North Texas 2019 Season Preview

It’s North Texas week, and our preview of the Mean Green rolls out like this, today we’ll look at their quarterback situation. Tomorrow, scroll down, and we’ll delve into the North Texas’ skill players. Wednesday we hit the big uglies and Thursday we switch to the defense and the front seven. Friday let’s look at the Mean Green secondary, and Saturday we’ll cover specialists and our predictions for the 2019 campaign. Quick links provided as we go for your convenience.

Offense

Offense hasn’t really been the issue at North Texas. Sure the Mean Green could improve in short yardage situations, but that’s a bi-product of the system, but for the most part North Texas played offensive football at a high level.

Team Rush Yds / Att (Nat'l Rank) Comp % Pass Yds / Att Pass Yds / Gm Poss w/ TDs
North Texas 4.36 (72) 63.82 (30) 7.92 (33) 306.62 (11) 29.28 (42)

North Texas finished 72nd in rush yards per attempt, that’s a number you can live with in a Seth Littrell offense. Their yards per carry actually increased with the injection of DeAndre Torrey at the running back position. In November the Mean Green averaged over five yards per carry.

The Mean Green are established as an elite level passing attack at this point. Last season they sat on the edge or better of the top 30 in critical passing categories like completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passing yards per game. The finished tied for 43rd in interceptions lost, again a number you can live with given the number of attempts, which ranked tenth in the FBS. North Texas scored on 40% of their possession, with touchdowns coming on just under 30% of their drives.

The only OC in Littrell’s tenure, Graham Harrell is off to USC, despite the turmoil surrounding the Trojan program, a lame duck head coach, personnel issues, and a disgruntled fan base. Best of luck to Graham, maybe rent instead of buy out there champ. During his time in Denton, Seth Littrell continues to prove he knows how to hire coaches. Even after the P5 came poaching before the 2017, Littrell’s refilled the staff with competent teachers and recruiters.

Enter Bodie Reeder from Eastern Washington to coach the Mean Green offense. Reeder, at least based on his prior results, is a homerun hire in Denton. Last Season his EWU offense ended the season third in total offense, fourth in scoring and second in touchdowns scored. Reeder should add further diversity to the North Texas offense, plus he’s walking into a stacked hand. The Mean Green’s skill talent is deep and experienced and the trigger man is one of the best in college football.

Quarterback

Mason Fine, that scrawny kid from nowhere, Oklahoma, has grown into one of the more lethal quarterbacks in college football. For Mean Green fans, he’s been a transcendent player for their program. I’d liken him to Kliff Kingsbury during his time at Texas Tech; he became the benchmark for Tech quarterbacks that followed.

Mason Fine meangreensports.com

Last year Fine looked in total command of the offense, freeing up the play-caller to act aggressively and with initiative. For Fine, the results were record-setting. He’s established a near 2,000 yard lead on North Texas’ career passing yards mark; and, with six more TDs, he’ll eclipse Steve Ramsey’s career mark with 42 fewer interceptions.

After 2017, our biggest concern with Fine was his propensity to throw picks, after 2018, it appears he’s improved in that area, dramatically. In 42 fewer attempts, he threw ten fewer interceptions, dropping from an interception every 3% of attempts to one every 1%. That seemingly slight change elevated him from the 46th percentile to the 96th percentile in interception avoidance.

Mason Fine’s Percentile Average Radar Graph.*

If you go by percentile rank, Fine was a top fifteen quarterback in the FBS last season. That’s a 44 spot improvement over his sophomore year. Fine went from good to elite in 2018. With another 3,000 plus yard season, Fine will move into the top 30 All-Time in passing yards. Not bad for a scrawny kid from nowhere, Oklahoma.

After Fine North Texas faces a lot unknown for his backup. For the past two seasons, Quinn Shanbour’s been ready to jump in if Fine went down. A better runner than a passer, Shanbour is out of eligibility, so North Texas turns to youth. Also, Cade Pearson announced his intent to transfer in January.

