North Texas (6-3, 4-1 CUSA) scored 21 unanswered points en route t a 28-16 victory over Rice (6-3, 4-1 CUSA) Thursday night. With the win North Texas has become eligible to play in a postseason bowl game for the first time since 2004, and for the first time under head coach Dan McCarney.
North Texas trailed Rice 16-7 midway through the second quarter, but Antoinne Jimmerson’s 42-yard run brought the Mean Green to within two points and a 65-yard punt return by Brelan Chancellor gave North Texas a 21-16 lead going in to halftime. Derek Thompson completed a 46-yard pass to Jimmerson in the third quarter to push the lead in to double digits and the defense took care of everything from there. North Texas forced three turnovers in the game and held Rice to just two third down conversions out of 13.
This has been a long time coming for North Texas. Since their last bowl trip in the 2004 season, North Texas has had eight straight losing seasons heading in to 2013. With six wins, North Texas is guaranteed at least a .500 regular season record. In McCarney’s third year n the job, North Texas has now set a career high for wins in a season for their head coach as well. North Texas won five games in McCarney’s first year and four games last season.
This North Texas team is playing with a new energy and confidence that has been missing for some time. A shot to play for the Conference USA championship is still within reach, but North Texas lost a head-to-head match-up to Tulane earlier in the season which gives Tulane the upper hand right now. Tulane is undefeated in Conference USA play and would have to lose twice if North Texas can manage to win the remainder of their games. That last part looks very possible.
North Texas ends their regular season at home against UTEP and UT-San Antonio and then on the road against defending conference champion Tulsa. The combined record of those final three opponents is 6-16 and the three sit on the bottom of the Conference USA West Division. The last time North Texas won nine games in a season was 2003.