Toppers trying to finally beat North Texas


WKU is seeking its sixth straight Sun Belt Conference win and to remain in contention for the league championship Saturday at North Texas.

Brad Stephens

Four years. Four losses.

Perhaps no team has been a more frustrating opponent for WKU since 2007 than North Texas.

The Toppers have gone 0-4 against the Mean Green in that time span, enduring four unique, yet painful losses to the Sun Belt Conference foe.

WKU (5-5, 5-1 Sun Belt) will look to reverse that trend when the teams meet at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Denton, Texas.

“They’ve been beating us ever since we’ve been playing them,” senior running back Bobby Rainey said. “I’m pretty sure it’s time for a change.”

Frustrating circumstances have surrounded each of the Toppers’ defeats to the Mean Green.

WKU lost the its first meeting 27-26 in its 2007 season finale, as WKU kicker Chris James missed an extra point and then a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation.

One year later, the Toppers had three chances to take the lead from near the goal line in the final minute, but WKU couldn’t convert. North Texas then returned an interception 97 yards as time expired to clinch a 51-40 win.

The 2009 matchup saw winless WKU take a 49-42 lead late in the third quarter, only to give up 26 straight points and fall 68-49.

And one year ago, the teams met a week after the Toppers snapped a nation-leading 26-game losing streak. But WKU couldn’t carry over that momentum in a 33-6 Homecoming loss.

Though series history gives the edge to North Texas on Saturday, as of Thursday, WKU was favored by three points.

Much of that line may be attributed to the Toppers riding a five-game winning streak in league play and fighting for a bowl berth, while the Mean Green (4-6, 3-3) are eliminated from the Sun Belt title hunt.

However, North Texas’ most recent outing was one of its better wins of the year, a 38-33 win last week over traditional Sun Belt power, Troy.

Senior left tackle Wes Jeffries said even though WKU is coming off a competitive game against No. 1 Louisiana State last Saturday, the team will be just as motivated for the Mean Green.

“I don’t think we’re going to underestimate them because they came out and put it on us last year,” Jeffries said. “It’s a game we need to win as much as they do, so it’s going to be a dogfight.”

It will likely be a game-time decision on Saturday as to whether or not North Texas will have its most reliable offensive weapon available — running back Lance Dunbar.

Dunbar went out of the Troy win with a twisted knee, but an MRI on Monday revealed no ligament tears or cartilage damage, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Dunbar, the co-Preseason Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns against the Toppers last season.

Sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson said the key to beating the Mean Green for the first time will be WKU’s ability to contain Dunbar and the rest of the North Texas rushing attack.

“They just like to run the ball,” Jackson said. “We’re just going to stop that, put an end to it.”

WKU must win its final two games (North Texas and Nov. 26 vs. Troy) and Arkansas State must lose its final two contests (Saturday at Middle Tennessee State and Dec. 3 vs. Troy) for the Toppers to clinch the school’s first outright Sun Belt title.

Jackson said he’s confident WKU will take a big step toward that goal against North Texas.

“We play any team, we should be able to blow them out of the water,” Jackson said. “North Texas, we’re going to come out the same way and try to beat the brakes off of them.”