North Texas Will Struggle To Fly In Loaded Conference USA

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Photo via Danny Wild- USA Today Sports

Fall practices are fast approaching, but UNT has adapted leadership and team bonding exercises this summer. Behold, “The House of Pain”:

No this isn’t “Kid Nation” — although I am curious what that kid is doing on his belly, rocking back and forth like a wobbly boat. His inconsistent movements mirrored North Texas last season; one of only five other Texas FBS programs that qualified for the postseason, the Mean Green received an invitation from the Heart of Dallas Bowl on the merits of their academic standing, despite only notching five victories.

The program had highs — beating Army early in the season — and also had lows — losing to Army in a 38-31 overtime in the postseason. A long history of losing — one winning season since 2004 — has perpetually sunk the Mean Green to the bottom brackets of C-USA; six other conference programs are expected to make postseason this upcoming season, according to Athlon and Sporting News national publications, respectively.

Key Returners
QB Mason Fine, RB Jeffery Wilson, The Secondary

Fine did a “fine” job his freshman campaign, passing for 1,572 yards, six TDs and five interceptions. He can only get better with a year of experience under his belt. The stud of the offense is Jeffery Wilson, an injury prone running back who has compiled 1,990 yards in his three-year career, despite not playing a complete season. Wilson is currently Fine’s primary target with a depleted receiving corps, which doesn’t say much about the spread offense scheme coach Graham Harrell plans to continue implementing.

The defense improved from 41.3 to 32.6 ppg in 2016. The 3-3-5 scheme with new defensive coordinator Troy Reffett should become more aggressive, as per his style of coaching. An experienced secondary ranked second in C-USA in both passing defense and interceptions (14). Experienced safety Kishawn McClain lead the charge with a team high 91 tackles and three picks.

Key Losses
The Receivers, DE Jaried Combs, DE Malik Dilonga, DB Chad Davis, DB James Gray

In order for the Mean Green to earn any respect in the Texas FBS, they have to improve dramatically on the offensive side of the ball: The team ranked No. 117 nationally out of 128 FBS teams in total offense (341.8 yards per game.) Coach Seth Littrell must focus on rebuilding a receiving unit that sees three-of-four top options lost to graduation. Turner Smiley (389 yards) is the only target returning from last season; inexperienced offensive weapons must step up to pick up the slack.

Only five teams allowed more sacks (43) than UNT; new hire offensive line coach Chuck Langston should rectify the offensive front’s flaws. That said, losing critical defensive lineman on the other side of the ball could be tricky in terms of depth: North Texas ranked No. 117 nationally in rushing defense (239.5 yards allowed per game.)

Verdict

Coach Seth Littrell pumped some life into the Mean Green program — actually turning a sickly shade of green after being trounced to a 1-11 record in 2015.

The resuscitation to 5-8 was a step in the right direction, but improvements required on both sides of the ball and the luck of injuries not being an issue — an anomaly in college football — forms a lot of different “if” scenarios in Denton. With programs like UTSA and Louisiana Tech on the rise, it’s difficult to see North Texas making much of an impact in a stacked C-USA.

Prediction: 4-8

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