2011 North Texas Preview
North Texas RB Lance Dunbar
North Texas RB Lance Dunbar
Posted Jul 15, 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dan McCarney
1st year
13th year overall: 56-85
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 27, Def. 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best North Texas Players
1. RB Lance Dunbar, Sr.
2. WR/KR Darius Carey, Jr.
3. LB Jeremy Phillips, Jr.
4. PK Zach Olen, Soph.
5. C J.J. Johnson, Sr.
6. LB Zach Orr, Soph.
7. DE Brandon Akpunku, Sr.
8. WR Tyler Stradford, Sr.
9. DE K.C. Obi, Jr.
10. CB D'Leon McCord, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 1 at FIU
Sep. 10 Houston
Sep. 17 at Alabama
Sep. 24 Indiana
Oct. 1 at Tulsa
Oct. 8 Florida Atlantic
Oct. 15 at Louisiana
Oct. 22 ULM
Oct. 29 at Arkansas State
Nov. 12 at Troy
Nov. 19 WKU
Dec. 3 Middle Tenn.

North Texas is having its cake and eating it too.

Todd Dodge was a superior Texas high school coach with tremendous offensive mind, but his era was a puzzling disaster. The Mean Green put up video game-like numbers for a while, then couldn't score, and never stopped anyone, and along the way he didn't come up with wins with just six victories in his five-plus years. He got canned, Mike Canales took over, and all of a sudden, everything started to work.

In the first game after the canning of Dodge, UNT rolled to a 33-6 win over Western Kentucky for one of its most impressive victories in years, and it closed out strong with tough losses to Troy and Kansas State and a win at Middle Tennessee. Suddenly, the program showed a sign of life and there was real, live, hope again.

But the UNT brass decided to not give Canalas the bump into the full-time job, and instead came up with a tremendous hire in former Iowa State head coach and big-time defensive assistant Dan McCarney, who made sure to keep Canalas on board to run the offense.

The Mean Green has the veteran head man who should be able to use his tough-love approach to get the team into shape, and Canalas is still around to provide a little bit of continuity.

It might not be ready to go back to the days of the early 2000s when UNT ruled the Sun Belt world, but the program should make a quick jump back to among the living and can start challenging for championships again. The coaching will be among the best in the conference, the commitment is there to start winning again, and there's reason to get excited about the possibilities.

Lance Dunbar will be one of the nation's most productive all-around running backs, and he could go ballistic with McCarney – who was the Iowa State head coach when Troy Davis was cranking out huge seasons – now taking over the program. The quarterbacks have to stay healthy, unlike last year, and the receivers are in place to add some balance to the attack.

The defense will be far better with McCarney as the head man, and it should be a whole bunch tougher. He was phenomenal for the Florida defensive line over the last few years, and now he has a slew of veterans to play around with up front and with a strong group of defensive backs returning to do more for the pass defense that wasn't all that bad.

The Dodge experiment was a shot at greatness, and it didn't work. The McCarney hiring was the answer, and it should correct the problem.

What to watch for on offense: The health of the quarterbacks. Riley Dodge was supposed to be a franchise quarterback who combined with his dad to make the offense shine, but he was never healthy and the production wasn't there. Derek Thompson looked great when he got his chance, but he suffered a broken leg. Former starter Nathan Tune got a chance, and he got bounced with a broken hip. Now the hope is to finally have some continuity under center, and while the UNT quarterback's main job will be to hand the ball off to Dunbar, keeping the chains moving with a few key third down throws will be a must.

What to watch for on defense: The improvement of the secondary. The UNT pass defense wasn't too bad considering there wasn't any pass rush, and it was helped stats-wise by getting pounded on against the run. Now the secondary should be tremendous with four starters returning led by DaWaylon Cook, who's back after suffering a torn ACL and should be in the mix for all-star honors. Brad Graham and John Shorter are good hitting veterans, and D'Leon McCord and Royce Hill are good corners who'll hold down the fort until Cook is 100% and back to normal. Considering teams like Houston and Tulsa are on the schedule early on, the pass defense will be tested.

The team will be far better if … the defensive front can get behind the line. Ends Brandon Akpunku and K.C. Obi are back, and they have to do something, anything, to get into the backfield. The Mean Green came up with 19 sacks, but there were a paltry 49 tackles for loss and not enough big plays to change games around. McCarney and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen aren't going to do anything crazy, but their first order of business will be to start being more disruptive.

The schedule: It kicks off right away with a date at defending Sun Belt champ, FIU. And then it's stat-killing time with Houston, at Alabama, Indiana, and at Tulsa all certain to be ugly games with the defense giving up a ton of points. It'll be all about developing, and the Mean Green have to be ready to hit the ground running in conference play with Florida Atlantic coming off the trip to Tulsa. Going Louisiana, Arkansas State, and Troy, along with that road trip to FIU, is a problem, but closing out at home against WKU and Middle Tennessee will be a major plus.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Lance Dunbar. Sixth in the nation in rushing, the 5-9, 203-pound veteran was everything for the UNT offense last year finishing with 1,553 yards and 13 scores, while catching 28 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns. He proved he could handle the workload with over 300 touches, and McCarney will feed him the ball until he drops. Can he handle 30 carries a game like he had at times through the second half of last year? Not on a regular basis, but he'll get his chances to show why he might be the league's best player.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Jeremy Phillips. One of the team's most disruptive players, he finished second on the team with 69 tackles and was one of the few players who could get into the backfield and was decent against the pass, and now he should do even more. While he's built like a safety, he has the range and the quickness to be the centerpiece of the Bowen/McCarney defense.

Key player to a successful season: Redshirt freshman OT Antonio Johnson. The UNT offensive line got its quarterbacks beaten, battered, and bruised over the last several years, and that has to change. An anchor has to emerge, and it would be a huge plus if Johnson, a promising 6-5, 292-pounder, could become a strong, steady piece to work around for the next four seasons. He'll be good for the ground game, but the key will be his ability to handle top speed rushers on a consistent basis.

The season will be a success if … The Mean Green wins five games. The program has won 13 games in the last six year and hasn't won more than three games in a season since 2004. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the coaching change and all the returning starters should be good for at least two more wins from last year. Beating Florida Atlantic, ULM, WKU, and Middle Tennessee at home isn't asking for too much, while coming up with a win over someone like Louisiana or Arkansas State on the road is possible.

Key game: Sept. 1 at FIU. Nothing would signal the beginning of a new era more than beating the defending conference champion on the road in the season opener. The 34-10 loss in last year's game was a low point, and it signaled the end of the Todd Dodge era. It would be more than just symbolic; it would make a big splash in the Sun Belt conference race, if McCarney could start his time in Denton with a splashy win.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Punt Returns: Opponents 33 for 297 yards – North Texas 13 for 43 yards
- First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 103 – North Texas 67
- Time of Possession: North Texas 31:26 – Opponents 28:34

- 2011 North Texas Preview | 2011 North Texas Offense
- 2011 North Texas Defense | 2011 North Texas Depth Chart