2012 North Texas Preview

Posted Jul 27, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - North Texas Mean Green

North Texas Mean Green

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dan McCarney
2nd year: 5-7
14th year overall: 61-92
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 16, Def. 17, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 27
Ten Best UNT Players
1. LB Zach Orr, Jr.
2. OG Cyril Lemon, Soph.
3. QB Derek Thompson, Jr.
4. P Will Atterberry, Sr.
5. OT Cam Feldt, Soph.
6. DE Brandon McCoy,Jr.
7. WR Brelon Chancellor, Jr.
8. TE Andrew Power, Sr.
9. DT Ryan Boutwell, Jr.
10. LB Jeremy Phillips, Sr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 at LSU
Sep. 8 Texas Southern
Sep. 15 at Kansas State
Sep. 22 Troy
Sep. 29 at Florida Atlantic
Oct. 6 at Houston
Oct. 16 Louisiana
Oct. 27 at Middle Tenn.
Nov. 3 Arkansas State
Nov. 10 South Alabama
Nov. 17 at ULM
Nov. 24 at WKU
That North Texas only has to worry about football is the biggest win of the season no matter what happens on the field. Head coach Dan McCarney appears to be more than fine after suffering his frightening stroke in February, and now it's all systems go as the attempted turnaround of the former Sun Belt superpower continues.

McCarney had a ton of work to do from the disastrous Todd Dodge era, but he was an instant success winning five games in his first season at a place that came up with just 13 wins in the previous six years combined. He was able to change things up with improved play from the lines, a premium put on keeping mistakes to a minimum, and with a terrific ability to put away the weak and the sad.

Half the battle in the Sun Belt is to beat the bad teams and not suffer any slip-ups, so while the Mean Green might have lost to the stars – Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, FIU and WKU – the wins over FAU, ULM, Troy and Middle Tennessee were able to make up for it. UNT didn't lose any games they weren't supposed to with six of the seven losses coming to teams that ended up going bowling, with WKU the lone exception.

McCarney was a terrific hire for the program and appears to have everything on the right track to make the Mean Green back to the early 2000s when conference titles were the norm. With nine starters returning on offense and some big players returning on defense, going for a winning season isn't out of the question. For a program that was so down, and after such a scary incident suffered by its head coach, all signs are pointing up.

The offense should be better through the air and should be more varied with star running back Lance Dunbar gone. The O line should be terrific, the receiving corps is experienced and quarterback Derek Thompson is a veteran who knows what he's doing. This won't be a good enough attack to get into shootouts, but it should be able to blow past the Sun Belt's mediocre defenses.

The biggest plus under McCarney right away was a defense that wasn't the embarrassment it was over previous few seasons. With a stout-looking front seven and a few interesting defensive backs who should be more than fine if the line can get into the backfield on a regular basis.

It's going to be a bit more of a process, but McCarney is getting the job done. This could be the Sun Belt's big sleeper and could be in for a big year with the right breaks.

What You Need To Know About The …

Offense: Offensive coordinator Mike Canales got a strong season out of his offensive line in pass protection, and now it should be even better. With four starters returning and Arkansas transfer Cam Feldt taking over at right tackle, this might be the Sun Belt's best line. The passing game has to be stronger with veteran quarterback Derek Thompson having to do far more without Lance Dunbar to hand the ball off to. Several backs will work in a rotation to replace the lost production with Antoinne Jimmerson and Brandin Byrd each tough, quick runners who should shine behind the great line. The two top receivers return in Brelan Chancellor and Chris Bynes decent enough to start with, but not explosive enough to take the top off a defense. Overall it should be a balanced attack if Thompson can stay healthy and the running back by committee approach works.

Defense: McCarney has built his career around tough defenses, and while last year's wasn't special, it wasn't a liability like it had been in previous years. The line has to come up with more from the outside and needs to use its three returning starters to do more overall. Tackles Tevinn Cantly and Ryan Boutwell are solid, while Richard Abbe is growing into one of the team's rising stars inside. Zachary Orr should be one of the Sun Belt's better all-around middle linebackers after leading the team last season, but Derek Akunne showed late last season that he's ready to play a bigger role. Jeremy Phillips is back after suffering a knee injury and he should be ready to go on the outside. The secondary is the biggest concern with all four starters gone and top corner Freddie Warner going down this offseason with a torn ACL. Oklahoma transfer Marcus Trice should be one of the team's leading tacklers at strong safety while JUCO transfer D.Q. Johnson should be an instant factor at corner.

