Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Are you ready? No, seriously, are you?
On paper, North Texas would seem to bring a lot to the table at the mid-major level. The Mean Green have themselves a pretty, new stadium. They are located not too far from one of college football's capital cities, Dallas. They have a larger enrollment than Kansas State, among others. Their nickname is awesome. Et cetera.
But the whole has rarely added up to the sum of the parts for North Texas football. The program had a nice run under Rod Rust in the 1960s (30-8-1 from 1966-69), under Hayden Fry in the 1970s (31-13 from 1975-78), and even under Darrell Dickey in the early-2000s (four straight Sun Belt titles and New Orleans Bowl bids from 2001-04). But those runs ended. After a lovely start, Rust won seven games in his final three years and was gone. Hayden Fry left for Iowa. And in the six seasons following UNT's Sun Belt title streak, the Mean Green won just 13 games. Dickey's run ended unceremoniously, with seasons of 2-9 and 3-9, and local hero Todd Dodge (former Texas quarterback and engineer of the powerful Southlake Carroll high school program) went 6-37 from 2007-10.
Former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney was brought aboard in 2011 to both mitigate what seemed like a total free fall (though the Mean Green weren't actually that far from being decent in 2010). The results haven't come yet, but that shouldn't be a surprise considering how much of a change McCarney had to make from Dodge's system to his own. North Texas is a program in transition in 2013, and thanks to conference realignment, the Mean Green have managed to move to a better neighborhood despite playing below the level of the average Sun Belt team for seven of the last eight years.
It's easy to see potential in this program, but North Texas has spent much of its history falling short of that potential. Does that change in 2013?
2. The stagnant second year
We tend to write off a coach's first year in a struggling program as something of a Year Zero. The best example, of course, might be Lou Holtz going 0-11 in his first season at South Carolina before ripping off two straight Top 20 seasons. When you strip a program down to build it back up, it takes a while.
For Dan McCarney, however, Year 1 wasn't really any better than Year 0, if we're counting them that way. His Mean Green were slightly better on offense in 2012, about the same on defense, and slightly worse on special teams, and after a 4-8 campaign in 2011, they went just 3-9 last fall.
McCarney, to his credit, didn't necessarily panic, however. He still redshirted most of his 2012 recruiting class, opting not to sacrifice future quality for short-term improvement (if those freshmen could have even offered that). He continues to methodically put his pieces into place. Thanks to a handful of interesting transfers and a reasonably deep batch of interesting redshirt freshmen, his 2013 team should be his deepest yet in Denton. But that will just counteract North Texas' move to a (slightly) deeper conference.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 113|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||at LSU||14-41||L||18.4 - 43.0||L|
|8-Sep||Texas Southern||34-7||W||20.0 - 19.1||W|
|15-Sep||at Kansas State||21-35||L||32.5 - 40.2||L|
|22-Sep||Troy||7-14||L||26.2 - 20.4||W|
|29-Sep||at Florida Atlantic||20-14||W||18.5 - 24.0||L|
|6-Oct||at Houston||21-44||L||29.8 - 46.8||L|
|16-Oct||UL-Lafayette||30-23||W||30.4 - 21.4||W|
|27-Oct||at Middle Tennessee||21-38||L||24.8 - 35.7||L|
|3-Nov||Arkansas State||19-37||L||24.1 - 34.8||L|
|10-Nov||South Alabama||24-14||W||15.7 - 24.8||L|
|17-Nov||at UL-Monroe||16-42||L||31.8 - 39.4||L|
|24-Nov||at Western Kentucky||24-25||L||22.3 - 27.2||L|
|Points Per Game||20.9||105||27.8||61|
|Adj. Points Per Game||24.5||97||31.4||92|
|Q1 Rk||121||1st Down Rk||101|
|Q2 Rk||105||2nd Down Rk||72|
|Q3 Rk||56||3rd Down Rk||103|
3. A run-first offense that couldn't run
Dan McCarney's always been a 'trench warfare' kind of guy. He was Wisconsin's defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Wisconsin before taking the Iowa State head coaching job, and he was South Florida's defensive line coach (for one year) and Florida's (for three years) before taking over at North Texas. It would fit the profile, then, that he wants to run the ball. UNT ran the ball nearly three-quarters of the time on standard downs, relentlessly attempting to establish a punishing ground attack. The problem: North Texas couldn't actually run the ball. The line couldn't open holes, and the running backs couldn't take advantage of whatever opportunities they got. A run-first philosophy is perfectly respectable, but all it earned the Mean Green in 2012 was a lot of second-and-9s.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Derek Thompson||6'4, 226||Sr.||** (5.3)||214||372||2,649||57.5%||14||14||5||1.3%||7.0|
|Andrew McNulty (2011)||6'1, 202||So.||** (5.3)||28||51||352||54.9%||1||3||6||10.5%||5.4|
