***** 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
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
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
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