This weekend, the North Texas Mean Green earned a berth in the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl, where the 4-5 Mean Green will face 8-3 App State. Surprisingly, this is North Texas’ third bowl appearance with a losing record. Maybe bowls just love the Mean Green for some odd reason. Let’s look at the prior instances.
2001: Worst Conference Champs Ever?
The first bowl appearance came from the 2001 team, the Sun Belt’s first ever champions. I actually wrote about this team this Summer. The 2001 team started 0-5, but then won five straight in Sun Belt play including a win over co-champ Middle Tennessee.
The Mean Green cooled off and lost to Troy in the final week of the season to fall below .500. Despite Middle Tennessee’s 8-3 record, the Sun Belt chose North Texas to represent the conference in the first ever New Orleans Bowl. With that, the Mean Green became the first team since 1970 William & Mary to play in a bowl with a losing record.
North Texas met their match in the Big Easy, as a 6-5 Colorado State squad trounced the Mean Green 45-20, on the strength of Bradlee Van Pelt’s one passing and one rushing touchdown.
2016: Academics Pays Off
For North Texas, the 2016 season started with hope as the Mean Green started 4-3, accentuated by wins over traditional C-USA power Marshall, and future bowl team Army (we’ll talk more about them later). Yet, the Mean Green faltered down the stretch, losing 4 of their last five including their last game of the regular season against UTEP, in which Aaron Jones ran for 301 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries in a 52-24 Miner win.
Despite a 5-7 record, North Texas’ brainpower paid off as FBS lacked enough bowl teams to fill all 80 bowl slots, leading to teams such as 6-7 Hawaii, 6-6 South Alabama with two FCS wins, and 5-7 Mississippi State and North Texas with high Academic Progress Ratings, to go to bowls.
North Texas earned a trip to the Cotton Bowl…for the Heart of Dallas Bowl in a rematch against Army. The Mean Green fell behind 24-7 early, but Alec Morris led the comeback with 304 passing yards and three touchdowns to force overtime. However, Army’s bowl record 480 rushing yards were too much for North Texas as the Mean Green were unable to respond to Jordan Asberry’s 3-yard touchdown in OT for Army.
Upset in the Making?
All of this brings us to this year. While it may seem that North Texas is overmatched, they bring much to the table in this matchup. They bring a high-powered and balanced offense to Conway to counter App State’s powerful running game. The two-headed passing duo of Jason Bean and Austin Aune have combined for over 2500 yards and 25 touchdowns in nine games.
This and App State’s motivation going into the bowl make an upset easier to imagine. On top of that, bigger upsets have happened in bowl season, like a 5-7 Nebraska squad beating an 8-4 UCLA team in the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl, or 6-5 Air Force beating #24 Ohio State in the Liberty Bowl. In short, do not look at the 4-5 record and write-off the Loveable Losers of Bowl Season in Myrtle Beach.