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The big 2014 North Texas football preview: Staying good is even harder

Sarah Glenn

North Texas took a significant step forward in 2013, Dan McCarney's third year in charge. The Mean Green will have to account for quite a few departed difference-makers this fall but should have enough pieces remaining to reach another bowl in 2014.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

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1. "Are we a real program?"

Yes, it was only a New Year's Day bowl via technicality. No, the Heart of Dallas Bowl doesn't exactly have the stature of the Capital One Bowl, and no, UNLV wasn't exactly LSU or Michigan State. But North Texas' 36-14 win over UNLV in the Cotton Bowl early on January 1 was significant nonetheless.

In the four years of the Todd Dodge ear (2007-10), North Texas won eight games. In Dan McCarney's first two years in charge post-Dodge, North Texas won nine. In McCarney's third year alone, North Texas won nine more.

The trajectory for the Mean Green under McCarney has been clear and significant. He cleaned up the foundation for a couple of years, added discipline and depth, and then rode an experienced two-deep to nearly unprecedented success. Sure, North Texas had won nine games at the FBS level before -- 2003 under Darrell Dickey, 1977 and 1978 under Hayden Fry, 1959 under Odus Mitchell. McCarney lifting a monstrosity of a Heart of Dallas trophy a couple of months after almost winning Conference USA in the team's first attempt wasn't automatically the high point for this program. But it was easily the highest point in quite a while, the completion of a comeback attempt that began in 2005 and suffered endless false starts.

And now comes the hard part. Succeeding once isn't easy, but a lot of coaches and programs do it. Succeeding again takes something completely different, and McCarney knows it.

"The challenge ahead is this: Are we a real program, which means no matter who you lose or who gets injured or who graduates, the next group comes in and replaces them," UNT coach Dan McCarney said. "Or do we just disappear off the college football landscape for another 10 years before we can have success again? We want to keep the edge and be really successful and have a program that people can be proud of."

McCarney has himself a new contract, some new assistant coaches, and a roster that is both deep with options and thin on experience. It might be unreasonable to expect North Texas to win nine games again in 2013, but the depth of the fall will be telling. North Texas was legitimately strong in 2013; the encore will be a legitimate challenge.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 51
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Idaho 116 40-6 W 31.4 - 31.9 L
7-Sep at Ohio 104 21-27 L 19.4 - 31.3 L
14-Sep Ball State 57 34-27 W 29.5 - 28.5 W
21-Sep at Georgia 22 21-45 L 13.5 - 35.0 L
5-Oct at Tulane 70 21-24 L 36.7 - 21.0 W -3.5
12-Oct Middle Tennessee 85 34-7 W 30.2 - 12.6 W 0.2
19-Oct at Louisiana Tech 112 28-13 W 31.4 - 30.9 W 2.6
26-Oct at Southern Miss 120 55-14 W 31.2 - 26.1 W 3.5
31-Oct Rice 69 28-16 W 27.0 - 21.8 W 8.8
9-Nov UTEP 119 41-7 W 23.3 - 8.9 W 8.6
23-Nov UTSA 67 13-21 L 25.8 - 26.5 L 4.9
30-Nov at Tulsa 94 42-10 W 40.3 - 16.2 W 9.6
1-Jan vs. UNLV 96 36-14 W 30.0 - 16.8 W 11.3
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -5.0% 80 +7.3% 31 +2.6% 16
Points Per Game 31.8 49 17.8 8
Adj. Points Per Game 28.4 66 23.7 25

2. Stay confident, thrive late

Following a 2012 season marked as much by stagnation as anything, North Texas' 2013 campaign did not start out with a significant step forward. The Mean Green dominated Idaho to start the year, but everybody did that, and they were outgained by 143 yards by an Ohio team that wasn't nearly as good as we perhaps thought at the time, and they were lucky to lose by only six. Then they fell behind Ball State by a 20-3 margin in the first quarter.