Former Manvel star Kason Martin completed eight of his thirteen passes last season as a true freshman. He preserved his redshirt season. At Manvel, Martin threw for over 6,400 yards and 85 touchdowns. He and fellow redshirts Jason Bean and Austin Aune (pronounced Aune) are neck and neck for the backup gig.

Bean comes from Mansfield Lake Ridge, last season he threw two passes, neither found their mark. Aune comes from powerhouse Argyle and is a non-traditional redshirt. Coming out of Argyle he signed with TCU, but chose to pursue baseball instead and spent six years in the Yankee farm system. Aune enrolled at Arkansas in the spring of 2018, and last summer announced his intention to transfer to North Texas. He threw for 7,223 yards with 74 touchdowns as a prep player.

Bean and Martin will continue to battle it out for the backup job as fall camp rolls in.

Littrell signed another Oklahoma quarterback in December with Will Kuehne out of Owasso. A Three-star prospect, Kuehne is a very polished passer, and he’s good enough to challenge for playing time sooner than later.

For Mean Green fans fretting and opposing fans celebrating the last year of the Mason Fine era, its serves to remember that Big 12 schools shared those emotions when Kingsbury left Tech. Then Tech unveiled B.J. Symons, who eclipsed Kingsbury’s single season marks. Then came Sonny Cumbie, then Cody Hodges, then Graham Harrell - all 4,000 yard passers. Littrell comes from an offensive coaching tree that is able to replicate production year in and year out.

If North Texas can retain Littrell, again, it’s not a question of if they can retool, it’s a question of who builds on the benchmark.

*We track percentile ranks among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in a given season. We take statistics like yardage accounted for, touchdowns per play, completion percentage, yardage per attempt, yardage per play, plus sack and interception avoidance and put them into a visual of efficiency and explosiveness. The bigger the radar area, the better the player performed.

Skill Players

North Texas returns almost every rusher and pass-catcher who played significant downs in 2018. The Mean Green are stacked, up and down the two-deep. If they aren’t as familiar with the new OC, they are at least familiar with each other.

For the early part of 2018, we assumed DeAndre Torrey was a special teams contributor and a third-down back. By the end of 2018, Torrey moved onto the All-Conference team and rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in just eight games of ten or more carries. He’s a bonified home run threat from anywhere on the field.

Torrey TD UTSA.gif

I’ve watched this touchdown run at least 20 times and each time I marvel and how Torrey changes direction on a dime, eluding a redirection of the handoff and then a devastating sidestep to avoid one of the best linebackers in CUSA. Torrey is legitimate, and in this offense, he’ll force defenses to commit precious assets to the stop the run.

Before Torrey, the Mean Green used Loren Easley, who averaged 96 yards in four games before a season-ending knee injury. Nic Smith, a junior from Arlington Martin, rushed for over 1,000 yards the last two seasons combined. With the emergence of Easley and Torrey, Smith became an overqualified backup.

Torrey leading the way and plenty of depth, carries will be hard to come by, but Evan Johnson has seen live-action the past two seasons. Sophomore Tre Siggers moves to running back from safety where he played primarily on special teams. As high school player at DeSoto and Duncanville, he was one of the more electrifying players in the Metroplex.

The Mean Green signed Oscar Adaway out of Little Rock this past recruiting season. He’s an upright, direct rusher who doesn’t waste movement and at 6-0, 212 pounds, he’s the biggest back on the roster. Adaway played a classic I-formation tailback in high school so he’ll have to adjust to the shotgun, but he’s a good pass-catcher out of the backfield.

The position I’m most intrigued by is tight end, where the indications are Reedy will utilize the position in a way Harrell never did. North Texas is equipped for that transition with senior Kelvin Smith. Smith caught 29 balls in 2018, but he has the skill set to contribute more. Fine’s high school teammate from Locust Grove, Oklahoma, Jason Pirtle, is a receiver playing the tight end position. He set an Oklahoma prep record for catches, yards, and touchdowns as a receiver.

