If you listened carefully on Saturday night, you heard it, coming from east of the Mississippi, an undeniable sound, the sound of North Texas' arrival. More than that, North Texas' win over Southern Miss signaled Seth Littrell's quiet rebuild in Denton is gaining traction.
Last season the Mean Green qualified, thanks to their APR for a bowl game. Folks can snicker at a 5-8 season, but for the North Texas program, given the state of things in Denton, getting to five wins was monumental.
This season we had our hesitations heading into 2017. The Mean Green lost their top two offensive linemen, their backup running back, four of their top receivers, and to boot, three assistants left for Power 5 jobs. Those losses could have excused a slip in year two. But from the looks of things, the Mean Green aren't slipping.
After a win over Lamar, the Mean Green lost to SMU, which seems to be a contender in the AAC. North Texas then traveled to Iowa and gave the Hawkeyes all they could handle into the fourth quarter. Littrell's cornerstone has been an undersized, under-recruited quarterback from Locust Grove, Oklahoma. If you squint, you can mistake Mason Fine for any of some undersized Air Raid quarterbacks who played in Lubbock around the same time as North Texas Offensive Coordinator Graham Harrell. Fine has taken a leap in his second year running Harrell's offense.
Fine is a top 20 FBS passer who's elevated almost every aspect of his game. The improvement has come in spite of throwing to mostly new targets and throwing behind a rebuilt offensive line.
He has the help, of course, North Texas' best player is senior running back Jeffery Wilson who sits among FBS leaders in rushing. The Mean Green also found a transformative receiver in Notre Dame transfer Jalen Guyton. Guyton gives the Mean Green was Michael Crabtree gave Texas Tech in the late 2000's, a true big-play threat.
The Mean Green defense turns the tide against Southern Miss Saturday night. After struggling against UAB a week before, Troy Reffett's defense buckled down from the second quarter on in Hattiesburg to give their offense the ball and the time to manufacture a comeback.
North Texas heads into a bye week in anticipation of a showdown with fellow CUSA contender UTSA at Apogee Stadium.