The next five quarters or so set the pace for the rest of the season. They stormed back to steal a 34-27 win over Ball State, and while the offense was mostly a no-show against Georgia, they rode defense and special teams to a 21-21 tie midway through the third quarter. Georgia stormed back to win comfortably, but North Texas was proving both athletic and resilient. And despite a frustrating 24-21 loss to Tulane, in which Tulane returned both a blocked field goal and an interception for touchdowns, confidence was steady. And when the schedule eased up a bit, North Texas took off.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 31.7, UNT 23.5 (minus-8.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 9 games): UNT 30.7, Opponent 20.9 (plus-9.8)

The Tulane loss was costly, as North Texas finished a game short of Rice in the C-USA West standings. But despite the jump to a new conference, North Texas had pulled off its most successful season in a decade, capping it with a pasting of UNLV in front of 38,380 at the Cotton Bowl.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.06 101 IsoPPP+ 91.5 105
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.5% 51 Succ. Rt. + 101.4 53
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 25.8 5 Def. FP+ 106.4 11
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.0 81 Redzone S&P+ 103.9 44
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.4 ACTUAL 23 +2.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 64 70 54 89
RUSHING 50 89 75 84
PASSING 68 52 33 79
Standard Downs 66 50 110
Passing Downs 65 66 78
Q1 Rk 100 1st Down Rk 82
Q2 Rk 87 2nd Down Rk 65
Q3 Rk 48 3rd Down Rk 79
Q4 Rk 78

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Derek Thompson 251 390 2896 16 13 64.4% 11 2.7% 7.1
Andrew McNulty 6'1, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 5 6 36 0 1 83.3% 1 14.3% 4.6
Dajon Williams 6'3, 199 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 5 6 55 0 0 83.3% 0 0.0% 9.2
Josh Greer 6'5, 220 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Connor Means 6'4, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.3)

3. A QB-friendly system

Earlier this week, we talked about MTSU's offense and the way it puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make good decisions on passing downs. The North Texas offense devised by offensive coordinator Mike Canales is similar -- the Mean Green ran five percent more frequently than the norm on standard downs and threw the ball three percent more frequently on passing downs.

North Texas' offense was unique, however, in the way that it attempted to stretch defenses horizontally. An offense that requires more passing downs passes trends toward lower completion rates and higher completion yardage; quarterback Derek Thompson, however, had a 64 percent completion rate with only 11.5 yards per completion. UNT's attack was efficiency based and catered to diverse selection of talent, from meaty running back Brandin Byrd (5'10, 223) to waterbug/wideout Brelan Chancellor (5'9, 186). UNT used Chancellor and other weapons to stretch the field horizontally, then tried to drive Byrd right up the middle. It worked reasonably well; the rushing numbers improved in 2013, even if they were still relatively mediocre, but the pass efficiency numbers were great. And now we'll see how strong that identity is with the loss of Thompson, Byrd, Chancellor, and leading receiver Darnell Smith.

Thompson was the starter for all three years of the McCarney era; he will be replaced by either Andrew McNulty (last year's backup), Dajon Williams (an athletic "feast-or-famine" type), or junior college transfer Josh Greer, who completed 64 percent of his passes for Navarro College last fall.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Brandin Byrd RB 202 1075 11 5.3 6.2 35.1%
Antoinne Jimmerson RB 5'9, 222 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 107 446 7 4.2 4.3 36.4%
Reggie Pegram RB 5'9, 221 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 94 338 6 3.6 3.2 29.8%
Derek Thompson QB 53 210 3 4.0 4.1 28.3%
Mark Lewis RB 5'10, 210 So. 2 stars (5.3) 18 63 1 3.5 1.6 50.0%
Rex Rollins RB 6'1, 197 So. 2 stars (5.4) 18 92 0 5.1 8.7 33.3%
Brelan Chancellor WR 16 123 2 7.7 5.3 56.3%
Daniel Prior TE 6 16 0 2.7 N/A 0.0%
Carlos Harris WR 5'8, 172 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 4 48 0 12.0 5.9 100.0%
Erick Evans RB 5'9, 190 RSFr. NR




Willy Ivery RB 5'9, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)




Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Darnell Smith WR 99 70 791 70.7% 26.1% 56.4% 8.0 -18 8.3 102.1
Brelan Chancellor WR 80 53 792 66.3% 21.1% 53.2% 9.9 159 10.0 102.2
Carlos Harris WR 5'8, 172 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 73 47 553 64.4% 19.2% 49.3% 7.6 -16 7.2 71.4
Darvin Kidsy WR 6'0, 174 So. 2 stars (5.3) 25 16 151 64.0% 6.6% 42.9% 6.0 -43 6.2 19.5
Drew Miller TE 21 17 191 81.0% 5.5% 63.2% 9.1 6 7.9 24.7
Brandin Byrd RB 16 11 46 68.8% 4.2% 60.0% 2.9 -83 2.9 5.9
Marcus Smith TE 6'4, 255 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 15 6 95 40.0% 3.9% 63.6% 6.3 0 7.6 12.3
Antoinne Jimmerson RB 5'9, 222 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 13 11 93 84.6% 3.4% 61.5% 7.2 -24 6.8 12.0
Lynrick Pleasant WR 9 7 65 77.8% 2.4% 42.9% 7.2 -12 6.1 8.4
Darius Terrell WR 6'3, 212 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 8 7 76 87.5% 2.1% 0.0% 9.5 3 3.2 9.8
Reggie Pegram RB 5'9, 221 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 8 6 56 75.0% 2.1% 25.0% 7.0 -11 10.9 7.2
Carl Caldwell WR 4 3 17 75.0% 1.1% 0.0% 4.3 -17 0.9 2.2
Roderick Lancaster WR 6'2, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Chris Loving TE 6'4, 272 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Wylie Reinhardt TE 6'4, 275 So. 2 stars (5.3)
Tee Goree WR 6'3, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jalen Adams WR 5'11, 161 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)









