NCAA Football Preview - North Texas Mean Green
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: In Dan McCarney's first year as head coach of the North Texas Mean Green, he accomplished just about every rookie head coaches' ultimate goal and that is to improve upon the season before.
The Mean Green won just three games in 2010, and the start of the 2011 campaign appeared as if it was going to be more of the same, as they came out of the gates with three straight losses.
Carney and his crew managed to right the ship over the course of the remaining schedule however. They did not lose back-to-back games from Sept. 24 on, while recording impressive wins over Sun Belt rivals Florida Atlantic (31-17), ULM (38-21), Troy (38-33) and Middle Tennessee (59-7), as well as non-conference foe Indiana (24-21).
McCarney, formerly the defensive line coach at Florida as well as the head coach at Iowa State (1996-2005), finished his first season in Denton at 5-7 overall and 4-4 in conference, narrowly missing out on the opportunity to qualify for just the school's seventh bowl game.
OFFENSE: As far as yardage was concerned, North Texas struggled on offense in 2011, picking up 341.8 yards per game, which ranked above only Florida Atlantic in the conference. The unit made the most of its opportunities however, as its 24.8 points per game was fourth-best in the league.
Having quarterback Derek Thompson back for his junior year will be a key to the Mean Green's success in 2012. In his first season as the starter, Thompson was effective in completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,759 yards, 11 touchdowns (plus 3 rushing) and 6 interceptions. The signal-caller got banged up a few times last year, although he avoided missing large chunks of playing time. He'll need to stay on the field if North Texas hopes to improve.
Aiding Thompson in the UNT air attack will be an experienced group of receivers, led by Brelon Chancellor (37 catches, 457 yards, 3 TDs), Chris Bynes (37 catches, 442 yards, 5 TDs), and Ivan Delgado (26 catches, 305 yards, 2 TDs).
While the Mean Green ran the ball efficiently a year ago, they will be without their top two running backs heading into 2012 with Lance Dunbar (1,115 yards, 10 TDs) and James Hamilton (406 yards, 4 TDs) both departed, leaving Brandin Byrd and his 20 career carries the most experienced back on the team. Luckily for Byrd, the offensive line seems to be one of the team's biggest strengths with four starters returning, including Preseason All-Sun Belt Team selection Cyril Lemon.
DEFENSE: The Mean Green defense was lackluster for the most part in 2011, ranking seventh in the Sun Belt in both total defense (429.3 ypg) and scoring defense (30.7 ppg). The unit also lost all four of its starters in the secondary, although that might not be a bad thing considering they helped contribute to a league-worst 265.8 passing yards per game allowed.
Linebacker Zachary Orr returns as the quarterback of the defense after leading the team in 2011 with 74 tackles, despite missing three games due to injury. Orr also added 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries. The return of fellow linebackers Michael Stojkovic (48 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) and Will Wright (31 tackles, 1 blocked kick) should make this unit the strength of the defense.
Though the loss of Brandon Akpunu won't help much (10 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks), the defensive line still retains some quality pass-rushers and run- stoppers, including Brandon McCoy (7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks), Tevinn Cantly (4 tackles for loss), and K.C. Obi (20 total tackles).
SPECIAL TEAMS: Placekicker Zach Olen has a big leg, making both of his attempts from 50 yards and out in 2011, but he was wildly inconsistent, making just half his overall attempts (8-of-16), three of which were blocked. Will Atterbury is one of the best punters in the conference, netting a 43.5 yard average a season ago while placing 26 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line (to just 7 touchbacks).
Chancellor accrued more than 1,100 return yards last season and will once again be the team's primary return specialist.
OUTLOOK: North Texas surprised many with a win total last season that matched the previous two seasons combined. McCarney breathed new life into the program and is happy with where he and his players are heading.
"We are going to be really young, but I know that my football team is better than it was at this time last year," McCarney said. "I hope when the season ends, the record will reflect that because it�s hard to find a guy I don't respect, don't like and don't appreciate and trust on this team. I couldn't say that at this time last year."
Despite last year's improvements, the Mean Green were picked to finish eighth in the 2012 Sun Belt Preseason Poll. The loss of some key players on both sides of the ball will hurt, and there's a huge question mark at the running back position, but with Thompson back at quarterback there's no reason to believe that they can't have another four- or five-win season, even if they aren't quite good enough to make a bowl game.
08/21 11:25:06 ET