Like a receiving Baskin Robbins, North Texas has every flavor you could want. Rico Bussey Jr. is a big play threat coming off a career year with 68 catches and 12 touchdowns. His 12 TD is tied for the second-most in school history and the most since Casey Fitzgerald in 2012.

Michael Lawrence saw his production dip last year, but he’s still one of the more reliable targets in the CUSA. He and Jaelon Darden will occupy the slot. Darden finished third on the team in receptions with 48 as a sophomore. His steady rise into an integral part of the offense is in part because of his route running skills. What I like is his intelligence in understanding coverages.

The Mean Green’s most significant skill loss came when Jalen Guyton declared for the NFL. Greg White will fill his shoes after seven catches in 2018. White looks the part at 6-3, 200 pounds, whether he can replace Guyton’s productivity is the question. If White can’t then Reedy will look to two redshirt freshmen, Austin Ogunmakin and Jayaire Shorter. Shorter saw action in 2018 but preserved his redshirt. I really like Shorter, he’s not a blazer, but he’s physical on the ball.

If you want a burner, check out incoming freshman Kealon Jackson from one-year wonder Shadow Creek in Pearland. He has verified low 4.4 speed. In the State Title game, Highland Park was so spooked by his speed; they spotted him ridiculous cushions in coverage. Jackson could contribute to the Mean Green in the return game.

The Mean Green loaded up on Beaumont Westbrook receivers with Deonte Simpson and Damon Ward. 24/7 rated Simpson the highest of North Texas’ 2019 class. Speaking of State Title game performances, Simpson lit up Longview for the Bruins; he’s an advanced route runner. North Texas also added El Paso Parkland’s, Khatib Lyles. The Mean Green beat out several P5s for his services.

Two or three of the newcomers could contribute right off, perhaps even help ease the loss of Guyton and provide depth.

All these accolades and plans amount to nothing if Mason Fine can’t stay healthy. Fine takes his fair share of punishment, and he’s been able to grit and grind through the past two seasons for the most part. Protecting Fine is a two-fold process; first, the offensive line must keep him upright and second, the scheme must put a premium on getting the ball out. When Fine improvises, which he does very well, that’s when his teeth get rattled.

As for the offensive front, North Texas must replace its starting two tackles from 2018. To that end, the Mean Green will use the services of grad transfer D’Andre Plantin from Virginia Tech. Shopping in the grad transfer market is far from a guarantee of success. More often than not a player moving from a P5 to a G5 didn’t see the field much, and probably wasn’t part of the plan for the 2019 season.

Plantin is in that boat, unproven, but he passes the eye test. Plantin played in twelve games for the Hokies, with no starts to his name. He played guard last season in spot duty. At 6-5 and just north of 300 pounds, his wingspan suits him well at tackle. If North Texas hits on Plantin, that’s a mammoth win for Seth Littrell and the Mean Green.

At the other tackle is Jacob Brammer, a redshirt sophomore out of Richmond Foster. I’m going to go out on a limb and say defenses will pay Brammer a lot of attention. Brammer doesn’t move real well, but, unless someone else emerges, he probably the best option at right tackle.

Inside, the Mean Green are set with the return of the Mose brothers, Manase and Sosaia and Elex Woodworth. All three are All-Conference caliber people movers. Woodworth found a home at guard and leads the unit with 38 career starts. Sosaia is either the best center in CUSA or in the conversation. Manase stepped up big time after a redshirt 2017 season.

Woodworth can swing out to tackle if necessary; I think those types of swing lineman are more critical than ever in college football. It gives coaches the flexibility to get their best five on the field and switch up combinations if the depth chart takes a hit.

For North Texas, depth is going to be an issue. I like Brian Parrish at either tackle position, he’s undersized at 270, but he moves well, better than any other tackle. Inside Chandler Anthony and Thomas Preston are serviceable in a pinch, they both have long arms, but they aren’t exactly agile. Preston moves inside to guard, that’s a better position for him.

At center, junior Chad Hickson backs up Sosaia Mose. The Denton native started his career at Panhandle State. For the most part, it’s a significant drop off on the interior from the starters to the reserves. Parish should challenge to start at right tackle.

