If you’re a North Texas fan, you’re getting used to this. The Mean Green are, for the third year in a row, a CUSA favorite. They’ve got skill talent and depth, a nearly intact coaching staff, and an influx of exciting young players with time to develop. Welcome to the Seth Littrell era, stability and optimism reign.
In 2017 the Mean Green possessed the talent to contend but ran headlong into the FAU boogeyman, twice. A bowl blowout at the hands of Troy dampened an otherwise good season. Last year close losses to Louisiana Tech and Bill Clark’s band of JUCO marauders, plus an inexplicable loss to Old Dominion shuttered a near historic season. Add to that a second straight bowl blowout, this time at the hands of Utah State, and the Mean Green entered January feeling empty again.
North Texas has a hill to climb, but the Mean Green are also better equipped to do it that most other CUSA West squads. Record-setting Mason Fine is back for his last ride at quarterback. The backfield is loaded and diverse, and the receiving corps is once again deep with the strong possibility that a newcomer makes a splash.
The goal of spring ball for most coaches is some combination of talent evaluation, development, installation, and above all else - health. For North Texas the installation component was especially important this spring with a new OC taking over.
Graham Harrell made the questionable decision to jump from North Texas to Clay Helton’s sinking ship at USC in February. In his place comes Bodie Reeder, the architect of FCS power Eastern Washington’s prolific offenses. He also helped tutor Oklahoma State’s offense as a quality control assistant.
Reeder will love all the new toys he gets access to on the Mean Green roster, based on his history; we can assume Reeder will quicken the offensive pace while adding a spark to the running game. He has a reputation as one of the best young creative offensive minds in the game. Expect tight end Kelvin Smith to have a big 2019 with Reeder calling plays.
If there’s a question coming out of spring, it’s on the offensive front, where North Texas will break in two new tackles, well one and a half assuming Jacob Brammer holds down his position on the right side.
Grad transfer D’Andre Plantin leaves the spring as the starter at left tackled. The former Virginia Tech Hokie looks the part at 6-5, and just north of 300 pounds. Plantin moved from the edge to the interior of the Hokie offensive line, never establishing himself in Justin Fuente’s program. Still, he could be a critical piece of the Mean Green’s success in 2019.
On defense North Texas loses the luxury of Kemon Hall and Nate Brooks at corner, so new faces will occupy those crucial positions in Troy Reffett’s 2019 unit. While the Mean Green will be decidedly younger at corner, they’ll have two vets to help out at safety.
We were unabashed in our football crush on E.J. Ejiya. From the hotbed football powerhouse that is the North Dakota State College of Science (so many questions about that fine institution), Ejiya and Brandon Garner heeded the highest of callings as downhill thumpers from the linebacker position. They are now gone, and our hearts are not as full. Neither is the Mean Green depth chart. New faces will fill up the stat sheets this fall and Reffett and company spent the spring trying to figure out who those new faces might be.
While a couple of seniors saw a slight edge coming out of the spring, we’d expect any of several newcomers or second-year players to take the position by the handles in the fall. Tyreke Davis’ move from nickel to linebacker is intriguing given Reffett’s penchant for flexibility and attacking schemes.
Two seasons ago this program took the lead into the locker room over an eight-win Iowa team. Last year the Mean Green boat raced Arkansas in Fayetteville. Littrell dominated rival SMU last season as well. This is a program on the come. Wren Baker kept Littrell in house even after a push from Kansas State in December. They’re raising the rafters on an indoor facility and continue to out recruit most of their contemporaries.
Next fall the Mean Green’s matchup with Houston in Denton is an off-brand football fan’s dream, and the Ponies in Dallas should be a shootout as well. But the real targets for this North Texas team are obvious - get over the CUSA hump by winning the league and perform better in the bowl game.
If the Mean Green can fill a few, critical holes after these spring drills, summer conditioning and fall camp, there’s no reason this team can’t get over the barriers that blocked them the past two seasons.