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           ***** NCAA Football Preview - North Texas Mean Green *****
 
 By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Although it won four straight league titles upon
 entering, North Texas did not have a gracious exit from the Sun Belt
 Conference. The Mean Green played a very tough non-conference schedule and won
 one less game than in 2011. Coach Dan McCarney took the Cyclones to the bowl
 season in five of his final seven seasons at Iowa State. He has compiled a
 9-15 record in two years with the Mean Green.
 
 North Texas began its season with a lopsided, 41-14 loss at LSU. It downed
 Texas State, 34-7, the following week to climb back to the .500 mark. The Mean
 Green then lost two in a row, to Kansas State (35-21) and Troy (14-7). They
 beat Florida Atlantic, 20-14, on the road, but could not repeat that success
 the following week at Houston (44-21). North Texas went 2-4 the rest of the
 way, with victories over Louisiana (30-23) and South Alabama (24-14), and
 losses to Middle Tennessee (38-21), Arkansas State (37-19), ULM (42-16) and
 Western Kentucky (25-24).
 
 North Texas's 4-8 record made it ineligible for a bowl bid. It has not played
 in a bowl game since 2004, which is also the last year it claimed a conference
 title.
 
 2013 ANALYSIS:
 
 OFFENSE: North Texas was an average team offensively last season, finishing
 51st in rushing (173.1 yards per game), 72nd in passing (219.1), but produced
 just the 103rd most points, at 20.9 points per contest. Senior Derek Thompson
 is the leading candidate the start under center for the third straight opener.
 He passed for 2,629 yards with 14 touchdowns last season. Offensive
 coordinator Mike Canales may consider other options at quarterback if
 Thompson struggles. He has a pair of intriguing backups in Andrew McNulty and
 Brock Berglund to consider.
 
 Whichever passer is dropping back will utilize senior wideout Brelan
 Chancellor, who racked up 450 yards and five touchdowns on 25 catches in 2012.
 Darnell Smith (379 yards, 28 catches) and Carlos Harris (253 yards, 19
 catches) are a couple of additional options in the aerial attack. Senior tight
 end Drew Miller (131 yards, 18 catches) is an above average blocker for his
 position. He will be a help to the offensive line that returns Antonio Johnson
 (6-5, 311), Mason Y'Barbo (6-2, 309) and Cyril Lemon (6-3, 321), who all
 started last season as sophomores. The Mean Green led the nation in sacks
 allowed, giving up just a half-sack per game.
 
 "As a quarterback I always want to make sure the offensive line has some
 experience," said Canales. "The consistency and the continuity that we have
 offensive line wise provides a lot of strength for the quarterback game. They
 feel confident in the guys up front."
 
 The Mean Green also have three of their top four leading rushers back. Senior
 tailback Brandin Byrd was the sixth most productive ball carrier in the SBC
 last season with 860 yards and four scores on 205 attempts. Junior halfback
 Antoinne Jimmerson (544 yards, five TDs) regularly provided a spark and
 Chancellor (155 yards, 16 attempts) contributed in the ground attack on
 occasion also.
 
 DEFENSE: North Texas allowed 27.8 points per game in 2012, which made it a
 middle of the road defense when compared to the rest of the FBS. It was a huge
 step in the right direction though, as it was the lowest points allowed
 average for the program since 2006. The defensive performance could get even
 better as the Mean Green return eight starters from last season's unit.
 
 The entire secondary is back, with sophomore cornerback Zac Whitfield coming
 off of an impressive rookie season during which he recorded a team-high three
 interceptions. The defensive backfield was responsible for a healthy share of
 the takedowns last year. Senior cornerback Hilbert Jackson registered the
 third-most tackles (84) on the team while safeties Lairamie Lee (72) and
 Marcus Trice (63) were right behind him.
 
 The top two tacklers are also back. Senior linebacker Zachary Orr made 108
 total stops and intercepted a pair of passes as he consistently appeared to be
 the heart and soul of the defense. Junior Derek Akunne plays well alongside of
 Orr. He made a career-high 90 total tackles in 2012.
 
 "We've got to be more disciplined in our coverages," said McCarney. "We were
 pretty darn good at interceptions last season. We were really poor on forcing
 fumbles. If you don't hit guys and hit them in the right way, with correct
 technique, you're not going to force fumbles. And we didn't. We have a lot of
 room to improve there."
 
 The defensive line has one of the team's key players in senior defensive end
 Aaron Bellazin (6-2, 244), who tallied 32 total tackles, nine for loss and
 five sacks in 2012. The defensive tackle tandem of Alexander Lincoln (6-2,
 286) and Richard Abbe (6-4, 315) is going to be helpful against the run.
 
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior kicker Zach Olen was reliable from short distances last
 season, making 9-of-10 field goals from inside of 40 yards and 28 of his 29
 extra point attempts. He went just 2-of-6 from 40 and beyond though, which
 means North Texas has to move the ball pretty deep into enemy territory to put
 him in position. The Mean Green will employ a new punter with redshirt
 freshman Blake Macek expected to be the fourth-down specialist.
 
 North Texas could stand to bolster its special teams play after ranking 104th
 in kick return average (19.2 per attempt) and 117th in punt return average
 (2.1 per attempt). Chancellor was the number one returner on the depth chart,
 with 18 kick returns for 351 yards and five punt returns for 10 yards.
 
 OUTLOOK: The Mean Green bring back a whole lot from a team that left plenty to
 be desired last season. They are also entering their first season in the
 Conference USA. North Texas plays its entire non-conference schedule to begin
 its 2013 campaign and then has its inaugural eight C-USA matchups.
 
 North Texas begins its season at home at Apogee Stadium against Idaho, then it
 will visit Athens, Ohio to play the Bobcats. The Mean Green face another MAC
 school the following week when Ball State comes to Denton and will conclude
 their non-league run in Athens, Georgia against the Bulldogs. Their first tour
 of the new look C-USA includes games against Tulane, Middle Tennessee,
 Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Rice, Texas-El Paso, Texas-San Antonio and
 Tulsa.
 
 North Texas's biggest strength is its depth on both sides of the ball. While
 it has plenty of experience, the current crop of players have failed to get
 the job done thus far. The move to the C-USA should help get better recruits
 to consider the Mean Green, but they will need to wait for that to occur
 before they will contend for a conference championship.
 
 
 
 08/19 09:31:06 ET