The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 86 North Texas.
Previewing North Texas’ Offense for 2014:
Four offensive line starters return for one of Conference USA’s best units at any position. Coach Dan McCarney hopes that’s enough to support a new starting quarterback and a revamped rotation of skill players.
“Our offensive line is definitely the strength of our football team,” says McCarney, who returns only five offensive starters overall. “And those linemen are my kind of guys. We are just trying every day to find playmakers to put with them. But it’s hard to get a feel for that. How do you really know?”
Junior Andrew McNulty and junior college transfer Josh Greer should take their quarterback competition deep into preseason camp. Their skill sets are similar, but both carry concerns over their inexperience. McNulty, a career backup, has thrown only five passes in the past two seasons. Greer had an impressive run at nearby Navarro (Texas) College, but it lasted only six games. The starter will be expected to protect the ball and provide a few big plays amid a new assortment of offensive weapons.
Wideout Carlos Harris (47 receptions, 553 yards) steps into the go-to-guy spot, but the No. 2 receiver role is an unknown. Sophomore Darvin Kidsy and senior Darius Terrell, a former Texas Longhorn, are the top candidates.
Running backs Antoinne Jimmerson (446 yards, seven TDs) and Reggie Pegram (338 yards, six TDs) should benefit the most from the veteran offensive line, which is led by surefire NFL prospect Cyril Lemon and fellow all-conference selection Mason Y’Barbo.
Previewing North Texas’ Defense for 2014:
The 2013 squad ranked second nationally in red-zone defense, fourth in takeaways and eighth in scoring defense, but only one among the starting front seven returns. The entire defensive line is gone, and star middle linebacker Zach Orr must also be replaced.
Senior linebacker Derek Akunne takes the torch. He has 200 career tackles and the respect of his teammates to assume a leadership role. McCarney has faith that the defensive line questions will be answered in time.
“We will get to an eight-man rotation,” McCarney says. “I know it doesn’t look like it now, but I’ve seen it before. We got to that point in the second half of last season.”
The good news is that three of four starting defensive backs return, led by cornerback Kenny Buyers and safety Lairamie Lee. Cornerbacks Zac Whitfield and James Jones are also back. The trio combined for nine of the team’s 18 interceptions in 2013.
Previewing North Texas’ Specialists for 2014:
Replacing Brelan Chancellor, one of the nation’s best kick/punt returners, will be a tall order and likely an open competition early in the season. Zach Paul was 10-of-15 on field goals last season, but he may get a battle from lauded freshman kicker Trevor Moore. Blake Macek returns as punter.
A new starting quarterback and a rebuilt defensive front seven usually point to a rebuilding year, and that still may be the case for the Mean Green. But there are enough concerns elsewhere in the C-USA West Division to keep North Texas right in the mix for contention. Plus, the program has a different feel after posting nine wins and the Mean Green’s first bowl victory in 11 years last season.
“(Rebuilding) is fair for people to say, but great programs reload,” McCarney says. “Not many people knew about us when I got here. We need to keep it going and not go back into the woods.”
A home opener against SMU should be telling about the team’s potential. And if the Mean Green are still in the hunt, an Oct. 25 trip to Rice could provide a title shot. North Texas handed C-USA champion Rice its lone league loss last season.