|Brock Berglund||6'4, 215||So.||*** (5.7)|
4. An interesting QB battle?
Derek Thompson was not assigned an easy job in 2012. A disproportionate number of his passes came on passing downs after UNT's attempt to establish the run on first down failed. Passing too much on passing downs leads to sacks and interceptions, but while the latter was certainly true (Thompson threw 14 interceptions with a 3.7 interception rate that certainly isn't low), the former, strangely, was not. The same line that couldn't run-block to save its life protected Thompson pretty well last fall; that, and he wasn't afraid to step up and throw into his (potentially tiny) passing windows. Thompson was somehow sacked just five times all season, and because of that, his Yards Per Attempt average was actually pretty decent despite mediocre completion rates and per-completion yardage rates.
Thompson will have to fight to keep his job in 2013, however. Andrew McNulty redshirted in 2012 in deference to Thompson and what seemed like a pretty good backup in Brent Osborn (who has since transferred). But while McNulty was redshirting, North Texas also brought in a pretty interesting transfer: Brock Berglund, the former star(ish) recruit for Kansas who has bounced around a decent amount in the last couple of seasons. Berglund has struggled with a hamstring issue this spring, while Thompson has looked good; but Thompson will have to continue practicing well into August to keep his job.
|Brandin Byrd||RB||5'10, 216||Sr.||** (5.3)||206||890||4.3||4.7||0||-17.2|
|Antoinne Jimmerson||RB||5'9, 219||So.||** (5.3)||108||544||5.0||5.4||0||+0.9|
|Derek Thompson||QB||6'4, 226||Sr.||** (5.3)||34||53||1.6||1.8||0||-11.0|
|Brelan Chancellor||WR||5'9, 183||Sr.||** (5.2)||16||155||9.7||11.8||0||+8.9|
|Konockus Sashington||RB||6'1, 214||Jr.||NR|
|Rex Rollins||RB||6'1, 195||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Reggie Pegram||RB||5'9, 215||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Darnell Smith||WR||6'1, 208||Sr.||NR||45||28||379||62.2%||8.4||12.8%||44.4%||8.0||40.8|
|Brelan Chancellor||WR||5'9, 183||Sr.||** (5.2)||40||25||450||62.5%||11.3||11.4%||42.5%||10.9||48.4|
|Carlos Harris||WR||5'8, 173||So.||** (5.2)||32||19||253||59.4%||7.9||9.1%||65.6%||8.1||27.2|
|Drew Miller||TE||6'1, 260||Sr.||NR||28||18||131||64.3%||4.7||8.0%||75.0%||4.2||14.1|
|Brandin Byrd||RB||5'10, 216||Sr.||** (5.3)||23||18||92||78.3%||4.0||6.6%||39.1%||4.0||9.9|
|Antoinne Jimmerson||RB||5'9, 219||So.||** (5.3)||17||12||205||70.6%||12.1||4.8%||41.2%||10.6||22.1|
|Derrick Teegarden||WR||6'0, 187||Jr.||** (5.2)||5||3||30||60.0%||6.0||1.4%||40.0%||6.2||3.2|
|Tanner Smith||TE||6'3, 234||Jr.||NR||5||2||5||40.0%||1.0||1.4%||80.0%||1.0||0.5|
|Darius Terrell||WR||6'3, 220||Jr.||**** (5.8)|
|Chris Loving||TE||6'4, 265||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Roderick Lancaster||WR||6'2, 200||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Nick Schrapps||WR||6'3, 202||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
5. Throw to Chancellor
Inefficiency was North Texas' biggest problem in 2012, but the Mean Green didn't exactly light things up from an explosiveness standpoint, either. If they were getting a big play last fall, it was probably coming from either Brelan Chancellor or backup running back Antoinne Jimmerson. Jimmerson had probably the single biggest play of North Texas' season, a 78-yard catch-and-run with one minute left to upset UL-Lafayette, but Chancellor was perhaps even more intriguing, combining the best catch rate among Mean Green receivers with the best per-catch average.