North Texas had the luxury of redshirting their 2018 line signees. We’ll see if any challenge for playing time. Daizion Carroll played center for Waco Midway. Hopefully, he’s benefited from some time in the North Texas weight room. Cole Brown played all three line positions at Conroe, but he projects on the interior.

This recruiting cycle North Texas signed three touted linemen in Brock’s John Brunner, Angelton’s Chris Cassidy, and Edmond, Oklahoma native Daxton Byers. I love Cassidy, his technique is sharp, he uses his arms to extend and control, and he can move. The Mean Green should once again have the luxury of redshirting this crop for seasoning.

offensive line

All these offensive toys and schemes amount to nothing if Mason Fine can’t stay healthy. Fine takes his fair share of punishment, and he’s been able to grit and grind through the past two seasons for the most part. Protecting Fine is a two-fold process; first, the offensive line must keep him upright and second, the scheme must put a premium on getting the ball out. When Fine improvises, which he does very well, that’s when his teeth get rattled.

As for the offensive front, North Texas must replace its starting two tackles from 2018. To that end, the Mean Green will use the services of grad transfer D’Andre Plantin from Virginia Tech. Shopping in the grad transfer market is far from a guarantee of success. More often than not a player moving from a P5 to a G5 didn’t see the field much, and probably wasn’t part of the plan for the 2019 season.

Plantin is in that boat, unproven, but he passes the eye test. Plantin played in twelve games for the Hokies, with no starts to his name. He played guard last season in spot duty. At 6-5 and just north of 300 pounds, his wingspan suits him well at tackle. If North Texas hits on Plantin, that’s a mammoth win for Seth Littrell and the Mean Green.

Sosaia Mose meangreensports.com

At the other tackle is Jacob Brammer, a redshirt sophomore out of Richmond Foster. I’m going to go out on a limb and say defenses will pay Brammer a lot of attention. Brammer doesn’t move real well, but, unless someone else emerges, he probably the best option at right tackle.

Inside, the Mean Green are set with the return of the Mose brothers, Manase and Sosaia and Elex Woodworth. All three are All-Conference caliber people movers. Woodworth found a home at guard and leads the unit with 38 career starts. Sosaia is either the best center in CUSA or in the conversation. Manase stepped up big time after a redshirt 2017 season.

Woodworth can swing out to tackle if necessary; I think those types of swing lineman are more critical than ever in college football. It gives coaches the flexibility to get their best five on the field and switch up combinations if the depth chart takes a hit.

For North Texas, depth is going to be an issue. I like Brian Parish at either tackle position, he’s undersized at 270, but he moves well, better than any other tackle. Inside Chandler Anthony and Thomas Preston are serviceable in a pinch, they both have long arms, but they aren’t exactly agile. Preston moves inside to guard, that’s a better position for him.

At center, junior Chad Hickson backs up Sosaia Mose. The Denton native started his career at Panhandle State. For the most part, it’s a significant drop off on the interior from the starters to the reserves. Parish should challenge to start at right tackle.

North Texas had the luxury of redshirting their 2018 line signees. We’ll see if any challenge for playing time. Daizion Carroll played center for Waco Midway. Hopefully, he’s benefited from some time in the North Texas weight room. Cole Brown played all three line positions at Conroe, but he projects on the interior.

This recruiting cycle North Texas signed three touted linemen in Brock’s John Brunner, Angelton’s Chris Cassidy, and Edmond, Oklahoma native Daxton Byers. I love Cassidy, his technique is sharp, he uses his arms to extend and control, and he can move. The Mean Green should once again have the luxury of redshirting this crop for seasoning.

Defense

Continuity is what Troy Reffett’s built at North Texas. Seth Littrell tasked Reffett to run his defense in 2016, and he’s still running it in 2019. Last season the continuity started to pay dividends. In 2016 and 2017 the Mean Green finished 89th and 97th in total defense. Last year North Texas’ defense jumped 49 spots to 48th.

