(Part 5 of a 14-part Conference USA preview series)
In search of its first winning season since 2013, North Texas is looking to build on last season's progress.
Regrouping from a 1-11 2015 campaign, the Mean Green jumped to 5-8 (3-5 Conference USA) in its first season under Muskogee, Oklahoma native Seth Littrell.
UNT got off to a 4-3 start before dropping five of its last six, including a 38-31 overtime loss to Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Still, the Mean Green showed marked improvement on both sides of the ball, increasing its scoring production by 9.6 points per game over 2015 and allowing 8.7 fewer points per outing.
Nonetheless, there is still plenty of room for improvement as the offense ranked 99th nationally in scoring (24.8 ppg), 109th in rushing (133.5 yards per game), 91st in passing (208.3 ypg) and 117th in total yardage (341.8 ypg).
Sophomore Mason Fine is among seven holdover starters on offense. Drawing nine starts as a true freshman, Fine passed for 1,572 yards with five touchdowns and six picks.
Senior Jeffery Wilson (169 carries, 936 yards, 14 TDs) is again being counted on to shoulder the bulk of the load in the running game.
Three of the top four receivers have moved on, with senior Turner Smiley (33 receptions, 389 yards, 2 TDs) as the lone returnee. Jalen Guyton, who caught 45 passes for 968 yards and 12 scores at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, is being counted on for immediate help as is junior Quinetin Jackson, who took a medical redshirt last season.
Fine will need more protection from an offensive line which surrendered an alarming 43 sacks. Sophomore left tackle Elex Woodworth, senior right guard T.J. Henson and junior right tackle Jordan Murray are all back.
Eight starters return from a defense which rated 96th nationally in scoring (32.6 ypg), 117th against the run (239.5 ypg), 27th vs. the pass (200.2 ypg) and 89th in total yardage (439.7 ypg).
Junior end Roderick Young (38 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss) is the only holdover up front. Sophomore nose tackle Bryce English, a Kansas State transfer, could have an instant impact.
Senior Joshua Wheeler (42 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and junior Brandon Garner (50 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks) are the bulwarks of the linebacker corps.
All five members of the secondary have starting experience. Junior Nate Brooks (57 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 FF) and senior Eric Jenkins (18 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 pick-6s, 10 pass breakups) give UNT a pair of tried-and-true cornerbacks. Senior free safety Kishawn McClain (91 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 INTs, 2 FF) led the team in tackles for the second straight season. Also back are junior nickel back Ashton Preston (40 tackles, 4.5 TFL) and senior strong safety Dee Baulkman (35 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks).
Senior Trevor Moore made 9-of-13 field goals with a long of 51 while extending his school record streak of consecutive extra points to 99.
UNT is auditioning for a new punter following the departure of its lone first-team All-C-USA honoree, Eric Keena.
2017 NORTH TEXAS SCHEDULE
(All times Central and subject to change)
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Sept. 2 Lamar TBA
Sept. 9 at SMU 6:00
Sept. 16 at Iowa 2:30
Sept. 23 UAB* 5:30
Sept. 30 at Southern Miss* 6:00
Oct. 14 UTSA* TBA
Oct. 21 at Florida Atlantic* TBA
Oct. 28 Old Dominion* TBA
Nov. 4 at Louisiana Tech* 2:30
Nov. 11 UTEP* 4:00
Nov. 18 Army 5:30
Nov. 25 at Rice* Noon