2014 CFN Preview - North Texas Mean Green
North Texas RB Antoinne Jimmerson
North Texas RB Antoinne Jimmerson
Posted Jul 5, 2014

Preview 2014 - Was last year a fluke, or is the program really on the rise? (Getty Images)

North Texas Mean Green

Preview 2014  

By Rich Cirminiello
- 2014 North Texas Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Dan McCarney
4th year: 18-19
16th year: 74-104
Returning Lettermen
Off. 16, Def. 18, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best UNT Players
1. OL Cyril Lemon, Sr.
2. LG Mason Y'Barbo, Sr.
3. LB Derek Akunne, Sr.
4. LT Antonio Johnson, Sr.
5. RB Antoinne Jimmerson, Jr.
6. CB Kenny Buyers, Jr.
7. SS Lairamie Lee, Sr.
8. CB James Jones, Sr.
9. CB Zac Whitfield, Jr.
10. WR Carlos Harris, Jr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Texas
Sep. 6 SMU
Sep. 13 Louisiana Tech
Sep. 20 Nicholls State
Oct. 4 at Indiana
Oct. 11 at UAB
Oct. 18 Southern Miss
Oct. 25 at Rice
Nov. 8 Florida Atlantic
Nov. 15 at UTEP
Nov. 22 FIU
Nov. 29 at UTSA

At this time last year, North Texas was attempting to dig out of an eight-year ditch of losing seasons and failed expectations. Today, the program wants to show that its breakout 2013 campaign wasn't a fleeting, one-season aberration.

The Mean Green turned heads in its Conference USA debut. Pegged in the preseason to finish fifth in the West Division, it wound up 9-4 and champions of the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In his third season, noted program-builder Dan McCarney successfully eradicated the culture of losing in Denton. Now the coach, who signed a five-year extension in February, is working hard to make sure his team keeps its edge.

North Texas won a bunch of games in 2013 on the backs of seasoned veterans. Many of those pivotal players, though, have used up their eligibility, leaving the team with myriad gaping holes that must be filled in the offseason. The Mean Green is moving forward without its quarterback, leading rusher, top two receivers and seven quality defensive starters. It'll be all hands on deck for the next few months as the team tries to rebuild in time for the Aug. 30 opener at Texas.

While the Mean Green will once again be terrific up front, for whom will Cyril Lemon and Mason Y'Barbo be blocking? North Texas is hosting an offseason free-for-all to replace QB Derek Thompson, and top playmakers Brandin Byrd and Brelan Chancellor are gone as well. The situation on defense is equally dire, if not more so. Since the all-star at each level, DE Aaron Bellazin, LB Zach Orr and FS Marcus Trice, was a senior, UNT is putting out an APB for new defensive leaders.

McCarney has his system and his philosophy firmly in place in Denton. In fact, he's ahead of schedule. It seems inevitable, though, that North Texas will take a step back in 2014 following the graduation of so many key players on offense and defense. Of course, if the Mean Green is able to avoid the precipitous decline, go ahead and mark it down as another victory for McCarney and his once-broken program.

What to watch for on offense: Who's got next? No, Derek Thompson wasn't great, but he was a three-year starter at quarterback. His experience and leadership will be missed. The battle for Thompson's successor promises to be long and unlikely to be decided before August. Junior Andrew McNulty was last year's backup, but redshirt freshman Dajon Williams, true freshman Connor Means and JUCO transfer Josh Greer are getting every opportunity to win the job. Since the Mean Green can run the ball in a conservative approach, the staff will anoint the safest candidate.

What to watch for on defense: The new-look D-line. The secondary is set. Derek Akunne anchors the second level. The front wall? Shaky. The program is rebuilding up front with four new starters. Tackle Alexander Lincoln and ends Chad Polk and Darryl Mason are the most experienced upperclassmen of the holdovers. All three linemen should see a spike in reps. No matter who wins jobs, North Texas will be noticeably smaller in the trenches now that 320-pound tackle Richard Abbe has graduated. After finishing No. 15 nationally versus the run, the Mean Green will be easier to solve in 2104.

This team will be far better if … it keeps creating a slew of turnovers. The Mean Green didn't house any sure-fire NFL players on last year's D, yet it ranked eighth nationally in scoring in 2013. A key reason for the success was a slew of takeaways, 34 in fact. North Texas will face even stiffer defensive challenges this fall, making picks and strips more important than ever. If the school can't successfully manhandle the other guy, it'll have to compensate with another season of thievery.

The Schedule:  Starting out the Charlie Strong era at Texas might not be the right way to usher in the season, but UNT gets its share of winnable games the rest of the way, starting with the AAC's SMU before opening up Conference USA play against Louisiana Tech. Nicholls State will be a light scrimmage before getting a week off to prepare for the high-powered Indiana team that should have one of the nation's most dangerous offenses. And then things calm down, but the date with the Hoosiers kicks off a run of three road games in four weeks. Closing out at UTEP and UTSA shouldn't be too bad – the Mean Green don't leave the state of Texas after October 11th. Missing Marshall, WKU and Middle Tennessee from the East is fantastic.

Best Offensive Player: Senior OG Cyril Lemon. North Texas wants to be more physical than the opponent on the other side of the ball. Lemon is the embodiment of the team's offensive philosophy. He's a 6-3, 304-pound road-grader who will also keep the pocket clean for the quarterback. The three-year starter is coming off his best season in Denton, capped by a spot on the All-Conference USA First Team. So confident are the coaches in Lemon's ability and versatility that they might consider using him at tackle in the fall.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Derek Akunne. The Mean Green is pining for defensive leaders in 2014, a role Akunne is poised to fill. He provides size and experience to a side of the ball that'll light on both when the season begins. Akunne has range and a nose for the ball, as shown by his 90 tackles in back-to-back years. He's not quite former teammate Zach Orr, but he is veteran the coaches can count to make stops, week-in and week-out.

Key player to a successful season: Junior RB Antoinne Jimmerson. The Mean Green wants to play ball-control in 2014, especially with the challenges being faced under center and on defense. Jimmerson has the right profile to eat up clock and wear down opposing defenses. The north-south back needs to be this year's version of Brandin Byrd for the offense. If Jimmerson—or senior Reggie Pegram—can barrel forward for at least 1,200 yards rushing, it's going to remove a lot of pressure from the young quarterback and the rebuilt D.

The season will be a success if ... the Mean Green plays 13 games. Prior to last season, North Texas had gone nearly a decade without appearing in a bowl game. Now it has a chance to make it to two straight. If the program can finish above .500, it'll be a particularly poignant achievement considering the wholesale turnover taking place on offense and defense. After the opener with Texas, there's no reason why UNT can't be competitive in every other contest.

Key game: Sept. 6 vs. SMU. North Texas is likely to be Charlie Strong's first victim as the head coach of Texas. But how will the Mean Green respond to an 0-1 start? It'll be important for Dan McCarney's team to rebound as fast as possible, beginning with a visit from a local foe, SMU. North Texas will be seeking more than just bragging rights when the Mustangs make the 40-mile trip to Apogee Stadium. It'll be after the type of win that stays in the minds of undecided recruits in the region.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: North Texas 39 – Opponents 11
- Third-down conversions: North Texas 47%– Opponents 36%
- Rushing touchdowns: North Texas 31 - Opponents 10

- 2014 North Texas Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players