2015 UNT Mean Green Football Preview
(DALLAS, TEX) – For the North Texas Mean Green football team, and head coach Dan McCarney, the 2015-16 season will be the ultimate test of leadership, skill, and recruiting. Last season, Mean Green went 4-8 last season, and won just two games in Conference USA. The Mean Green ended the season just one game ahead of Southern Miss (1-7), for fifth place in the West Division.
The Mean Green will be returning 37 letter winners, that includes 15 on offense, 18 on defense, and four on Special Teams. This includes 12 returning starters (6 offense, 6 defense), and two pass rushers in Senior Chad Polk, and Sophomore Tillman Johnson, who accounted for almost one-third of the teams 33 sacks in 2014 (10.5).
This rebuilding process, which is year number five for McCarney and his staff, has been a continual process, that has seen success, with an 8-4 team in 2013, that got North Texas to their second bowl game under McCarney, and their ninth is school history, beating UNLV 36-14, in the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl. North Texas has also had a few disappointing seasons, such as last season, which is the second 4-8 season, and third season below the .500 mark under McCarney (2012, 2011).
This season’s recruiting class includes 16 high school athletes and nine transfer students. Seventeen of the players hail from the North Texas area, and 18 were team captains on their respective teams. McCarney is impressed with the group.
“This is without question the best class I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said McCarney. “Many of these young men stayed committed to us for a long time. This class has more speed and size than our previous classes. Eighteen of the twenty-five are captains, so it speaks well to their character and leadership. Many of the me had real unique journeys in their life to get to North Texas. I love what we have in this class.” (Source:meangreensports.com)
BIG CHALLENGE IN 2015.
This season, without question, will be the toughest season for McCarney and the Mean Green. They will have to play 12 consecutive games without an off week. Just five of their games are at home. Eight of their opponents were bowl eligible last season, and they will play four of their last six on the road, with five of the teams being bowl eligible. McCarney knows that this is a tough challenge, but he and his staff has known about it for some theme, and has had plenty of time to prepare for the season. He hopes that the Mean Green can defy the odds, and not be the mid-season punching bag that many writers and oddsmakers are projecting them to be. The Dallas Morning News most recently gave the Mean Green a 5-7 prediction, and that has been the highest I’ve seen. Most media outlets have tagged them with another 4-8 season.
“We hope that we can defy all the outside expectations, which are so low this year,” said McCarney. “What we do on the inside, has nothing to do with the outside, and we think that by time we play on September 12, we’re going to be able to put a good football team together.”
Last season, the Mean Green was outscored 100-62 in the first quarter, but outscored teams in the second and fourth quarters. The team will have to get better in scoring in the first half, if they hope to improve their record in 2015. The defense was ranked seventh in C-USA, allowing 29.8 points a game. The offense, however, was inconsistent in 2014, averaging 27.2 points per game, which was ranked eighth in the conference. McCarney knows that they have to improve not only in continuing to finish strong, but also getting off to an early start. To the coach, it is all about resolve.
“Any time that you can finish strong in the fourth quarter, whether you are ahead, or behind,you are always looking to do so,” said McCarney. “Many games are decided in the fourth quarter. Who is going to have the grit? Who is going to have the resolve to finish strong? Who will have the toughness mentally, and physically? Who is going to want it the most?… Those are things that we are going to have to build upon, and get after this year, and be better than we were last year.”
The Mean Green will start the 2015 season 42 miles down the road from Apogee Stadium, at Gerald J Ford Stadium, to play the SMU Mustangs (1-11 in 2014). The Mustangs, will play Baylor in Week One, while the Mean Green will have a bye week in their first week of the season.
In almost 100 years of play, going back to 1922, the Mustangs own the all-time series over the Mean Green, with a 28-5-1 record. SMU has outscored NT 929-74 in those games. Although the Mean Green has won three of the last five games in the last 25 years, they have never managed to win back to back games against the Mustangs in the series. The closest that they have ever been was from 1932-33, when they tied the Mustangs, and won 7-0 the next year. McCarney does not believe that is is a rivalry game, but hopes to change that in the future.
“I heard about all the rivalry stuff when we first signed the 10-year contract, and I said wait a minute, I’ve been around this game for a long time, and there’s no rivalry when one team has 28 wins, and the other has five,” said McCarney. “You gotta try and make it a rivalry by winning some games, so we took one step, and it was a small step, but we won a game against SMU last year.
That win, was a 43-6 win at home against the Mustangs, that included 353 total yards of offense (245 rushing), and five forced turnovers. The Mean Green will be on the road this year, and he knows that it is going to be a tall task to add to the North Texas history books.
“We have great respect for SMU,” said McCarney. “They have totally dominated the series against North Texas. It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt about it. They will be much improved, and the advantage that we will have, is that they will not be able to see our football team in person, until we play a game. The advantage that they will have, is that they will be able to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are in a game situation.”
LEADERSHIP IS A PART OF THE CULTURE CHANGE.