Reffett’s unit put up elite numbers in stopping the rush (3.56 yards per carry) and opposing completion percentage (52.9%), both top 20 results. Most importantly, the Mean Green finished 32nd in points allowed per possession and in third-down conversions allowed.

Team Opp Rush Yards / Att (Nat'l Rank) Opp Comp % Pts / Poss Opp Pts / Poss Opp. 3rd Down Conv.
North Texas 3.56 (17) 52.99 (9) 2.49 (34) 1.74 (32) 35.03 (32)

Now comes the hard part.

The Mean Green lose some critical pieces at every level of the defense. Up front multi-year starters Roderick Young and Ulaiasi Tauaalo are gone. At linebacker Brandon Garner and E.J. Ejiya vacate positions, and at cornerback Nate Brooks and Kemon Hall move on as well. No other CUSA defense was as hard hit by graduation as North Texas, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another defense in the FBS that loses so much productivity.

Here’s where Reffett’s continuity and the Mean Green’s recruiting the past three seasons must pay off.

the fire ant defense

When Joe Lee Dunn first started employing a 3-3-5, he called it the “Fire Ant” defense, lots of movement, lots of attacking, and organized chaos. Coaching at New Mexico, Dunn realized the blue-chip defensive lineman wasn’t heading to the ABQ, so he chose to throw speed on the field as much as possible.

That meant moving safeties to linebacker, linebackers to defensive end and defensive ends to nose tackle. By doing so, Dunn made his lack of size an advantage. He could blitz with anyone at any time and more importantly, from anywhere. Dunn was using guerilla warfare to combat conventional offenses.

Dunn was a character. He didn’t wear a headset, preferring to avoid the clutter of voices in his head. He rarely slept more than a few hours in a night, he was obsessed with horse racing, and he was a genius. In 1997, when high flying Kentucky came to face Dunn’s Mississippi State defense, the Bulldogs played two series with every defender in a two-point stance. He’d rush as many as nine defenders, play two defensive linemen at times, and generally force offenses to prepare for the unexpected.

While at New Mexico, Dunn worked for one season with Rocky Long. Rocky Long, at the time, could best be described as a struggling defensive coordinator. Long took a liking to Dunn’s scheme and started to employ Dunn’s base principles. Long melded those principles with those of a CFL coach named Don Matthews. The CFL was a prime location for innovation, the field was larger, the Canadian League lined up twelve players on every down, receivers had a jump start, and offenses have three downs to convert a first down.

For Matthews, the game was about versatility and matchups. He wanted linebackers that could cover ground, both in blitz packages and in coverage. In the words of TV chef Alton Brown, Matthews wanted multi-taskers. His defenders learned to play comfortably in space. After borrowing whole cloth from Matthews, Long’s defenses began to turn a corner. By 1991 Long had reunited with Dunn in the offseason, and his end product continued to improve. After turning Oregon State into a Top 40 defense, Long went to UCLA and transformed the Bruin defense.

Long returned to New Mexico, this time as the head coach, in 2004 he hired Troy Reffett to run his “33” or “stack” defense. Other than his first season at North Texas, when he was Co-Defensive Coordinator with Mike Ekeler, Reffett’s run some form of the 3-3-5 ever since. The beauty of the 3-3-5 is that no two schemes are precisely alike; each proprietor brings his spices to the mix.

Front Six

For North Texas in 2019, the key will be at linebacker where Ejiya and Garner were well suited to run-fit, blitz, and flow into space. Ejiya left Denton with the second most tackles in school history and after earning First Team All-Conference status last season. Ejiya and Garner’s versatility is the hardest void to fill.

If the idea is to get speed on the field, then Tyreke Davis is the choice to work at the Mike backer. The junior from Denton Ryan started ten games at nickel and now moves to middle linebacker and an increased portion of the run defense load. Not all linebacker positions are created equally, and a good Mike has to fight through a lot of traffic to be effective. For Davis, his speed is the deciding factor. Even if he struggles in the mass of bodies inside the tackle box, he’s fast enough to cause damage when Reffett turns him loose on blitzes.

