The Mean Green rank No. 78 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018
North Texas coach Seth Littrell has the roster to repeat as Conference USA West Division champions, but progressing further will be difficult. In two losses to C-USA champion Florida Atlantic and one loss to Troy in the New Orleans Bowl, the Mean Green fell by an average margin of 27.3 points. Those lopsided losses to end last season could have been an anomaly, or they may point to flaws in pass protection and the defense overall. Both must be better this season.
Previewing North Texas Football's Offense for 2018
The key parts of a potent passing attack return. Quarterback Mason Fine, the reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year, broke single-season school records with 4,052 passing yards and 31 TDs last season, and he gets back five of his top six receivers. But protecting Fine, a 5'11", 180-pounder, is a major concern after the Mean Green allowed 39 sacks, tied for the eighth most in FBS. The offensive line hopes to find growth in continuity. As many as four starters return, depending on whether right tackle Riley Mayfield can be granted a sixth year of eligibility.
If Fine can throw from a clean pocket, he will have several proven targets. Sure-handed Michael Lawrence is in the slot after leading the team with 62 catches last season. Big-play threat Jalen Guyton, a second-team all-league selection, had a team-high nine TD catches, and Rico Bussey had 677 yards and seven TDs.
The ground game will get a facelift after the graduation of three-year starter Jeffery Wilson. A trio will replace him, including steady sophomores Nic Smith (684 rushing yards) and Evan Johnson (239) and mid-term signee DeAndre Torrey, who may have the most upside after a strong spring.
Previewing North Texas Football's Defense for 2018
Defensive coordinator Troy Reffett likes to bring pressure in his 3-3 defense, but with risks come big plays. North Texas allowed more than 40 points in six games last season, so the defense will try to trim that number without losing its aggressive style.
Finding the right combination on the line will be critical. Much of last season's deep rotation is gone, so junior college transfers and freshmen must fill the gaps. Roderick Young's versatility suddenly becomes more valuable after making a team-high 28 career starts at both nose tackle and defensive end. Kansas State transfer Bryce English missed 2017 due to injury but appears to be on track to return in 2018. He could provide a needed boost in the trenches.
Two starters return at linebacker. E.J. Ejiya had a team-high 109 tackles, including 12 for a loss, last season, and Brandon Garner had 68 tackles. Depth is a concern, though.
The secondary must lock down in man coverage to cut down on long pass plays. Four starters are back, important since North Texas mostly plays nickel coverage. Safety Khairi Muhammad and cornerback Kemon Hall had 94 and 72 tackles, respectively, but pass coverage is more important than volume tackling.
Previewing North Texas Football's Specialists for 2018
Trevor Moore, a four-year starter and one of the top kickers in FBS, is gone. Arkansas graduate transfer Cole Hedlund, the son of the North Texas women's soccer coach, is a reasonable replacement. He made 14-of-24 field goals and 91-of-91 PATs for the Razorbacks before losing his starting job last season. Blake Patterson and Alvin Kenworthy both return to share punting duties.
Early non-conference games should yield at least two wins, helping to put another bowl bid in reach. Plus, conference home games against Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic offer the opportunity to make another run in the West.