Few coaches outside of Tuscaloosa know University of Alabama football as well as Dan McCarney.
The first-year coach of the North Texas Mean Green is going head-to-head against the Crimson Tide on Saturday for the fourth time in as many years. The last three seasons, McCarney served as assistant head coach for defense and defensive line coach with the Florida Gators, matching up with Alabama in the 2008 and '09 Southeastern Conference championship games and again last year in the regular season.
Studying the 2011 Crimson Tide on film, McCarney sees a team that ranks favorably with those recent Alabama squads.
"I see all the pieces in place," McCarney said. "When you coach on a national championship team, which I did in Florida, and when you coach against a national championship team (Alabama in 2009) ... you look a them and you know what they have to have. When I look at Alabama, that's what I see.
"The thing you always see with Nick Saban's teams is their tremendous speed, relentless effort, fundamentals and technique as good as you'll see in college football. This is a physical, physical team in all three phases of the game. You can say old-school and new-school, but if you're relentless and you're physical and you play with tremendous fundamentals, you have what it takes. You turn on that tape in 2011, right now, that's what you see."
This time, McCarney won't have Tim Tebow and a roster full of NFL prospects on his side. Last November, he took over a North Texas program that hadn't won more than three games in a season since 2004. The Mean Green lost 41-16 at Florida International in their opener and fell 48-23 to Houston last weekend in front of 28,075, the third-largest home crowd in North Texas history.
Coming up after Alabama are games against Indiana of the Big Ten and Tulsa, which won 10 games last year.
"We're a team that obviously is trying to reach some identity," McCarney said. "We're an extremely young football team. We're going to do all we can to improve and be competitive this year in the face of one of the most daunting schedules in the history of the place.
"The beat goes on. There isn't anybody that's going to give us any sympathy."
The Mean Green is playing home games in new 30,850-seat Apogee Stadium. The school invested $79 million in the facility and brought in McCarney, who served as head coach at Iowa State for a decade, to turn the program around.
Alabama coach Nick Saban likes what he sees in North Texas.
"McCarney has come from some really good programs and is a really good coach," Saban said earlier this week. "You can see a lot of improvement in their team."
McCarney has visited every sorority, fraternity and dorm on campus to generate interest. In future years, North Texas will be playing Georgia, Texas, LSU and Tennessee, as well as a 10-year series with SMU, to raise the program's profile.
"I see 35,000 students that are really excited about getting back and getting involved," McCarney said. "I love coming to work here every day. The people have been phenomenal. I think most people are realistic that it's going to take time to become competitive."
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.