FRISCO — North Texas was back in a familiar position during the opening session of Conference USA media days on Wednesday at Baylor Scott & White Sports Performance Center.

UNT was a near unanimous pick to win the league’s West Division in the league’s preseason poll and is also one of the favorites to win the conference title.

The Mean Green were in the same spot last season and came up short after finishing 5-3 in conference play on their way to a 9-4 campaign. UNT still ended up grabbing a third straight bowl berth but missed out on playing in the C-USA title game for a second straight year.

The experience is one UNT coach Seth Littrell and his players believe they will benefit from this fall.

“Last year shows that you can’t go out there thinking you are going to win and not play the whole four quarters,” UNT safety Khairi Muhammad said. “We have to finish. That is what we didn’t do last year.”

All three regular-season games UNT lost last season were one-possession games. The Mean Green took a 28-0 lead on Old Dominion before the Monarchs rallied for a 34-31 win.

Louisiana Tech cornerback Amik Robertson blocked Cole Hedlund’s 46-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the Bulldogs’ 29-27 win, while UAB edged the Mean Green 29-21.

The Mean Green will be much more familiar with the challenges they will face as a C-USA favorite this year. Littrell and UNT’s players believe that small change will make a huge difference.

“The biggest thing we have learned was that we need to overcome adversity a little better,” Littrell said. “We need to be a little more mentally tough.”

Littrell thought the Mean Green didn’t show the mental fortitude that might have made a difference in a few close games last season like they did in 2017 when they were a perfect 5-0 in one-possession games.

Littrell credited UNT’s players for pulling together in tight spots on their way to winning C-USA’s West Division title in 2017 with a 7-1 record.

UNT will look to get back to that form this fall while also focusing in on how they prepare.

Littrell has always emphasized the importance of a week’s worth of practice leading up to games. He believes that preparation plays a significant role in a team’s performance each week.

Quarterback Mason Fine and Muhammad believe UNT has the veteran players it needs to set the tone and ensure the Mean Green don’t have any off nights like they did last fall.

Fine said UNT’s seniors won’t stand for players having off days in practice, let alone games.

“We are more prepared this year,” Muhammad said. “We have a lot of experienced guys. Those guys will help the new guys adjust to their roles.”

None of those roles are as critical as UNT collectively handling being the team everyone in C-USA’s West Division is looking to beat.

UNT will face plenty of challenges as it looks to reach that goal and win the C-USA West Division title for the second time in the last three years. The Mean Green will face Southern Miss and Louisiana Teach on the road in addition to hosting UAB in both teams’ final game of the regular season.

Southern Miss was picked to finish second in C-USA’s West Division in the league’s preseason poll, while Louisiana Tech was picked to finish third. UAB received two first-place votes despite being hit hard by graduation.

UAB coach Bill Clark expressed confidence in his team’s ability to reload and remain a contender in the C-USA title chase. The Blazers will have a lot of time to settle in before they face UNT in late November.

By then UNT will know how it handled having a target on its backs throughout the season.

The Mean Green are confident they will be happy with the results.

“What we learned from last year is that we can’t get complacent or down the line,” Fine said. “We have to focus on the task that week mentally and physically.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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