North Texas Daily

Football looks forward to challenge of Conference USA play

Football looks forward to challenge of Conference USA play

September 21
19:46 2017

Since 2004, the North Texas football team has had a winning record in conference play just two times. In 10 of 12 seasons, the team has finished below .500 in conference.

From the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA, the league schedule has proven to be somewhat of a challenge for the Mean Green – but this year’s team could have the ingredients needed to turn its luck around.

“You go into conference [play] and everyone’s 0-0 right now, for the most part,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “I’m excited about this conference. A lot of good football teams, a lot of great coaches, a lot of great players – it’s a tough conference.”

The tough conference slate begins with the University of Alabama Birmingham this weekend, followed by the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Florida Atlantic University.

The second half of the schedule pits the Mean Green against Old Dominion University, Louisiana Tech University, University of Texas at El Paso and Rice University. Three of those four made a bowl game last season while Florida Atlantic is led by new head coach Lane Kiffin.

Last season, North Texas pulled out close wins against Rice and Southern Miss and is now even more familiar with the teams on its schedule this time around.

“We just expect to come out and compete every week [in conference],” senior running back Jeffery Wilson said. “We’re going to give every team a game and we just want them to know this ain’t the same North Texas – we’re coming to ball.”

In their three non-conference games, the Mean Green have faced Lamar University, SMU and the University of Iowa. The three programs gave Littrell and company several different looks and schemes to go against.

This variance in play styles should pay off for the defense regardless of the offensive system they line up against in conference play.

“Every game prepares you for another game in some way, shape or form,” defensive coordinator Troy Reffett said. “Against Iowa, we had to try to stop their run game [while] SMU was a very balanced offense with explosive receivers.”

The confidence level surrounding the team, especially after competing with Iowa, is back on the rise. But even so, the Mean Green know they have a lot to improve on heading into this week. The defense knows the secondary needs to step up along with its ability to get off the field on the third down. On the other hand, North Texas needs to find a way to convert third-down opportunities offensively.

“[We need to] prepare the best we can every week and make sure your guys are ready to play,” Littrell said. “Being able to overcome adversity and play the next play and play the next week you have to understand there are things we have to fix every week.”

The offense, spearheaded by Wilson and sophomore quarterback Mason Fine, will need to continue its stellar production.

So far, the unit is averaging 35 points per game. Fine has thrown for 271 yards per game and has completed 67 percent of his passes and currently ranks among the top 30 quarterbacks in the country in passing yardage. But the Mean Green will need to take a step forward on both sides of the ball in C-USA, starting this week against UAB.

“You want to be perfect in conference play,” junior linebacker Brandon Garner said. “You can’t sleep on a team. A win is a win in this league.”

The excitement is there for the North Texas football team. Coaches, students, players and alumni all know the importance of these games and how important they are to the program.

Littrell’s mission statement has always been to make and win a bowl game. In order to do so without the help of Academic Progress Rate, the team will need to do something only two North Texas football teams have done since 2004 – go at least 4-4 in conference play.

“I feel like we’re getting more excited, and we have a good football team,” Littrell said. “At times we have to get out of our own way, but we’re going to continue to grow and compete for championships.”

Featured Image: Sophomore quarterback Mason Fine throws a pass in a game against Southern Methodist University on Sept. 9. The Mean Green fell to SMU 54-32. Sara Carpenter

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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