Between Chancellor, Darnell Smith and Carlos Harris, UNT returns an interesting set of receivers; but upside of the receiving corps as a whole took a nice step forward when Darius Terrell transferred to Denton from Austin last year. A former star recruit, Terrell never really earned/got a chance to succeed at Texas, and there's nothing saying he will at UNT either, but with some experience atop the depth chart, he won't necessarily face pressure to succeed immediately. But if Terrell clicks and UNT gets anything out of former star recruits Roderick Lancaster and Nick Schrapps, UNT could have one of the better receiving corps in its new conference. Easing off of the first-down run might be a pretty good idea.
|Aaron Fortenberry||C||12 career starts; 2012 1st All-Sun Belt|
|Antonio Johnson||LT||6'5, 311||Jr.||** (5.4)||24 career starts|
|Mason Y'Barbo||LG||6'2, 309||Jr.||** (5.4)||24 career starts|
|Cyril Lemon||RG||6'3, 321||Jr.||** (5.4)||24 career starts|
|Coleman Feeley||LT||6 career starts|
|LaChris Anyiam||RT||6'4, 296||Sr.||** (5.3)||6 career starts|
|Travis Ellard||LG||6'3, 285||So.||** (5.2)|
|Micah Thompson||RG||6'4, 308||So.||** (5.4)|
|Boone Feldt||OL||6'3, 277||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Connor Trussell||OL||6'5, 295||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Justin Manu||OL||6'4, 280||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Shawn McKinney||OL||6'3, 355||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Q1 Rk||108||1st Down Rk||103|
|Q2 Rk||107||2nd Down Rk||103|
|Q3 Rk||103||3rd Down Rk||84|
6. Dear UNT Opponents: Stop passing
Sun Belt teams pass a lot, as a rule. So it probably shouldn't be surprising that North Texas opponents threw the ball more frequently than the national average against the Mean Green last year. Still, they did play run-heavy teams like LSU, Kansas State, and Western Kentucky; and the averages were quite a bit more pass-heavy than national averages. That suggests that opponents didn't fear what was a mediocre (at best) pass rush and an ultra-young secondary. By the end of the season, six of the eight members of UNT's two-deep in the defensive backfield were freshmen or sophomores.
The thing is, North Texas actually defended the pass pretty well. The Mean Green were above average from an efficiency standpoint, and in all, passing and passing downs were clear strengths for this defense. Throwing the ball on UNT was a missed opportunity because the Mean Green couldn't stop the run to save their collective lives.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Aaron Bellazin||DE||6'2, 244||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||26.0||4.3%||9||5||0||1||2||0|
|Brandon McCoy||DE||6'2, 257||Sr.||** (4.9)||9||15.5||2.6%||3.5||1||0||0||0||0|
|Richard Abbe||DT||6'4, 315||Sr.||** (5.2)||11||10.0||1.7%||3.5||1||0||2||0||1|
|Alexander Lincoln||DT||6'2, 266||Jr.||** (5.4)||11||9.0||1.5%||2.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Boutwell||DT||6'3, 269||Sr.||** (5.3)||8||7.0||1.2%||1.5||0||0||0||0||1|
|Daryl Mason||DE||6'3, 233||Jr.||** (5.2)||9||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brad Horton||DE||6'6, 240||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Jarrian Roberts||DE||6'2, 238||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Sir Calvin Wallace||DT||6'2, 308||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Quenton Brown||DE||6'4, 235||Jr.||** (5.2)|
7. All-or-nothing versus the run
Perhaps an additional reason for the general pass-happiness of North Texas opponents was that UNT did threaten to make some big plays. Their Stuff Rate, the percentage of run plays you stop for a loss, was actually quite strong, one of the 32 best in the country. Over one-fifth of run plays were stopped in the backfield. With minimal threat of sacks, opponents must have decided that passing was a less-risky option.
