterbacks UNT offered have come off the board. Colleyville Heritage product Cam Roane committed to San Diego State.

Lake Travis quarterback Charlie Brewer is off to SMU, UNT’s No.1 rival.

As far as the upcoming football season goes, Vegas Insider has set its over-under win totals. The site set the bar at two wins for the Mean Green.

There just isn’t a lot of faith out there in UNT making a big move up this fall after a 1-11 season a year ago.

And finally, on the hoops front, word in the coaching community is that there could be a shakeup coming as far as the UNT men’s basketball coaching staff goes.

I was told this week that everyone is still under contract.

Stay tuned.

Revisiting our list of UNT’s top rivalries

A lot has changed over the last few months since we last looked at who North Texas' biggest rivals are. One fact that hasn't changed is that SMU is at the top of the list, especially after the Mustangs' win in Dallas last season. (DRC file photo)

A lot has changed over the last few months since we last looked at who North Texas’ biggest rivals are. One fact that hasn’t changed is that SMU is at the top of the list, especially after the Mustangs’ win in Dallas last season. (DRC file photo)

Last March, we look a look at North Texas’ top rivalries. It was an interesting list in a time of change in Mean Green athletics.

UNT had just gotten out of the Sun Belt Conference at the time and was adjusting to Conference USA. One of the big selling points when UNT made that move is that it would be able to develop some rivalries within the conference and Texas, where the Mean Green seemed to fall off the map once Sun Belt play began each year.

Has anything changed?

In some ways it has, in others, it has remained the same.

Here’s a look at where UNT stands now in terms of rivalries:

1. It’s still SMU, and there really isn’t any question about it

Pretty much nothing went right for UNT last season during a 1-11 football season.

What might have been the worst part of the whole affair for the Mean Green was going to Dallas with high hopes of getting back on track after a 4-8 season and promptly being dumped by SMU 31-13.

UNT fans showed up in droves expecting to see the Mean Green win consecutive games against the Mustangs for the first time in a series that began in 1922. That was understandable considering the Mean Green won 43-6 the year before.

UNT fans paid to fly a “Go Mean Green” banner before the game.

The disappointment of seeing the Mustangs roll UNT and increase their lead in the series to 29-5-1 is something Mean Green fans really never got over last year.

The rematch at Apogee this fall will be intense. The teams have alternated wins in the last six games of the series. A win against SMU would give UNT a chance to say it’s back on track and on equal footing of late with the Mustangs. A loss would be tough for the Mean Green.

2. UTSA because of its rapid rise in college athletics

The nature of the UNT-UTSA rivalry really hasn’t changed in the last few months. UNT got the last laugh, beating the Roadrunners by the skin of their teeth last season 30-23, largely due to a blocked extra point.

In the end it’s still a battle for Texas bragging rights and recruits between a team that has been playing football for 100 years and a team that decided trying this whole football thing might be a good idea in 2008.

Don’t think for a minute that the fact UNT fans don’t resent the fact that UTSA set up shop and ended up in Conference USA in a matter of years, while UNT fought for decades to become an FBS team in a Texas-based league.

3. Middle Tennessee because of the teams’ history.

MTSU and UNT has a terrific history in multiple sports that is always fun to look back on.

The Blue Raiders took a couple of cheap shots at Ja’Mel Branch while he was returning kicks in the early years of the Sun Belt. UNT also knocked off the Blue Raiders 24-21 in 2001, when Middle Tennessee was 5-0 and had one of its best teams in recent program history.

A few years later, in the final game of the 2011 season, UNT ran the score up in a 59-7 season-ending win over the Blue Raiders. MTSU did the same to UNT last year, pounding the Mean Green, 41-7.

The really fun quote and part of the rivalry remains in women’s basketball, though. MTSU has long fielded an elite women’s basketball team that had a heated exchange with UNT a couple of years ago. The Blue Raiders hammered UNT 113-58 in 2009 and ran the score up on a night they hit 13 of their 25 attempts from 3-point range. MTSU kept jacking up 3s in the closing minutes while UNT collapsed in on star forward Alysha Clark.