Jamie King meangreensports.com

William LeMasters is in the mix as well He made one start in 2018 and has nineteen tackles in three previous three seasons.

Jamie King and Joe Ozougwu are the best bets at the hybrid linebacker/defensive end “Jack” position. They split time at in 2018. King was productive last season with 36 tackles, two sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss in his first taste of real playing time. We expected big things from Ozougwu in 2018; he gets after the quarterback so we’ll double down on him in 2019.

Former Purdue signee and Independence Community College transfer Tim Faison came in with a lot of hype but didn’t squash many grapes last year. If Davis doesn’t take to the Mike when the live-action starts, he could move outside, but he doesn’t have ideal size for the hybrid position.

Will linebacker in the 33 stack is a Will in name only. Like the Jack, the Will backer will come up and act as a fourth defensive lineman and blitz a fair amount. Mike Linehan seems to have an edge heading into fall camp. K.D. Davis, and Larry Nixon will contend as well. Reffett will look for speed again at this position, Davis might fit that bill, the former high school safety covers ground. Faison could factor here as well, if at all.

North Texas signed Gabriel and Grayson Murphy out of Bishop Lynch to last year’s class. They have a lot of potential, and they’re thumpers, but I’m not sure they contribute this season. Kevin Wood out of Judson, looked natural carving through the wash as a middle linebacker for the Rockets. I like his instincts.

LaDarius Hamilton meangreensports.com

On the defensive front, LaDarius Hamilton is the headliner. The senior from Corrigan-Camden made First Team All-Conference last year, after eleven tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks. He’s in the running for the best defensive linemen in CUSA; he kicks the doors in on opposing offenses from his end position.

At the other end, Caleb Colvin and Darrian McMillan will look to step into Roderick Young’s large shoes. Neither jumps off the page, but I like Colvin’s size to help set the edge. For North Texas’ sake, one of those two can emerge and draw attention away from Hamilton. Tuulau Sa’afi is a big-bodied player who played on special teams last season.

Inside Dion Novil bulks up to 315 and is primed to take over the nose. He made three starts at defensive end last season. If Novil can still move, given his newfound girth, he should fit the system. Dayton LeBlanc played well in spots as a true freshman last season. He’s a coach’s kid and preserved his redshirt for this season. I think LeBlanc could play outside at defensive end as well.

Bryce English was one of the most dominant high school defensive linemen I’ve ever seen. His frame has proven problematic as a collegiate player. His role will come as a rotation contributor if he can stay healthy.

North Texas brought on Jimmy Walker from Lutheran North High School in Houston. Walker is a plus athlete, playing linebacker as well as a prep player, but he’s making a huge step up in competition level. A redshirt year looks like his best option.

Last year’s front six had so much experience and explosiveness, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where there aren’t growing pains. Young, Hamilton and Tauaalo were dominate up front, leaving Ejiya, Garner, and either King or Ozougwu to run around burning villages. If the Mean Green are to avoid a significant step back as a defensive unit, several unknown players will have to step forward early to carry a big load.

Defensive Backs

The 33 Stack uses five defensive backs, yes at least one of those backs is a hybrid DB/LB. Reffett will run those guys up near the tackle box for a variety of reasons, to help in run fit, to bring or fake pressure, and to generally run around causing havoc. Against modern spread teams, who want to force you to cover as much green grass as possible, the safety configuration lets you bring eight defenders into to the tackle box and maintain coverage. You can also roll your coverage based on alignment.

Khairi Muhammad and Taylor Robinson give North Texas two of the better safeties in CUSA. Both seniors, Muhammad earned Honorable Mention All-Conference for his efforts last year. He’s a ball hawk with four picks in 2018 to go along with a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Muhammad is also a solid tackler and decent in coverage.

Khairi Muhammad meangreensports.com

He fits the blueprint for what you want a stack safety to be, a good tackler, he sticks his nose in, and he’s decisive. I think that’s critical, if you make a mistake, keep running and try to make something happen. Muhammad plays with a fearless edge.

