With one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks leading the way, North Texas should contend for a Conference USA title. But how well this edition of the Mean Green do will depend on how coach Seth Littrell develops a young offensive line and weathers the loss of several key defenders.
Previewing North Texas' Offense for 2019
New offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder called plays last season for Eastern Washington's high-powered offense, which averaged 528.2 yards and 43.1 points at the FCS level. Reeder moves to the FBS stage in a position where he can succeed, guiding a North Texas offense that led Conference USA in scoring (34.6 ppg) last season.
Senior quarterback Mason Fine returns as UNT's all-time passer and the NCAA's active career leader with 9,417 yards. He gets back three of his top four wide receivers in Rico Bussey Jr. (68 receptions, 1,017 yards), Jaelon Darden (48, 575) and Michael Lawrence (32, 433), as well as tight end Kelvin Smith (29, 269). But the corps is heavy on slot receivers and light on outside targets.
All-C-USA running back DeAndre Torrey fits the passing offense well as a big-play runner and versatile receiver. He rushed for 977 yards along with 25 receptions and 18 total TDs (one on a kickoff return). All the weapons are there for the offense to hit another gear, with the exception of two gaping holes at tackle. Jacob Brammer, who started four games in an otherwise backup role last season, will slide into one tackle spot. Virginia Tech graduate transfer D'Andre Plantin could fill the other. Reeder will try to speed up the tempo, which could mask the inexperience at tackle and keep Fine healthy, which is a huge priority.
Previewing North Texas' Defense for 2019
Defensive coordinator Troy Reffett's 3-3-5 scheme came of age last season, trimming its points allowed from 35.0 per game in 2017 to 24.2 in 2018. But the team's best defenders graduated, so the defense must be reset. That means replacing two defensive ends, two linebackers and two cornerbacks in the starting lineup from a unit that forced opponents into bad decisions. Reffett must be creative in utilizing his young players' athleticism without exposing their inexperience.
Senior defensive end LaDarius Hamilton will be a cornerstone after an all-conference season in which he recorded 11 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Senior safeties Khairi Muhammad and Taylor Robinson and junior nickel back/linebacker Tyreke Davis combined for seven of UNT's 18 interceptions, fifth most in FBS. Cam Johnson and Jordan Roberts may be talented enough to adequately fill both cornerback spots, which were held by a pair of all-league players last season.
Previewing North Texas' Specialists for 2019
UNT kickers made 82 percent of their field goals over the past five seasons, leaving a big kicking shoe to fill. Mason Reid, Ethan Mooney and Zach Williams will compete to keep up the trend. Punting is in much better shape with the return of senior Alvin Kenworthy.
Coach Seth Littrell is suffering from too much success. After leading UNT to three straight bowls and back-to-back nine-win seasons, he lost five of his 10 assistant coaches in the offseason, including four to Power 5 schools. If UNT can protect Fine, the offense should keep pace with its previous output. But the defense almost certainly will take a step back; it's only a question of minimizing that regression.
Winning a tough road game at Louisiana Tech could put UNT in the West Division driver's seat. UNT finishes the regular season against defending division champion UAB in Denton, where it has an 11–1 record over the past two seasons.
National Ranking: 73
(Top photo courtesy of North Texas Athletics)