But when opposing rushers actually got past the line of scrimmage, they tended to run a long, long way. North Texas linebackers left something to be desired (to put it kindly) -- at least, UNT linebackers not named Derek Akunne, who was a nice playmaker against the run and pass (and who could have been a serious boom-or-bust guy) -- and the Mean Green ended up giving up more big plays on the ground than they made. Experience should be kind to the defense; five of the top six linemen return, as do four of the top five linebackers. But that really only matters if the experienced players are also talented. Otherwise a little bit of new blood (perhaps from a batch of interesting redshirt freshmen up front?) is a good thing.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Zachary Orr||MLB||6'0, 223||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||82.5||13.7%||3.5||0||2||2||0||2|
|Derek Akunne||OLB||6'0, 238||Jr.||** (5.3)||12||70.5||11.7%||7.5||2||2||5||1||0|
|Will Wright||OLB||6'2, 221||Sr.||** (5.2)||12||13.5||2.2%||0.5||0||1||0||0||0|
|Chad Polk||LB||6'0, 226||So.||** (5.2)||5||6.5||1.1%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|LaJaylin Smith||OLB||6'0, 228||So.||** (5.2)||7||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Lewis||MLB||6'0, 217||Jr.||NR|
|Sed Ellis||LB||6'3, 200||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Hilbert Jackson||CB||6'1, 187||Sr.||** (5.4)||12||71.5||11.8%||3.5||1||0||5||0||0|
|Lairamie Lee||SS||5'10, 189||Jr.||** (5.2)||12||54.0||8.9%||1||0||1||3||0||0|
|Marcus Trice||FS||5'8, 197||Sr.||**** (5.8)||12||51.5||8.5%||6.5||0||2||1||2||2|
|Zac Whitfield||CB||5'9, 180||So.||** (5.4)||12||48.5||8.0%||0||0||3||12||1||0|
|Kenny Buyers||CB||5'11, 174||So.||** (5.3)||11||12.5||2.1%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Zed Evans (Louisville)||S||5'11, 195||Sr.||** (5.3)||13||9.5||1.4%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|David Busby||SS||5'11, 189||So.||** (5.4)||8||7.5||1.2%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Mike Marshall||DB||6'0, 203||Jr.||NR||11||3.5||0.6%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jamal Marshall||CB||6'3, 193||So.||** (5.4)||9||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brendan Campbell||DB||6'2, 201||Jr.||NR||9||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Xavier Kelly||DB||5'11, 165||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|James Jones||DB||5'11, 170||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|John Schilleci||DB||6'0, 190||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Chad Davis||DB||5'10, 170||Fr.||** (5.4)|
8. A super-young secondary held up
At the end of the season, half of North Texas' two-deep was filled with freshmen and sophomores, but no unit was younger than the secondary, which really might have also been North Texas' best unit. Oklahoma transfer Marcus Trice was a constant threat near the line of scrimmage, and corners Hilbert Jackson and Zac Whitfield showed reasonably decent ball-hawk capabilities (three picks, 17 passes broken up). In all, this was a pretty undersized unit, which probably didn't help when it came to cleaning up messes against the run, but there was reason for optimism here.
There's really no reason to believe North Texas cannot once again put together a good secondary in 2013; the top five regulars return, and the unit will be supplemented by Louisville transfer Zed Evans (eligible to play immediately), junior college transfer James Jones, and an interesting redshirt freshman, Xavier Kelly. This is the deepest, most interesting unit on the North Texas defense, and considering there are still quite a few pass-happy offenses in Conference USA (despite Houston's departure), that's not a bad thing.
|Zach Olen||5'10, 228||Sr.||51||63.3||25||49.0%|
|Zach Olen||5'10, 228||Sr.||28-29||9-9||100.0%||2-7||28.6%|
|Zach Paul||5'9, 175||So.||0-0||0-1||0.0%||0-0||0.0%|
|Brelan Chancellor||KR||5'9, 183||Sr.||18||19.5||0|
|Brandlin Byrd||KR||5'10, 216||Sr.||3||9.3||0|
|Brelan Chancellor||PR||5'9, 183||Sr.||5||2.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||101|
|Field Goal Pct||86|
|Kick Returns Avg||107|
|Punt Returns Avg||121|
9. Zach Olen has a cannon
You've got to love the kickers who have bazookas in their shoes and no way to control them. Zach Olen booted half of his kickoffs for touchbacks (a lovely average) and had a leg strong enough that coaches trusted him to attempt seven field goals of 40 yards or more. He missed five of those seven, however. He certainly wasn't the worst piece of this special teams unit -- he wasn't on the dreadful return team, after all -- but he was probably the most entertaining.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|19-Oct||at Louisiana Tech||89|
|26-Oct||at Southern Miss||87|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||114|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||111|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||0 / +1.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||17 (8, 9)|
10. Every home game is winnable
As we have quickly come to learn in writing these previews, it's pretty easy to tell that Conference USA has quite a few weak spots. And while North Texas' move to CUSA does represent a step up, it bears mentioning that there are still a lot of winnable games on UNT's schedule, as there are for the other relatively weak CUSA teams we've discussed thus far.
If pretty Apogee Stadium can generate a healthy home-field advantage for the Mean Green, then all six home games are winnable in 2013: Idaho, UTSA, UTEP, Middle Tennessee, Rice, and Ball State are all projected 84th or worse (though I think Ball State is actually a decent amount better than its projection), and North Texas wouldn't have to improve much to go 5-1 at home, steal a road game, and somehow end up bowl-eligible. I said the same thing about UAB, Tulane, and UTSA in recent days, but it's true. If North Texas can shore up its offensive inefficiency a bit and become a little bit less of a sieve against the run, there is a path to a bowl game.
Even if it is accompanied by only marginal improvement in the F/+ rankings, that would obviously represent a clear step forward for McCarney and the Mean Green in Year 3 after a stagnant Year 2.