North Texas Mean Green 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#128 North Texas Mean Green
C-USA West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Seth Littrell , First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Graham Harrell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Ekeler, Troy Reffett
Former North Carolina offensive coordinator Seth Littrell is hoping to establish a similar up-tempo, high-powered attack at North Texas. But this is Littrell's first head coaching gig, the Mean Green's offense was one of the worst in the nation last season and the schedule is not kind. North Texas won just one game last season, but don't expect that to change much in 2016.
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Previewing North Texas’ Offense for 2016
First-time head coach Seth Littrell and first-time offensive coordinator Graham Harrell must implement their wide-open passing offense with a roster built for power running. And their style and the personnel they inherit won’t be the only odd mix.
Alabama graduate transfer Alec Morris is a capable passer, but he has few, if any, proven weapons at his disposal. Morris was on two national title teams with the Crimson Tide, serving as the No. 3 quarterback the past two seasons. His most seasoned target at North Texas will be Turner Smiley (25 receptions, 255 yards), the only returning wide receiver with more than 15 catches last season. Talented Tee Goree and some other untested wideouts will need to break out to improve the Mean Green’s air attack from last season, when it ranked 126th in the nation in pass efficiency.
The offense’s best asset is running back Jeffrey Wilson, who rushed for 830 yards in 10 games last season. Also a good receiver out of the backfield, Wilson could be the dual threat who bridges North Texas’ past offense with its new one. His sidekick, Willy Ivery, averaged 6.6 yards per carry as a change-of-pace back last season. Together, they give North Texas a much-needed one-two punch to breathe some life into the offense.
Standout center Kaydon Kirby took a leave of absence from the team in the spring after the death of his father. If he returns for his senior season, the line should be solid.
Previewing North Texas’ Defense for 2016
Defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler touts a strong coaching pedigree with stints as a successful assistant at Georgia, USC, Nebraska and LSU, among others. But he inherits a unit with depth issues and bad memories. In 2015, the Mean Green allowed more than 40 points and 500 yards per game. The scheme may be trial-and-error early on. North Texas lacks enough interior defensive linemen to run a traditional 4-3, and there’s some proven talent in the secondary. So a 3-4 or nickel defense may be the best fit, especially in facing some wide-open offenses in Conference USA.
Safeties Kishawn McClain (110 tackles) and James Gray (104) return as the top tacklers, and cornerbacks Chad Davis and Nate Brooks complete a strong secondary. The problems come up front, where the Mean Green had one of the nation’s worst rush defenses and pass rushes in 2015. Two hybrid positions as the scheme takes shape will be defensive end/outside linebacker and the linebacker/nickel back spots. Junior college transfer Joshua Wheeler will play the former, while Ashton Preston and junior college transfer Eji Ejiya should fill the latter position. Linebacker William Johnson, the team’s top recruit, must also make an early impact.
Previewing North Texas’ Specialists for 2016
Trevor Moore had a record-breaking 2014 season, but he went 0-for-4 from 40-plus yards last season. Punter Eric Keena touts a big leg with a 44.2-yard average and one-fourth of his boots traveling at least 50 yards last season. Wilson could be the best option at kick returner, but he may be saved for offense. Punt returner will be up for grabs.
Improving on last season’s 1–11 record wouldn’t seem to be too difficult, but there are not many likely wins on the schedule. Like most North Texas seasons, some measure of success will depend on head-to-head matchups with other Texas schools — SMU, Rice, UTSA and UTEP. Littrell helped transform North Carolina into an explosive offense, but the 37-year-old has a lengthy task with long-term roster turnover ahead to rebuild North Texas. This team might look like a square peg in a round hole, but the Mean Green must go through growing pains to fit Littrell’s vision. That picture might appear hazy until the team’s personnel changes over time.