Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Preview: North Texas Mean Green
North Texas Mean Green
Seth Littrell has given some new life to the North Texas football program, but getting to a bowl game with a 5-7 record is no cause for celebration just yet, especially when UNT lost the bowl game to Army to finish 5-8 last season. Still, it is a development step for this program, and just maybe a sign of things to come as Littrell builds this program back up.
What To be Excited About: Offense
UNT has always been a better program when they effectively ran the football. That has been the case for the better part of the last two decades. Luckily, they have a solid back in Jeffery Wilson, who rushed for 936 yards in 11 games and scored 14 times. He needs to have the leash taken off of him a bit, and he needs increased carries to get UNT to the next level, and could be a breakout candidate in 2017.
Four starters return on the line in Creighton Barr, TJ Henson, Jordan Murray, and Elex Woodworth, and that may be the best news yet.
Trevor Moore hit 9/13 FG attempts last season, and could be in for an increased work load as the offense improves around him.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Mason Fine is back to start at QB, but his overall performance was highly uneven last season as a freshman, which is par for the course. He passed for 157.2 yards per game, and completed 59.4% of his passes. If the North Texas offense is to clear the bar this season, they have to get more from Fine, and he has to grow into the position more than he already has. There is potential here, but he has to live up to it now. Look out for young freshman Cade Pearson. If Fine struggles, he may earn a look, and was an early enrollee.
Turner Smiley is the lone starting WR returning in 2017, and caught just 33 passes last fall for 389 yards, and averaged just three receptions per game. As a while, UNT receivers caught just 15 receiving TDs as a unit last fall. Look for JC transfer Jaylen Guyton to take a crack at grabbing some catches.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Brandon Garner and Joshua Wheeler are both back at LB in the 3-3-5 defense. Wheeler led the team with 7.5 TFLs last fall, while Garner finished with 50 tackles. Wheeler can kick down to DE in certain situations as well.
The secondary will return intact. All five starters return in Dee Baulkman, Nate Brooks, Eric Jenkins, Kishawn McClain, and Ashton Preston. Brooks finished with four PBUs and two forced fumbles. Jenkins was the team leader with 10 PBUs, McClain forced two fumbles, Preston finished with 40 tackles, and Baulkman finished with 35 tackles.
What To be concerned About: Defense
The line is missing two major pieces as only Roderick Young returns as a full time starter, and he finished with just 3.5 TFLs and 0.5 sacks last fall. He will need some big time support from whomever will earn the two open jobs up front.
One new LB will also need to be found to provide support to a beleaguered group in the front seven, as UNT allowed just a shade under 240 yards rushing per game last season.
The Punter will also be new this fall, as highly successful Eric Keena departs after averaging 44.34 yards per punt.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Lamar, 9/9 at SMU, 9/16 at Iowa, 9/23 UAB, 9/30 at Southern Miss, 10/14 UTSA, 10/21 at FAU, 10/28 Old Dominion, 11/4 at Louisiana Tech, 11/11 UTEP, 11/18 Army, 11/25 at Rice
The Mean Green are advancing towards respectability under Seth Littrell, but the movement needs to continue forward. I can see this team progressing to getting to a bowl game this fall based on actual merit, and not just the fact that there are too many bowls to place winning teams this season. If UNT plays all of their cards right, and they continue to grow, I can see seven wins on the schedule, but there is little room for losing trap games. I like the rising talent on this roster, and with the West being down in CUSA play, there are opportunities for this football team.