Fonzale Davis WR 5'11, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)









4. Last year's ball distribution will help

One of the narratives for North Texas in 2014 will be not only having to replace Thompson, but also the Byrd-Smith-Chancellor trio. And to be sure, these three were all explosive and effective, capable of creating big plays out of a rather conservative system.

But there was more to UNT's offense than this trio, and that's a very good thing heading into 2014. If we look at intended touches -- targets plus carries -- we see that quite a few players were involved in the North Texas offense last fall.

  • Brandin Byrd: 218 intended touches, 1,121 yards (5.1) -- gone
  • Antoinne Jimmerson: 120 intended touches, 539 yards (4.5)
  • Reggie Pegram: 102 intended touches, 394 yards (3.9)
  • Darnell Smith: 99 intended touches, 791 yards (8.0) -- gone
  • Brelan Chancellor: 96 intended touches, 915 yards (9.5) -- gone
  • Carlos Harris: 77 intended touches, 601 yards (7.8)
  • Darvin Kidsy: 25 intended touches, 151 yards (6.0)
  • Drew Miller: 21 intended touches, 191 yards (9.1) -- gone
  • Rex Rollins: 18 intended touches, 92 yards (5.1)
  • Mark Lewis: 18 intended touches, 63 yards (3.5)

Granted, four of the players with the best per-touch averages are gone, but half of the six players with 75-plus touches return, as do six of the 10 with 18-plus. Plenty of new names could play a role this year, from emerging spring star Erick Evans to three-star freshmen like Willy Ivery and Tee Goree, but the new starting quarterback won't be working with a totally green set of skill position players.

(Well, they will indeed be totally green in one way, but you know what I mean.)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 89 2.78 3 35.2% 75.9% 19.6% 210.0 2.6% 3.3%
Rank 104 86 89 104 22 73 8 15 11
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Cyril Lemon RG 6'3, 304 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 37 1st All-CUSA
Mason Y'Barbo LG 6'2, 307 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 37 2nd All-CUSA
Antonio Johnson LT 6'5, 294 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 34
LaChris Anyiam RT 19
Kaydon Kirby C 6'3, 313 So. NR 13
Shawn McKinney C 6'4, 365 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 2
Micah Thompson RG 6'4, 316 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Travis Ellard LG 6'3, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0
Connor Trussell RT 6'5, 287 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Ryan Rentfro LT 6'4, 298 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Dominick Walker OL 6'5, 278 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Harrison Sorge OL 6'5, 304 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)

5. You couldn't ask for a more experienced line

The nature of the quick passing game assures that North Texas' sack rate isn't going to be tremendously high, line be damned. But for the second straight year, the Mean Green's sack rates were top-10 caliber, and at the very least the run-related line stats improved. North Texas was automatic in short-yardage situations, and the Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line) improved from 118th to 73rd.

The horizontal running options probably hurt UNT's Opportunity Rate (percentage of carries that go at least five yards downfield), but the line improved in 2013 and should improve again with the return of four starters, five players with starting experience (123 career starts), and two all-conference guards. A seasoned line is a new quarterback's best friend.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.14 63 IsoPPP+ 98.0 70
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 36.4% 12 Succ. Rt. + 107.8 33
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 33.0 11 Off. FP+ 101.5 44
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.0 1 Redzone S&P+ 103.5 45
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 28.0 ACTUAL 34.0 +6.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 17 41 33 44
RUSHING 15 26 16 39
PASSING 62 63 65 50
Standard Downs 57 43 95
Passing Downs 32 24 37
Q1 Rk 80 1st Down Rk 62
Q2 Rk 51 2nd Down Rk 48
Q3 Rk 15 3rd Down Rk 57
Q4 Rk 67

6. This defense was mean

The offense certainly improved a bit in 2013, but the defense was the reason for North Texas' surge. An experienced defensive line improved dramatically, linebackers made plays against both the run and pass, and an athletic secondary made enough plays on the ball to compensate for allowing a big play here or there.