What to watch for on offense: More from the passing game. It has been easy to rely on running back Lance Dunbar to do a little of everything, but this season more will be asked for from junior Derek Thompson, a big, talented passer who hasn't had a ton of good luck with injuries throughout his career. Last season he was able to get through the year and had a few huge games, bombing away for 332 yards and three scores in the win over ULM and 331 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Troy. With three of the top four and five of the top seven pass catchers returning, and with his experience, Thompson will get a chance to wing the ball around the yard a bit.

What to watch for on defense: Beefing up the secondary. The pass defense finished 104th in the nation while giving up 27 touchdowns and coming up with just nine picks, so while the entire defensive backfield needs to be replaced, it's not a huge loss. It could be a case of addition by subtraction with four talented prospects ready to take over. The addition of Trice should instantly beef up the safety situation while Johnson is an instant factor at one corner. Mike Marshall is a decent-looking free safety prospect and Hilbert Jackson is a big corner who should thrive on the other side of Johnson.

The team will be far better if … it keeps doing all the little things right. The Mean Green committed a mere 60 penalties on the season. The O gave up just eight fumbles and threw a mere nine picks while being able to hang on to the ball for 32:21 per game. The team isn't going to be good enough to beat most teams straight up, so it has to manage to not screw up. That means keeping the chains moving, playing stronger third down defense – this was a problem last year allowing teams to convert 43% of their chances – and dominating the turnover margin again.

The schedule: On the plus side, everyone else will look a lot slower and less talented after the opener. The Mean Green start out at LSU before getting a layup against Texas Southern, but that's followed up by a date at Kansas State. Getting Troy at home will be a key game to kick off Sun Belt play, but three of the next four games are on the road getting a week off before going to Middle Tennessee. Missing FIU is a huge break as is getting Arkansas State at home, but the November 10th game against South Alabama is the final home date of the year finishing up at ULM and WKU.

Best offensive player: Sophomore OG Cyril Lemon. It might not seem all that exciting when the top offensive player is a right guard, but Lemon turned into one of the team's nicest surprises last season starting every game as a true freshman and earning All-Sun Belt honors. No one expected him to do much right away, but he stepped up and dominated early on in practices and held down the gig for the entire year. At 6-3 and 313 pounds he's very big, very active and extremely strong for the ground game.

Best defensive player: Junior LB Zach Orr. He had the tough task of replacing A.J. Penson at middle linebacker, and he came through leading the way with 74 tackles with five tackles for loss and a pick despite missing the last few games of the season. At 6-0 and 231 pounds he's a short, squatty defender who's strong and steady. He might be moved around a bit with other good options for the inside, most notably Derek Akunne, but he'll be the leader and the star of the defensive front.

Key player to a successful season: Redshirt freshman RB Antoinne Jimmerson. Lance Dunbar closed out his career with 4,224 yards, 41 touchdowns and 1,033 receiving yards with eight scores. He was everything to the Mean Green offense through bad times and more bad times, but he closed out strong with a 313-yard, four score effort in the blowout over Middle Tennessee. He's not going to be easily replaced, but Jimmerson will give it a try. A short, compact 5-9, 207-pound back, he's ultra quick and should be the lead one in the attack. Purdue transfer Reggie Pegram will play a big role and could be a workhorse at times, while Brandin Byrd is the most experience returning runner and can add a little power.

The season will be a success if … the Mean Green comes up with a winning season. No one could've foreseen a slide of seven straight losing seasons after going to the New Orleans Bowl at the end of the 2004 season, but now the program appears to be close to being back on track. It's going to be tough to get to seven wins, and six would be more likely, but it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to beat Texas Southern, Troy, Florida Atlantic, South Alabama and ULM for a base of five wins to start – if UNT can beat the teams it's supposed to – but this year it would be nice to come up with an upset or two.

Key game: Sept. 22 vs. Troy. There was a time not all that long ago that Troy vs. North Texas would've been the be-all-end-all Sun Belt game of the year, but times have changed. Both programs are looking to get their groove back and both will be looking to this game to make a big statement in the conference race. Troy won six straight games in the series before UNT came up with a nice 38-33 win on the road in mid-November of last year. With a winnable game at Florida Atlantic to come next, UNT could start out the Sun Belt campaign 2-0 for the first time since 2003 with a win.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Time of Possession: North Texas 32:21 – Opponents 27:34
- Fumbles: Opponents 25 (lost 17) – North Texas 15 (lost 8)
- Red Zone Scores: Opponents 80% (32-of-40) – North Texas 68% (25-of-37)

 - 2012 North Texas Depth Chart