North Texas Daily

Round table: Football season preview

Round table: Football season preview

September 11
12:16 2015

Editor’s Note: The entire North Texas Daily’s sports staff has weighed in on the upcoming Mean Green football season. Here is our first round table discussion of the year!

Our staff: Reece Waddell (RW), Torie Mosley TM, Jesse Brackeen (JB), Alex Lessard (AL), Clay Massey (CM), Brady Keane (BK), Courtney Meadors (CoM)

Q1: What is the most intriguing storyline heading into the season?

RW: It has to be the offense, specifically the quarterback position. The Mean Green were absolutely dreadful on offense last year, ranking last in nearly every offensive category in Conference USA and, as a team, throwing as many touchdowns as they did interceptions (13.) Head coach Dan McCarney has raved about the growth of senior Andrew McNulty, who will be under center for North Texas on Saturday, but how much has he really improved? McCarney and offensive coordinator Mike Canales have promised a new look, spread offense that will allow the team to take shots downfield. North Texas has always been a run-first program, so I’m interested to see if they have the faith in McNulty to air it out.

TM: The biggest thing that grabs my attention going into this North Texas football season is obviously the big question at Quarterback all of Denton sports media has obsessed over the past several months since the end of last season. Senior Andrew McNulty is a seasoned North Texas QB in his fifth year under coach McCarney’s system (redshirting his sophomore year due to injury), so its not really a “new QB” situation for the Mean Green. McNulty scored North Texas’ first touchdown in the inaugural 2011 season of Apogee Stadium, albeit a running touchdown. The experience McNulty has under center should give the offense, team, coaches and fans confidence in him to succeed, but the QB also has never passed for 300 yards in a game and has always held a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio his entire career for North Texas. Only time will tell if the Iowa City native will be able to protect the football this season with a schedule playing 12 weeks straight, including seven road games after the Mean Green went 0-6 on the road last year.

JB: North Texas had all the momentum rolling into Austin Texas for last season’s debut. Starting quarterback Josh Greer fell flat in his debut leading to the Mean Green cycling between Dajon Williams and now starter Andrew McNulty as they searched for an answer at the most important position on any football team. It will be interesting to see how McNulty responds to the coaching staff’s bode of confidence. Saturday will provide McNulty with the platform to prove that confidence was not misplaced.

AL: The fact that North Texas only has five home games instead of the usual six this season is worrisome. The Mean Green have gone 9-3 at home over the past two seasons and hasn’t proved it can win consistently on the road. Combine that with a first week bye, a new defensive coordinator and a daunting road schedule, the North Texas faithful may be in for a long season.

CM: The hype is building, and Andrew McNulty has been picked to lead the Mean Green into battle from the QB position. The fact that it seemed as if head coach Dan McCarney never swayed away from McNulty is the most interesting thing coming into this year. McNulty seemed to be the guy since the spring.

BK: As the Mean Green prepare to kick off the 2015 football season tomorrow night against SMU, the most intriguing storyline has to be how senior Andrew McNulty will respond in his first full season of work at the helm of the offense. North Texas is loaded at running back, and the receiving core returns Carlos Harris Jr. (70 catches, 863 yards in 2014) as well as tight-end Marcus Smith who led the team with six touchdown receptions last season. The weapons are there. If McNulty can produce this season, the offense has a good chance of being successful.

CoM: The development on the defensive side of the ball is exciting for a fan and nerve wracking at the same time. Hearing good news from Chris Cosh to the leadership of Blake Bean and Anthony Wallace can only increase the intrigue to the defensive play this season.

 

Q2: What position group are you keeping your eye on the most? Who do you think could surprise people?

RW: Both sides of the ball have issues, but the offense has more experience so I’m going with the defense here. The reason is twofold: first, they lost quite a few seniors this offseason, most notably linebacker Derek Akunne, who led North Texas and C-USA in tackles in 2014. Second, first year defensive coordinator Chris Cosh is at the helm. He’s coached under the likes of Bill Snyder and Lou Holtz, but how will his defense perform this year? They’re generally undersized and young as a group. Can he elevate them to the level they played in 2013 when the Mean Green won the Heart of Dallas Bowl?

Marcus Smith, a senior tight end is my player who could stand out and surprise some people. Smith led the Mean Green with six touchdown receptions last season and at 6’4, 242 lbs, is a huge weapon in the red zone. I think he could easily double his touchdown receptions in 2015 if North Texas sticks with its promise to throw the ball more.

TM: The Mean Green linebackers are all returning players from last season under Skladany’s system. Even with team MVP Derek Akunne gone to the NFL, senior captain LBs Blake Bean and Anthony Wallace should keep the consistency at that position with a deep bench including sophomore Calvin Minor who started the last few games last season and junior Fred Scott who started all 12 games last year.

JB: While the quarterback situation is always interesting, over the last couple of years the Mean Green has lived and died by their defense. This offseason the Mean Green lost 4 of its top 5 defensive performers proving a tall task for first year defensive coordinator Chris Cosh. In a season following exponential turnover, the one consistent unit will be the linebackers. Look to team captains Blake Bean and Anthony Wallace to become centers of the inexperienced Mean Green squad.

AL: One sure thing headed into the season is senior wide receiver Carlos Harris, who finished last season with 70 receptions. The next closest player had only 26. Watch for Derris Prater, D’Aundrey Bradley and Rodney Bendy – three freshman wide receivers – to get scattered playing time against SMU and compete to become a solid No. 2 option in the Mike Canales offense.