Robinson stepped into a starting role last season and made the most of his opportunity with 58 tackles and two interceptions. I thought he improved as much as anyone on the defense last season. He’s physical in coverage, can drift back to play a single high safety seamlessly and when he commits to the run, he flat out goes.

Alongside Muhammad comes Jameel Moore, a third senior who finally gets a full-time role after three starts in 2018. Moore will slide into the nickel spot, but unlike other five-man defensive backfields, the hope is these three safeties are interchangeable. Versatility is the key, at times they’ll have to crash into a run lane, or work in a twist stunt, or drop deep, or pick up man coverage, but they can’t be uni-taskers.

After those three seniors, safety gets real green - ignore the pun if you dare. The staff moved Tyreke Davis and Tre Siggers to different positions, so they must feel confident in their depth.

Maykle Sanders is the most experienced on the depth chart. The junior from Tyler Lee made one start last year. He possesses all the physical tools, you need to have a comfort level with this scheme or at minimum just go hard because half measures are a detriment to the defense. He played a little tentative in his start, but at this point he knows the system so that hesitation should be a product of the past. Alex Morris played primarily on special teams, and Jaxon Gibbs redshirted after one game in 2018. Gibbs was highly regarded coming out of the Colony; he might push his way into the rotation.

Texas A&M/South Carolina transfer Nick Harvey is on campus as well as a grad transfer. He was a starter at corner in the SEC before injuries took their toll. Carolina moved him to safety, and that’s probably the best fit for him. With his injury history, I’d like to see him contribute for a full season and stay out of the training room in his last collegiate run.

On the other end of the spectrum is Shadow Creek freshman Jevin Murray. He’s destined to play nickel in a 33 stack. If I can make a distinction, he’s a hitter, not a tackler. I’m not sure that’s a positive distinction, but that’s a skill set should learn. My man throws his body around. North Texas also signed Leandre Davis out of Rosenberg Terry. He’s earned a place in my heart if only because he played a pretty mean fullback.

The frontline nucleus should cover a few deficiencies, and give Reffett a couple of active chaos causing pieces to help out a new linebacking corps. Now, about those corners…

Kemon Hall and Nate Brooks were like Hall and Oates; you knew what you were getting, typically a velvety smooth pop-rock hit. Hall and Brooks combined for 65 starts at cornerback. Both made All-League teams, and both finished top 10 in interceptions among FBS players last season. Their letter jackets are full of patches.

Hall and Brooks are gone and in their place are question marks. Cam Johnson started twice last season. He’s got good feet, but he seemed to spend his time trying to avoid making a mistake, rather than playing aggressively. Maybe with that experience under his belt, he can let loose a little bit.

The corner position is far from settled, Keelan Crosby and Quinn Whitlock, are all under consideration along with Johnson. Crosby from tiny Anna, Texas got his feet wet on special teams last year. Whitlock is a JUCO transfer. Dominque Harrison is also on campus after playing sparingly for Arizona State last season. Jordan Roberts, a backup last season, is no longer listed on the roster.

Reffett and his staff when hard after corners in the 2019 class, signing three, including Whitlock. Deshawn Gaddie is out of Arlington Lamar, and if his posted times are correct, he’s a 4.4 athlete. He played safety for the Vikings. The Mean Green also added Dorian Morris out of Mesquite Poteet. Morris will step up and hit you, and he’s also listed as a 4.4 40 guy.

As we said earlier, if North Texas is going to avoid falling a few steps backward on defense, some of these unknowns will have to carry a large load. Remember, having two frontline corners is great, but you’ll need four or five to play significant minutes for you. The Mean Green will have an outstanding group of safeties to cover up some issues that may arise.

Specialists

The return game is another area where DeAndre Torrey thrives. In a disappearing area of the game, kick off returns, Torrey can still affect the game. North Texas finished 22nd in kick off returns with Torrey accounting for 27.5 per opportunity.