North Texas had one of the most efficient, mean mid-major defenses in the country. The Mean Green logged 79 tackles for loss, 39 sacks, and 17 forced fumbles. (They blocked seven kicks, as well. Seven!) They were big and physical up front and hard-hitting in the back. And now they must almost completely rebuild the starting front seven.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 104.9 2.57 3.04 33.0% 60.7% 21.4% 113 6.1% 6.0%
Rank 43 21 38 11 26 33 35 26 83
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Aaron Bellazin DE 13 27.5 4.0% 12.5 9.0 0 1 2 0
Brandon McCoy DE 12 25.0 3.6% 7.0 6.0 0 2 0 0
Richard Abbe DT 13 16.5 2.4% 4.0 3.0 0 4 0 0
Chad Polk DE 6'0, 223 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 10 14.0 2.0% 3.5 3.0 0 1 1 0
Ryan Boutwell DT 13 13.5 2.0% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Alexander Lincoln DT 6'2, 267 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 11 11.0 1.6% 2.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Daryl Mason DE 6'3, 253 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 11 9.5 1.4% 1.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Austin Orr DT 6'4, 272 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 9 4.0 0.6% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Jarrian Roberts DE 6'2, 238 So. 2 stars (5.4) 11 3.0 0.4% 2.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Sir Calvin Wallace DT 6'2, 293 So. 2 stars (5.4) 3 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Quenton Brown DE 6'4, 235 Sr. 2 stars (5.2)
Malik Dilonga DE 6'4, 251 So. 2 stars (5.3)
Sid Moore DL 6'1, 252 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Zach Orr MLB 13 87.5 12.7% 13.5 3.0 0 4 2 1
Derek Akunne OLB 6'0, 244 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 13 67.0 9.7% 4.5 0.0 0 4 1 0
Will Wright OLB 13 59.5 8.6% 7.5 1.0 2 5 0 0
Jamal Marshall OLB 6'3, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 13.0 1.9% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Fred Scott MLB 5'11, 235 So. 2 stars (5.2) 6 6.0 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sed Ellis OLB 6'3, 189 So. 2 stars (5.4) 10 4.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
LaJaylin Smith LB 6'0, 221 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)
Calvin Minor LB 6'3, 207 So. 2 stars (5.3)
Anthony Wallace
(Oregon)
MLB 6'0, 235 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
A.J. Smith LB 6'2, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Brandon Garner LB 5'11, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






7. Hello, Wallace

Twelve North Texas defenders recorded at least 2.5 tackles for loss in 2013. The Mean Green tried to keep as many players as possible close to the line of scrimmage, daring you to beat them deep. It was a gamble that paid off more often than not, but we'll see how aggressive defensive coordinator John Skladany feels he can be this fall now that six of the aforementioned 12 defenders are gone.

Players accounting for 25 of 35.5 TFLs, 19 of 28 sacks, and seven of 11 pass break-ups on the line are gone. So are linebackers Zach Orr and Will Wright (combiend: 21 tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions, nine break-ups, two forced fumbles).

Granted, the second string returns mostly intact, and backups like tackle Alexander Lincoln, end Jarrian Roberts, and linebacker Jamarl Marshall did get opportunities to make some plays last year. But newcomers will likely play a role in North Texas' defensive success (or lack thereof). Redshirt freshman end Sid Moore has made waves in practice, it appears, and junior college transfer A.J. Smith could quickly see time at linebacker.

But among the newcomers to the rotation is a name you might recognize: Oregon transfer Anthony Wallace. The former four-star recruit broke up three passes and recorded a tackle for loss in reserve time in 2011-12 and could anchor the new-look defensive front.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Marcus Trice FS 13 70.0 10.2% 4.5 1 5 9 3 0
Kenny Buyers CB 5'11, 177 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 13 66.5 9.7% 4.5 2 3 5 0 0
Lairamie Lee SS 5'10, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 13 60.0 8.7% 4 1 3 2 2 0
James Jones CB 5'11, 173 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 13 58.0 8.4% 2.5 2 1 7 3 0
Zac Whitfield CB 5'9, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 17.5 2.5% 0 0 3 2 0 0
Zed Evans SS 5'11, 198 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 9 15.5 2.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Hilbert Jackson CB 12 9.5 1.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chad Davis DB 5'10, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 10 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sheldon Wade FS 5'11, 181 Sr. NR