CM: The quarterback position will be something to keep an eye on this season. Will McNulty be the QB at the end of season? That is definitely something to watch, as Josh Greer showed last year that he could be effective as the QB with his 171 yards and the 43-6 win over SMU.

BK: Speaking of the talent at running back, it will be interesting to see how sophomore Jeffery Wilson fares this season after being listed as the starter over 2014 leading rusher and senior Antoinne Jimmerson. North Texas has used a “by-committee” approach in the past so there will be plenty of carries to go around, but coach Dan McCarney has consistently talked about the strength of this group of running backs.

CoM: I always enjoy seeing how the defense handles their game and if they create a strong front, allowing the offense to be the center of attention. There is always a defensive standout that appears about midway through the season that becomes that representation of the D core, and I’m interested to see who that will be.

 

Q3: What is your biggest concern heading into the season?

RW: I have many concerns heading into this season. I wonder if the offense has improved enough to give the team a chance to win games. I wonder if the defense, which has always been so reliable at North Texas will still be dominant. And most importantly, I wonder how the team will react if they get off to a slow start. McCarney only has one winning season at North Texas and I fear if the Mean Green have a repeat of last season, this could be McCarney’s last year in Denton.

TM: Protecting the ball. Turnovers are North Texas football’s biggest issue. If McNulty can have the first positive touchdown-interception ratio in his career, the Mean Green might be back in a bowl game since missing out on last year’s bowl season.

JB: Lack of talent on the field, plain and simple. On paper, there are only a few players who seem capable of making game changing plays. It is easy to sit, overanalyze stats, and damn the season before it has even kicked off, however the Mean Green have yet to hit the field for regular season action. Returning players, paired with a less than stellar recruiting class saw the Mean Green finish near the bottom of most major preseason polls.

AL: In order for skill players to have success, the quarterback position cannot afford to perform anywhere close to last year’s level. The team and coaching staff are confident in senior quarterback Andrew McNulty, but no one can feel comfortable about the most important position in football until McNulty proves he can protect the ball and lead a dynamic offense.

CM:These two, McNulty and Greer, sit at the heart of the biggest concern for UNT coming into the season offense. The offense was dreadful last year finishing last in nearly every offensive category in Conference USA. The offense has to improve to see UNT improve. With a running back core led by sophomore Jeffrey Wilson, it is very possible the run game can help urge the Mean Green to better offensive production.

BK: Although I mentioned McNulty as the most intriguing storyline of the season, the quarterback position is the most concerning spot on the team. If McNulty struggles as he did last season with more interceptions than touchdowns (6 touchdowns to 7 interceptions), it could be a long year for the Mean Green offense.

CoM: The schedule this year, from the bye week to the away games, is standing out right away as the biggest excuse the Mean Green need to avoid. Though it is difficult, schedules are used as an excuse too often.

 

Q4: What is your season prediction?

RW: North Texas has been awful on the road in the McCarney era, and this year play seven road games, three of which include bouts at Tennessee, Iowa and Marshall, games I just don’t see North Texas winning. There are a few toss up games the Mean Green could win, but knowing the recruits they brought in and the season last year, it’s really difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt. North Texas will go 5-7 and miss a bowl game for the second consecutive year.

TM: With a new defensive coordinator, new strength and conditioning coach, mostly new offensive line, new starting linebackers and many more changes to start the season, North Texas seems to be on the rise and new-and-improved for this year. The only problem is with the week-one bye, we still don’t know who this team really is. Will McNulty protect the ball? Will the defense stop giving up 30 points a game? Will the Mean Green stay healthy for 12 straight weeks with mostly road games? Maybe, but probably not. Injuries will likely pile up and McNulty will be in many late-game must-throw situations to win or lose the game on his arm. North Texas will be slightly improved from last season but still back at home watching the bowl season come January. Record: 5-7

JB: They will regress even further at the hands of an inexperienced defense and anemic offensive production. Its quarterbacks will have Mean Green Nation crawling under a blanket yearning for the return of Derek Thompson to Apogee Stadium. Under head coach Dan McCarney, the Mean Green have not played well away from home. Their tough road schedule will prove to be the team’s undoing. The Mean Green miss a bowl game for the second consecutive season finishing 3-9, proving that 2013 was indeed not indicative of the sustained success Mean Green Nation was promised.

AL: With an inexperienced offensive line and a defense adjusting to Chris Cosh’s scheme, expectations need to be tempered. The Mean Green will likely get off to a slow start, but have a good chance to pick up some momentum from two home games under the lights in August. All in all, I foresee North Texas finishing 4-8. Again.

CM: My season prediction is bleak. This is a young Mean Green squad that has potential, but all the cogs have to tick together just right for them to go on and surprise. It goes 4-8 this season. Road games will be killer this season, I’m looking at you Iowa and Tennessee. I’m okay with being wrong however.

BK: The Mean Green has the potential to bounce back from a rough 2014 campaign this season. Although a nine win season (2013) is probably not realistic at this point, North Texas should be able to pick up wins over SMU, Rice, Portland State, UTSA, Middle Tennessee State, and UTEP to finish the season 6-6 and sneak back into a bowl game.

CoM: Most of the time, you can’t make a season prediction based off of any statistics or the first game of the season. However, in this case, I believe the outcome of this SMU match up could certainly make a strong precedent for how the Mean Green will fair this season.

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