North Texas will admittedly carry with it to Austin the edge of a romantic dealing with unrequited love.
“Texas passed up pretty much all of us,” quarterback Josh Greer said. “We want to prove to people that we believe we’re good enough to play on the same field as Texas.”
That’s the opportunity in front of North Texas, which boasts a more recent bowl game victory than the Longhorns. The Mean Green opens the season with Saturday night’s highly anticipated matchup with the Longhorns — ranked No. 24 in the coaches poll — at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
In addition to being a season opener, the game is the first for Texas under new coach Charlie Strong.
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“The atmosphere will be crazy,” Greer said. “The big thing for us is to play. Be physical, don’t shy away from the competition. We know they’re a good team … well coached.
“That makes us prepare a little harder because we know we have to bring our best game. We’ve worked hard to make ourselves better.”
The Mean Green debuts a different-looking team than the one that won nine games last season and captured the third bowl victory in school history, a 36-14 triumph over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Returning are only nine starters, the second fewest in the nation. Yet, North Texas was picked to win the West Division of Conference USA.
Meeting those expectations will largely depend on how well Greer replaces Derek Thompson, the Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP. Greer, a transfer from Navarro College, won the starting job in fall practice over junior returning letterman Andrew McNulty.
“It’s been a tremendous battle,” said coach Dan McCarney, who begins his fourth season in Denton. “In evaluating quarterbacks, there are so many intangibles: character, leadership, toughness — mental and physical — integrity, are they coachable. Both of those guys have all kinds of those attributes.
“In the end Greer made more plays and was a little bit more consistent.”
Greer, an all-district performer at Arlington High who played under coach Scott Peach, initially signed with Alabama-Birmingham but left after one season, 2012.
In one season at Navarro, Greer passed for 1,205 yards and eight touchdowns in six games, culminating the season by throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown in a 56-45 victory over Trinity Valley in the Southwest Junior College conference title game.
Greer, a sophomore who has three years of eligibility left, is a big guy at 6-foot-5 with a big arm who moves around the pocket well and who coaches say has a single-mindedness about studying opponents and film.
“We both took big strides in my eyes and became better quarterbacks,” Greer said of the competition in spring and fall camps. “The way I look at it, we have two guys who can step on the field and lead us to victory.
“We have two starting quarterbacks on our roster.”
The nerves that accompany playing in his first game on such a stage as UT will be somewhat calmed with the knowledge that he’ll play behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country, led by senior Cyril Lemon.
Darius Terrell, a former Texas recruit who played in nine games for the Longhorns as a redshirt freshman in 2011, will be Greer’s big, possession target and one of four receivers in a talented corps.
“I didn’t really do it right the first time,” Greer said of his initial recruiting experience out of high school. “I wanted to go to a place where I could come in and compete for the starting job.
“But also with a team with a chance to succeed.”