Losing the final two games of the year by a combined 44 points is not the ideal way end the campaign. For cynics, the fact that Head Coach Seth Littrell has finished the last two campaigns very similarly (NT closed 2016 with a combined 35 point margin in two straight losses) is an indiction that things in Denton are not quite so new.
For the optimists, these losses are mere coincidences and the feeling around Denton is very different than in years past.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. North Texas is ahead of schedule, but no one can quite put a finger on what the schedule is supposed to look like. When Lane Kiffin is rattling off 10-stright and a CUSA title the undefeated CUSA West run and CUSA title game appearance by Littrell pales in comparison.
This is the way of college football. There are hundreds of great seasons overshadowed by even better ones.
The future is bright in Denton, and the recruiting haul over the last two seasons has brought in the kind of depth that can sustain or even lead to even better seasons. Man for man, the Owls of FAU are more talented and will remain that way through at least next season, but the Mean Green boast Mason Fine, and have given him competition by adding more QBs.
Experience and more weapons will help Fine and company score against the tough defenses that were able to get to him and shut down the prolific offenses in the postseason.
Still, the biggest question hanging over Denton is the on the defensive side. While Littrell has expressed his belief and trust in Troy Reffett, the Mean Green fan base is skeptical. The defense did put up some better advanced numbers in specific scenarios over last year, but fell in the ones that mattered and especially on the biggest stages.
Lane Kiffin’s boys shredded the Mean Treen for 804 yard and 69 points in October, and then put up 633 in the title game. While the finer points of defense will intrigue football nerds, college football — from recruiting to donations-gathering — is about big bold headlines. If enough important people cannot get beyond the big ugly Yards Allowed numbers, it will not matter how good the 4th Qtr S&P+ was (fairly good, actually).
For now the Mean Green can be proud of winning the West division over some good teams (UAB, La Tech) and beating their budding rival (UTSA) in a thrilling game. While the last two seasons have ended similarly, anyone who was paying attention can tell you that the program is in a much better place and moving forward.