Anne Marie Lanning hit six of those 3s and then hit UNT with this quote in the next day’s Daily News-Journal.

“I don’t know if we take offense to it, but we’re just like, ‘Are you going to be that stupid?,’” Lanning told the DNJ of UNT’s decision to not guard the 3-point line. “But when they do come out on us, Alysha [Clark] does what she did last week at Troy (50 points).

“They’re in a lose-lose situation. But if they want to be stupid and leave us open, then we’ll put it to you.”

MTSU has been putting it on UNT for years and extended its run of dominance last season, pounding the Mean Green 76-52 for its 13th straight win in the series.

4. UNT men’s basketball vs. Shawn Forrest

Shawn Forrest was once one of the highly respected and valued members of the UNT athletic department who helped Johnny Jones build the Mean Green men’s basketball program into a power that went to two NCAA tournaments. He helped bring great players like Tony Mitchell and Jordan Williams to Denton. Jones left for LSU in 2012.

Forrest wanted to replace Jones, but ended up taking a series of jobs as an assistant and has been a huge thorn in the side of UNT and Tony Benford, the coach who got the job. UNT has faced teams on which Forrest has been an assistant six times since — and lost every single time. Among those six losses are season-enders in the Sun Belt tournament to Louisiana-Lafayette and last season’s Conference USA tournament against Western Kentucky.

Forrest has moved on since and landed at Louisiana Tech, which is naturally one of UNT’s biggest C-USA rivals in the league’s West Division.

Gulp.

5. Louisiana Tech because it does so much with so little

And speaking of Louisiana Tech, the school is quickly developing into a rival for UNT because it does so much with so little and usually has its way with the Mean Green. LA Tech has one of the smaller budgets in C-USA and is located in one of the smaller media markets. The school doesn’t have the greatest facilities, either, even after adding a nice end zone complex in its football stadium.

The Bulldogs have won four of the last five football games between the schools anyway. LA Tech whacked UNT 56-13 last season.

UNT and LA Tech has split the last four meetings in men’s basketball, but it’s been the Bulldogs who have had more success in the postseason.

That isn’t easy for UNT to swallow.

 

Thinking back on UNT-Baylor in 2003

North Texas Hall of Fame running back Patrick Cobbs scores a touchdown during a 52-14 win over Baylor back in 2003. (DRC file photo)

North Texas Hall of Fame running back Patrick Cobbs scores a touchdown during a 52-14 win over Baylor back in 2003. (DRC file photo)

The hammer finally fell in the Baylor sexual assault scandal today when head coach Art Briles was fired as the Bears head coach.

Briles built the Baylor program into a national power at his tenure at the school.

The news got me thinking back on how far the Bears had come over the years following one of the landmark wins in North Texas history.

Baylor was struggling when the Bears rolled into Fouts Field back in 2003 to face what was one of the better teams UNT has fielded in the last 20 years.

Future NFL running back Patrick Cobbs was playing for the Mean Green, as was Cody Spencer, another player who would have a long professional career. UNT Hall of Fame defensive tackle Brandon Kennedy and quarterback Scott Hall were on that team as well.

UNT hammered Baylor 52-14. Kennedy returned a fumble for a touchdown. Cobbs and Roy Bishop both ran for more than 100 yards.

The Mean Green ended up playing in the New Orleans Bowl that year, the second of four straight. Baylor finished 3-9 and didn’t begin to turn the corner until Briles arrived in 2008.

A coaching change sparked the Bears.

UNT’s run of success lasted just one season after that 2003 campaign. The Mean Green have enjoyed just one winning season since their run of four straight Sun Belt Conference titles ended in 2004.

Baylor found the spark it needed with Briles, whose tenure ended was a spectacular crash.

It’s been more than a decade since UNT’s big win over the Bears. Now the Mean Green are again hoping they have the coach who will provide the spark the program needs in Seth Littrell.

Seeing Briles’ depart brought back some memories of where the Bears were before he arrived. It also brought back memories of where UNT was — and where the Mean Green hope to be again under Littrell.