Jaelon Darden returned five punts last season for a 12.5-yard average. Kealon Jackson should get a look as well. Again, his speed is a game-changer, and special teams are a way to get freshman a taste of college football.

In total, the Mean Green finished eighteenth in average starting field position. In coverage, North Texas had issues; they finished 118th in opponent’s average starting field position.

Alvin Kenworthy returns for his third season punting. In 2018 he raised his average by six yards to 42.2 with 26 of his 58 punts inside the 20. He averaged 40 or more yards per punt in twelve of thirteen games.

Ethan Mooney handled kickoffs last season with 40% resulting in touchbacks. He’s one of four kickers auditioning to take over for the effective Cole Hedlund. Hedlund made nineteen of his 22 kicks and made the Semi-Final list of the Lou Groza Award list and earned a First Team All-Conference selection.

Zach Williams kicked off in the opener before Mooney took over. Freshman Mason Reid from Smithson Valley earned All-State accolades after a stellar senior season. K-State transfer Bernardo Rodriguez is on the roster this fall as well.

The Schedule

North Texas gets a step up in competition in 2019 with a brutal non-conference schedule. After opening with Abilene Christian, the Mean Green visit SMU, where the Mean Green haven’t won since 1933. Then they travel halfway across the country PAC 12 foe Cal. After opening conference with a visit from UTSA, they wrap up the out of conference slate with a massive game at Apogee against Dana Holgorsen’s Houston squad.

The Mean Green could be a good team and start the season 2-3. The SMU game, as it is in most seasons now is a measuring stick game for both programs. Seth Littrell won’t walk into many living rooms that Sonny Dykes hasn’t visited. Beating the Ponies in Dallas would cement North Texas as THE G5 program in the Metroplex.

In league, the Mean Green’s home schedule is UTSA as mentioned earlier, 2018 Eastern Division Champ Middle Tennessee, UTEP, and 2018 Western Division Champion UAB. They travel to Southern Miss, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, and Rice.

UTSA/North Texas looked like it was heading to a marquee CUSA rivalry. Littrell’s distanced himself from the Roadrunners and any of the other in-state conference rivals at this point. With North Texas’ facilities, including a new indoor practice area, the Mean Green have all the pieces in place to keep their current bowl run going for some time.

Circle a trip to USM and another to Louisiana Tech as season-defining games. In 2017, a Mean Green win at Southern Miss put the Mean Green squarely in the driver’s seat for a division crown. A win at Louisiana Tech sealed the deal. That same road is in front of them in 2019.

Date Opponent Conference
Prediction Notes
8/31/19 Abilene Christian Southland W ACU is improving, but not this much.
9/7/19 at SMU American W NT's first win in Dallas since '33.
9/14/19 at Cal Pac-12 L A long trip to an improving Cal.
9/21/19 UTSA CUSA W Mean Green have distanced themselves from UTSA.
9/28/19 Houston American L The two best quarterbacks in the state meet.
10/12/19 at USM CUSA L THE biggest game in CUSA West.
10/19/19 MTSU CUSA W Middle's won two straight in the series.
10/26/19 at Charlotte CUSA W These trips way east have been bear traps in the past.
11/2/19 UTEP CUSA W May as well be a bye week.
11/9/19 at La Tech CUSA W Mean Green avenge last year's loss.
11/23/19 at Rice CUSA W Can't overlook an improving Rice.
11/30/19 UAB CUSA W The Blazers have a lot of holes.

The offense should carry this team in 2019, and if the defense can evolve as they head into conference, there isn’t a game in league the Mean Green can’t win. If the defense regresses to 2017 status, they’ll have a hard time competing with the CUSA contenders, especially with a tough conference road schedule.

A third straight nine win season would be unprecedented. A ten win season would be historic. Both are within North Texas’ sights.

Checking our Work

So you’re asking yourself, yeah, but what do you know? You’re right, not much, so in the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at our predicted wins in years past vs. the actual wins. We hang our hat on transparency and grammatical indifference.

North Texas Predicted Actual
2016 2 5
2017 6 9
2018 10 9

More 2019 Season Previews: