From the Bird’s Nest: North Texas – New Stadium, New Coach
(This is the seventh of a series previewing Louisiana's 2011 opponents. Today: North Texas)
NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN
Location: Denton, Texas
Stadium: Apogee Stadium (30. 850)
2010 Record: 3-9 (3-5 SBC)
Coach: Dan McCarney
Record: 0-0 (First Season)
Overall Record 56-85 (13th season)
Last meeting with Louisiana: 2010 Louisiana 28, North Texas 27
There's a lot of excitement at the University of North Texas.
And, there are good reasons why.
The Mean Green move into brand-spanking new Apogee Stadium this season. The $70 million facility is complete and judging by those I've spoken with, North Texas did it right. The new stadium will be the envy of, not only the Sun Belt Conference, but many other schools in the South.
And, North Texas has a new football coach. Dan McCarney, who led Iowa State to five bowl appearances in twelve years, takes over the helm of a Mean Green program that has an abysmal 13-58 record over the last six seasons. This won't be McCarney's first reclamation project. Iowa State was winless the year before he took over.
But, while fans and alumni believe a bright future awaits, the reality is McCarney and his staff have lots of work to do.
North Texas hasn't won more than three games in a season since 2004. Fans will point to the fact that UNT won three games last year, two of them after Todd Dodge was fired. And, four of their nine losses were by a touchdown or less. There is no question UNT played better under then-interim coach Mario Canales. And, McCarney was wise to keep Canales as the offensive coordinator.
But this isn't going to happen overnight.
North Texas does have running back Lance Dunbar returning in the backfield. Dunbar (5-9, 203) has made defenses miserable during his career. Dunbar enters his senior season with 3,109 yards in his career. If he can rush for what he's averaged the last two years (1,465), he'll be the all time rusher in UNT history and if he's better than that average, he'll have a chance to catch Louisiana's Tyrell Fenroy as the Sun Belt's all time rushing leader. Dunbar has rushed for 100-plus yards 16 times in the last two seasons.
But, other than Dunbar, questions abound in the North Texas offense.
Sophomore Derek Thompson is the clear favorite to start at quarterback. Thompson did get a start against Army last year, but suffered a broken leg early in that game. Injuries were part of the reality at North Texas last season. Brent Osborn, a JUCO transfer, and Chase Baine, a former walk-on who became UNT's fourth signal caller last year, are challenging Thompson this fall.
Not much experience at quarterback. Even less at wide receiver.
McCarney dismissed leading returning receiver Darius Carey in the spring. And that doesn't leave much by way of experience. Senior Tyler Stradford, who was injured in a freak accident which forced him to miss three games last season, returns. Senior Michael Outlaw was hurt all of last year as well. He led the team in receptions in the spring game. The Mean Green also has some other candidates at the position, but all are umproven.
UNT lost three starters on the offensive line. All three received some sort of all-conference recognition at some point while a member of the Mean Green. Senior Matt Tomlinson should start at right tackle. J. J. Johnson returns from an injury and should take over the center spot. Junior Aaron Fortenberry, who took over at center when Johnson was hurt, should wind up at a guard position. Depth could be an issue here.
Defensively, North Texas is undersized at some spots, and oversized at others. Ends Brandon Akpunko and K. C. Obi return. The leaders at defensive tackle weigh 336 and 357 respectively. They both need to lost some weight to be more effective.
Sophomore Zach Orr was third on the team in tackles last season without being a starter. He'll be the mike linebacker. Will Wright moves from safety to Will linebacker. Junior Will linebacker Jeremy Phillips is the most experienced linebacker with fifteen career starts.
UNT appears to be pretty solid in the secondary. They return both starters at corner. Senior Royce Hill is the best of the group. Some questions at the safety spot, but three seniors are fighting for the two starting spots.
Junior punter Will Atterberry broke his arm in the seventh game last year, but returns for his junior season. He averaged nearly 42 yards per punt a season ago. Zach Olen, who won the placekicking job midway through the season last year, also returns for the Mean Green.
North Texas' conference schedule doesn't do them any favors. They must travel to defending co-champion FIU to open the season on Thursday, September 1st. They also have to travel to Troy, Arkansas State and Louisiana. The good news is they'll have some winnable games at home. In non-conference, their stadium opener is against Houston. They also get Indiana at home. They must travel to Tulsa and Alabama.
Outlook: Several pre-season publications have suggested that North Texas might be the darkhorse team in the Sun Belt this year. I have a hard time buying into that. Dunbar by himself makes the offense respectable, but with little experience at quarterback and receiver, teams will load up the box and dare UNT to throw the football. The Mean Green hasn't been very mean on defense in many years and getting to respectability won't happen overnight. This will be one of the few games where the Cajuns will be a favorite this season.
McCarney built a moribund program at Iowa State into a competitor. He could very well do the same at North Texas. But it won't happen this year.....unless, of course, Seneca Wallace shows up to play quarterback.