Rashad Jackson
(New Mexico)
CB 5'9, 170 So. 2 stars (5.4)








Vershad Jackson
(New Mexico)
CB 5'8, 160 So. 2 stars (5.4)








John Schilleci DB 6'0, 193 So. 2 stars (5.4)






8. Minimal worries in the secondary

Granted, the one loss North Texas has suffered in the secondary is a pretty big one; Oklahoma transfer Marcus Trice was the pace-setter for the Mean Green defensive backfield, defensing 14 passes, recording 4.5 tackles for loss, and blocking three kicks. But the other starters were in no way chopped liver, and UNT returns both an experienced, hard-hitting safety (Lairamie Lee) but also three corners who combined for seven tackles for loss, four sacks, seven interceptions, 14 break-ups, and three forced fumbles.

We'll see if North Texas ends up a bit more leaky when it comes to allowing big plays, and we'll see what happens if depth is tested a bit, but the play-making ability didn't dissipate all that much with the departure of Trice.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Blake Macek 5'9, 186 So. 66 41.1 8 18 27 68.2%
Zach Paul 5'9, 185 Jr. 3 20.0 0 0 2 66.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Zach Olen 79 62.7 38 0 48.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Zach Paul 5'9, 185 Jr. 48-49 7-9 77.8% 3-6 50.0%
Zach Olen 2-4 0-0 N/A 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Brelan Chancellor KR 24 27.6 1
James Jones KR 5'11, 173 Sr. 8 15.8 0
Brelan Chancellor PR 24 16.1 1
Carlos Harris PR 5'8, 172 Jr. 3 -2.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 16
Field Goal Efficiency 116
Punt Return Efficiency 1
Kick Return Efficiency 30
Punt Efficiency 29
Kickoff Efficiency 50
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 5

9. The art of field position

Field position is incredibly important. All else being equal, a field position margin (your average starting field position minus your opponent's) of plus-6 to plus-10 results, on average, in a win percentage around 78 percent and a scoring margin of around plus-16 points.

Field position is determined in large part by the efficiency of one's offense and defense, and North Texas certainly derived an advantage in that regard. But the Mean Green also coaxed an incredible amount out of the special teams unit.

Brelan Chancellor was easily one of the best return men in the country. He was one of only six players to average at least 16.0 yards per punt return, and of those six, he was the only one to also average at least 27 yards per kick return. He was a one-man field position unit; throw in quality punting from Blake Macek, a strong coverage unit, and an absurd number of blocked kicks, and North Texas ended up with a field position margin of plus-7.2 yards -- the average Mean Green drive started at the 33.0 (11th in the country) while opponents' drives started at the 25.8 (fifth). Only Michigan State (plus-7.7) and Ohio State (plus-7.4) could top UNT's field position prowess.

Macek returns, but the loss of Chancellor here could hurt North Texas a lot more than his absence in the passing game. He was special.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at Texas 33
6-Sep SMU 74
13-Sep Louisiana Tech 98
20-Sep Nicholls State NR
4-Oct at Indiana 50
11-Oct at UAB 115
18-Oct Southern Miss 110
25-Oct at Rice 88
8-Nov Florida Atlantic 103
15-Nov at UTEP 117
22-Nov Florida International 119
29-Nov at UTSA 75
Five-Year F/+ Rk -13.6% (98)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 113
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 11 / 7.5
TO Luck/Game +1.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 10 (5, 5)

10. The only thing harder than winning is continuing to win

Between Chancellor's impact on field position, Derek Thompson's experience, Brandin Byrd's combination of strength and speed, Marcus Trice's play-making ability in the secondary (and on special teams), and the countless contributions of the six key contributors lost from the defensive front seven, it's safe to say the odds of a step backwards for North Texas in 2014 are pretty good. No matter what kind of depth Dan McCarney has created, and no matter how strong the trajectory of the program might be overall, the Mean Green improved a little too much to be sustainable last fall.

The magnitude of the step backwards, though, will be key. And there's reason to believe North Texas could still be quite strong. There are options at quarterback, there is still experience at the skill positions, there is massive experience on the offensive line, and the North Texas secondary will still be among the best of the mid-majors.

North Texas ranked 51st in the F/+ rankings last fall, and if they can avoid falling below about 80th, the Mean Green will find plenty of wins on the schedule. All six home games come against teams projected 74th or worse, and three road games come against teams projected 88th or worse. Despite the losses, another bowl game should be expected. Sustain some of the gains in 2014, then take another step forward in 2015.

Continuing to win is hard, but it certainly looks like McCarney has a chance to do just that.

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