The best era for every current AAC football school

Famous Toastery Bowl - Western Kentucky v Old Dominion
Famous Toastery Bowl - Western Kentucky v Old Dominion / Isaiah Vazquez/GettyImages
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North Texas Mean Green: Original Sun Belt dynasty (2001-04)

"What is there to say about the University of North Texas?" That is a common question that many could ask about the Mean Green. The school named their athletic squads after NFL legend and alumni Joe Greene. They won last year's NIT in basketball. However, there's not much else that people know.

As far as the football program is concerned, North Texas had a nice run with Seth Littrell as head coach from 2016-2022. He gave the program some respectability by leading his teams to six bowl games. However, they lost each one. They also never won a conference title in his time there. Historically, UNT has been massively inconsistent, with several winning seasons sprinkled with long stretches of mediocrity.

They did earn five Missouri Valley titles from the late-1950s to the early-1970s. After 1982, the program was demoted to the Division 1-AA level and stood there until 1995. In the six years after moving back up to Division 1A, the team continued to flounder. In 2001, the Sun Belt was formed in football and UNT left the old Big West to become a member.

In their first four years playing in the Sun Belt, North Texas enjoyed their first run of success since moving back up to college football's highest level. The team was coached by Darrell Dickey, who had a combined eight wins in the prior three years. There was some future NFL talent on the roster in the forms of running back Patrick Cobbs and linebackers Brad Kassell and Cody Spencer.

The Mean Green would begin the 2001 campaign with a 0-5 start which included losses to No. 3 Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Louisiana-Monroe in the Sun Belt opener. However, starting in their Oct. 13 game against Middle Tennessee State, UNT would string together five straight wins. The win against MTSU proved to be huge.

Despite the Blue Raiders having an 8-3 mark, compared to the 5-6 record of North Texas, since the Mean Green beat them 24-21, they would split the conference title. But North Texas would be the first postseason representative in Sun Belt history because of this and would earn their first of four straight appearances in the New Orleans Bowl.

This was the school's first conference title since 1994 when they won the Southland Conference in Division 1AA. Despite a tough loss to Colorado State, things were looking up in Denton for the first time in nearly a decade. 2002 saw the squad get off to another slow start, due to a tough non-conference schedule. They lost to No. 3 Texas, Alabama, TCU, Arizona, and South Florida.

Once Sun Belt Conference play began, North Texas demolished the competition en route to their first outright Sun Belt title and finished 7-5. It was their first winning season in Division 1A since 1980. On their second trip to the New Orleans Bowl, they would achieve another first. By defeating Cincinnati, the Mean Green enjoyed their first bowl win ever.

And 2003 was even better. A second straight outright Sun Belt title was claimed. The school also posted their first nine-win season since 1978. The team even defeated Baylor from the Big 12 in the year's second game. It was their fourth win against a Power Five team since 1995 and their first since beating Texas A&M in 1999. Unfortunately, they would lose 27-17 to Memphis in their third straight New Orleans Bowl.

The 2004 season was another year where UNT claimed an outright Sun Belt championship. Another tough non-conference schedule, along with a loss to Florida Atlantic, had the team start 0-4. However, the team won seven straight to get back to a fourth consecutive New Orleans Bowl. They would lose to Southern Mississippi 31-10.

Darrell Dickey would win just five more games over the next two years before getting fired. The school would then fall right back into mediocrity and wouldn't play in a bowl game until their first year as a Conference USA member in 2013. Despite UNT not being a huge contender for most of its history, this four-year run is extremely impressive, no matter the context.