COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dan McCarney, 5-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Canales | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Skladany
Second-year coach Dan McCarney is determined to replace all-time leading rusher Lance Dunbar with another feature back rather than a ball-carrier-by-committee approach. But identifying the next record-breaking runner will be a challenge. Brandin Byrd, Jeremy Brown and redshirt freshmen Zac Whitfield and Antoinne Jimmerson will vie for the top spot, but only Byrd has ever recorded a collegiate carry.
“We’ll stay with our plan, and that starts with running the football,” McCarney says. “My preference is that one guy takes the job and we feature him. Do we know if anyone is going to break (Dunbar’s) records this year? No, but we hope so.”
The ground game will be aided by the return of four starters on the offensive line, anchored by guard Cyril Lemon. However, there’s little bite in the passing game.
Quarterback Derek Thompson is back after a solid but conservative season in which he averaged 159.9 passing yards per game and totaled 11 TDs and six interceptions. UNT’s top three wide receivers and reliable tight end Andrew Power return, but none had as many as 40 catches last season. Chaz Sampson, a 6'5" redshirt freshman, could fill a need in the receiving corps.
New defensive coordinator John Skladany coached under McCarney for a decade at Iowa State, one of his five stops as an FBS coordinator. UNT presents a tall order after the Mean Green gave up 30.7 points per game last season.
Almost the entire two deep in last year’s secondary was wiped out by graduation, and top pass-rusher Brandon Akpunku is also gone. The rest of the defensive line is intact, led by end Brandon McCoy and some solid tackles, but the back seven is mostly in rebuilding mode. Seven of the eight defensive backs and key outside linebackers are gone. Zachary Orr, last year’s top tackler, is dependable at middle linebacker, but UNT lacks proven playmakers.
Some of UNT’s best signees of the last two years are defensive backs, and they will be tossed into action immediately, led by Oklahoma transfer Marcus Trice (safety), junior college transfer D.Q. Johnson (cornerback) and true freshmen Devante Davis (cornerback) and David Busby (safety). Sophomore cornerback Freddie Warner was a solid returning player, but he tore his ACL in the spring.
Punter Will Atterberry and kicker Zach Olen have both earned All-Sun Belt honors in their careers. Atterberry helped UNT rank ninth nationally in net punting last season. Olen had an off-year (8-of-16 FGs), but he’s still among the conference’s best kickers. Brelan Chancellor, the team’s top receiver, is a better returner.
McCarney has plenty of believers, and for good reason. A 5–7 record in a new stadium last season brought optimism. But now the Mean Green must try to be a dominant running team without a proven running back, and they must slow down opposing passing attacks without their best pass-rusher and all four starters in the secondary. Road games at LSU, Kansas State and Houston offer little breathing room.
McCarney’s plan appears to be on track, but it will take baby steps, and he knows it.
“Thirty scholarship players were out the door last year, so we have depth issues, and we’re still 11 under the 85 scholarship limit,” McCarney says. “But that’s why I’m here, to fix a lot of the problems at North Texas. But we believe in our plan.”