Easy to say the Mean Green exceeded expectations as we review 2016. Seth Littrell's year one included a bowl game, five wins, and perhaps a quarterback find. Perhaps.
Final analysis reviews the 2016 Mean Green.
We harp on this because it's critical, what's the identity of a program? In other words, beyond the "core values" and marketing, what does a program do well? What do they do that makes them special, potent, or hard to deal with? If a program isn't intentional about what it wants to do, it's just hoping things go right and hope ain't a strategy.
Littrell is a Leach disciple and brought in Graham Harrell, another from Leach's coaching tree, so it's no secret what he wants to do offensively. He wants to force the defense to defend the entire field while simplifying the game for his offensive unit. Forcing a defense to defend the entire field, not just horizontally, but as importantly, vertically is important.
The Mean Green want a quarterback who's a good decision maker and can get the ball out of his hands quickly. Ideally the quarterback and receivers are on the same page pre-snap in terms of reading the coverage and finding space. The name of the game is space. You don't need a classic, cannon armed quarterback to run a Leach/Air Raid system. Cerebral signal callers who can anticipate holes and space will suffice. There's no better example of that than Harrell himself.
Still, such a shift from the McCarney era offensive conservatism requires a shift in personnel, something that Littrell and Harrell are certainly working towards. In spite of all their air raidy goodness, when North Texas won football games, they ran the ball well. In wins the Mean Green averaged 5.3 yards a carry while in losses that number dropped to 2.9.
Defensively, North Texas hired co-coordinators and good ones in Mike Ekeler and Troy Reffett. Ekeler brought an even front knowledge from his stops including Kansas State and Georgia. Reffett has been an odd or three man front coordinator for most of his career. Due to numbers issues up front the Mean Green went with an odd man front or 3-3-5 that at time morphs into a 3-4. The result was a near forty spot jump in total defense, from 120th in 2015 to 88th in 2016.
The move also meant a shift to an aggressive style defense and a forty spot jump in tackles for loss, from 98 to 58, and a jump from 102 to 58th in sacks. Players like JC transfer Joshua Wheeler fit well into the newly defined roles, pressuring the quarterback, and generally causing havoc.
Even though Southern Miss wasn't the Southern Miss from a year ago, North Texas' win over the Golden Eagles was impressive. Filling in for the injured Mason Fine, Alec Morris had a decent afternoon, throwing for 267 yards and Willie Ivery added another 111 yards on the ground. The Mean Green jumped out early and held on to get their fifth win of the season, a win that would get them Mean Green to a bowl game.
The Mean Green got to a bowl game, but they needed their APR to get them their after a 5-7 regular season. North Texas had a chance to get that elusive 6th win in El Paso against a four win UTEP team. That didn't pan out, instead, UTEP ran around, over, and through the Mean Green in route to a 52-24 win.
Answers we have...
When healthy, Jeffrey Wilson is as good as any back in CUSA and one of the better backs in the country. The rising senior from Elkhart had 936 yards, including playing sparingly in the last three regular season games. As he went, so went the NT offense. With a strong 2017 Wilson could move into the top five all time among Mean Green rushers.
While we're at it, Willie Ivery has shown to be a pretty good number 2 option. The senior to be from Sulphur Springs ran for almost 500 yards at 5.5 yards a clip.
Defensively Kishawn McClain is a ball hawk. McClain led the Mean Green in tackles with 86 from his safety position and had three picks and two forced fumbles. He's led North Texas in tackles two seasons in a row. McClain is joined in the secondary by corner Eric Jenkins who had 13 pass breakups to go along with his three interceptions.
Answers we need...
We're not sure what to think of Mason Fine, the true freshman from tiny Locust Grove, Oklahoma. Fine played well at times, average at others, and look like a freshman from tiny Locust Grove, Oklahoma on a few occasion. His slight frame caught up to him, a late season shoulder injury halted his season in its tracks, and we wonder if he's got the frame to build on to get much bigger.
The offensive line was a constant work in progress for North Texas and from the looks of things, it will be again. Trey Keenan and Sam Rice are both graduating, leaving holes, and subtracting the Mean Green's two best lineman.
The Mean Green need help on the defensive front as well, they'll lose four rotation players including both starters at defensive end.
To run the Air Raid you need receivers and North Texas was searching for help in the spring, that search continues into the signing period. The Mean Green lost Willie Robinson and Terian Goree to suspension late in the year. Goree led the Mean Green in catches at the time of his suspension. Goree would transfer to SFA after the regular season concluded. Finding skilled bodies outside won't be as hard as finding those skilled bodies at the line positions, but it's still a definite need.
CUSA hasn't released its conference schedule, but in terms of out of conference games, North Texas opens with FCS foe Lamar at home before playing at SMU and at Iowa in back to back weeks. The Mean Green end their out of conference slate with a game at home against Army in November.
9/9 @ SMU
9/16 @ Iowa
*Disclaimer: It's recruiting, this will all change. 17 year olds are fickle, odd, often times dumb, humanoids. This list is accurate as off the date of posting. We apologize that we lack a crystal ball or a sorting hat to deal with the changes or make them permanent. Regardless, everyone loves your team, and your recruits are so much better than everyone else's. Never forget that.
North Texas sits 98th according to Scout.com, good enough for 6th in CUSA, 3rd in CUSA West. That's a slight uptick over last years recruiting in terms of average star rating. 98th is a bit of a jump from 2016's position.
Right off the bat, Devlin Isadore, originally out of Aldine Ike, is a big, strong armed quarterback out of Navarro JC. Cade Pearson, a prep quarterback out of Texarkana has drawn early comparisons to Washington State's Luke Faulk. Meanwhile a couple players listed on Scouts list appear to be soft commits at best, Josh Donovan a big mauler out of College Station High School reopened recruiting a couple months ago and Tyreke Davis out of Denton Ryan was offered by SMU a few weeks ago. Ah the joys of recruiting.
|Year||Rank||Conference Rank||Average Rating|
|Scout Rank||Name||Pos||Pos Rank||Ht||Wt||40 Time||School|
|NR||Tre'Von Bradley||ATH||85||5'11"||180||Cleburne, TX|
|NR||Evan Johnson||ATH||5'8"||165||Loranger, LA|
|NR||Kody Fulp||ILB||6'2"||210||China Spring, TX|
|NR||Makyle Sanders||S||6'1"||178||4.77||Tyler, TX|
|NR||Tony Krasniqi||DT||6'2"||240||Sachse, TX|
|NR||Dakoda Newman||C||6'3"||305||Arlington, TX|
|NR||Devlin Isadore||QB||6'4"||221||Navarro College|
|NR||Cameron Johnson||CB||5'11"||170||Houston, TX|
|NR||Brendon Weatherspoon||OG||6'4"||305||Hurst, TX|
|NR||Junius King||DT||6'1"||308||Mesquite, TX|
|NR||Remington Lutz||TE||6'4"||185||Belton, TX|
|NR||Cade Pearson||QB||6'3"||194||4.87||Texarkana, TX|
|NR||Josh Donovan||C||19||6'5"||290||College Station, TX|
|NR||Tyreke Davis||ATH||5'10"||190||Denton, TX|