For McCarney, and his staff, turning the Mean Green around has been a steady process. McCarney is 22-27 in four seasons with the team, and gave the team their first bowl win in over a decade. This season will be his first chance at reaching a .500 record with the team. In 22 years as a coach (78-111, 3-3 bowl record), he knows that a strong nucleus of leaders is key, especially when it comes to a winning organization. He also knows that building depth is equally important.
“We’ve really had some depth issues in trying to turn this program around, and our numbers are going up to 85 scholarships for the first time since I’ve been here,” said McCarney.
In the 2012-13 season, the Mean Green finished the season with a 9-4 season, that included a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. That team was full of leaders, and included 25 seniors on the team. This year, the Mean Green will have 16 seniors, and coach McCarney is very confident with this group going forward.
“I like the progress, and the chemistry of this football team, the leadership, it’s all stronger,” said McCarney. “It appears to be stronger than anytime that it was last year, but we have a lot of work to do. We are days away from SMU, and we have a lot to do before we line up, and play a game.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Mean Green defense will be a major strength for the team this year, in particular the front seven of this 4-3 defense. They will be bringing back six starters, and adding much depth to a near-depleted defensive line. Despite their 4-8 record in C-USA, the team was near the top of the pack in most defensive categories. The Mean Green finished third in turnovers forced per game (1.9), fourth in passing defense (207 y/g), fifth in total defense (369 y/g), sixth in rushing defense (161 y/g) and seventh in points allowed (29.8 ppg).
For McCarney, he knows that this is something that his defensive unit can improve on, and is impressed with the guys who are stepping up on defense. Last season, Junior Chad Polk, and Freshman Tillman Johnson accounted for almost one-third of the teams 33 sacks (10.5) in 2014.
“We definitely need to add to that, and we will,” said McCarney. ” I think that we can be better. I think that it’s really going to be strength in numbers, because we have more capable ends, more defensive lineman, but definitely more defensive ends than we’ve had in any time since I’ve been here, that can play winning football… I really like our rotation, and we have a number of guys, who are stepping it up, and are going to help us this year.”
- DE (Sr.) Chad Polk, 6’0”, 231 lbs – Polk was named to the C-USA Honorable Mention team last season. Led UNT with 5.5 sacks, despite missing two games, due to an injury.
- DE (Transfer – Iowa Central CC) Jareid Combs, 6’3”, 258 lbs – Combs was a team captain, and NJCAA All-American honorable mention athlete at ICCC last season, tallying 17 sacks, 50 tackles, and four forced fumbles last season.
- MLB (Jr.) Fred Scott, 5’11”, 238 lbs – Started in all 12 games last season, finished 6th on team, with 54 tackles, and was the first MLB to start as a sophomore in over a decade.
- DE (So.) Tillman Johnson, 6’1”, 243 lbs – Set freshman record with 5.0 sacks in a season. Played in only eight games, and finished second on the team in sacks.
- DE (Jr.) Malik Dilonga, 6’4”, 252 lbs – Played in 11 games last season, recording 15 tackles, a pass breakup, three TFL, and two sacks. Has really emerged as a pass rusher in camp.
|Date||Opponent / Event||Location||Time / Result|
|09/12/15||at SMU||Dallas, TX||6:00 p.m. CT|
|09/19/15||vs. Rice *||Denton, TX||1:30 p.m. CT|
|09/26/15||at Iowa||Iowa City, IA||TBA|
|10/03/15||at Southern Miss *||Hattiesburg, MS||6:00 p.m. CT|
|10/10/15||vs. Portland State||Denton, TX||4:00 p.m. CT|
|10/15/15||vs. Western Kentucky *||Denton, TX||6:30 p.m. CT|
|10/24/15||at Marshall *||Huntington, WV||2:30 p.m. CT|
|10/31/15||vs. UTSA *||Denton, TX||6:00 p.m. CT|
|11/07/15||at Louisiana Tech *||Ruston, LA||2:30 p.m. CT|
|11/14/15||at Tennessee||Knoxville, TN||TBA|
|11/21/15||at Middle Tennessee *||Murfreesboro, TN||11:00 a.m. CT|
|11/28/15||vs. UTEP *||Denton, TX||TBA|
KEY GAMES (Dates in Bold):
- Sept. 12 @SMU (2014: W 43-6) – SMU will want revenge, after last year’s loss. This will be their first home game. NT must avoid the trap game.
- Oct. 31 vs. UTSA (2014: L 34-27) – NT led most statistical categories in this game, including time of possession, passing yards, third down conversions, and turnovers forced, but did not win game. Must close this game out early.
- Nov. 28 vs. UTEP (2014: L 35-17) – UTEP ran for 331 yards on 46 attempts at the Sun Bowl. NT defense will have to step up in key game for conference.
PREDICTION: The Mean Green will improve on the defensive front, and will carry the offense through a few games early in the season. The team will will not lose a game at home, but will have to fight get win one on the road. It’s tough to imagine the Mean Green winning on the road, in hostile environments versus Iowa, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, or Tennessee. Should be able to get second road win of season at Middle Tennessee. Mean Green finishes 6-6, and returns to the Heart of Dallas Bowl.