It’s a Brave New World in Denton, now that our esteemed university has hired its first serious AD since making the I-A/FBS jump back in 2001. Nearly a year into the job and we still haven’t seen any major moves from AD Wren Baker, but the outgoing AD’s last hire— Head Football Coach Seth Littrell— created instant optimism that looks actually solid headed into his second year.
Despite the improvement in 2016, the squad still has a long way to go to compete for the Conference USA Championship (hence the 5-7 record), so here are the three spots that really should take priority as we head into the final stretch before National Signing Day.
As Feb. 1 approaches, this year’s UNT class sits at 107th best (via 247sports.com) or 94th (according to Rivals.com), so there’s room for interpretation. Numbers can be adjusted as more information is released, but for now these remain UNT’s biggest needs.
As standout RB Jeffrey Wilson returns for his senior season, he’ll need either a backup or a way to start a mentor program, as Wilson has been all but unstoppable in conference games during his time at North Texas. This doesn’t leave much guessing for the opposing defenses, and even though 2016 saw some nice work from Willy Ivery and Andrew Tucker, only one of those players is currently set to return next year and it’s better to reload early rather than late. Littrell was been a big fan of the passing game in 2016, but a balanced attack is what wins conference championships, unless you have one of those QBs who throws for 3000 yards every season.
A better ground attack will keep opposing defenses guessing and allow the Mean Green to switch it up a bit more in 2017. Currently it’s a question of whether the current core of backs has what it takes, or if Wilson is just making them all look bad.
The departure of Ivery was announced just last week, and as one of 2016’s top contributors, his absence will be felt. Littrell & Co. will have to work quickly to make sure they have enough experience here and early on, as 2016 has already proven that even a G5 schedule is not very forgiving.
Early RB commits: None.
Yes, two of the most important positions for any offense are indeed the Mean Green’s weak spot. Another top contributor, Terian Goree, was off the team after a violation of team rules back in December, causing him to miss the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Headed into the offseason, that leaves Turney Smiley (33 rec., 389 yards) as the only major receiver coming back next year. Of the top eight receivers in 2016, all but Smiley, senior Willie Robinson (18 receptions for 222 yards) and sophomore Tyler Wilson (13 receptions, 146 yards) have either graduated or left the team. Every other WR on the roster either had less than ten receptions on the year, or was named Jeffrey Wilson (29 rec., 247 yards receiving, though still listed as a RB on the roster).
There were a handful of other receivers on the roster last season, but none saw much action of note. If Littrell wants to continue to use his patented Air Raid offense, he’ll need to continue restocking a cupboard left bare by old management.
Early WR commits: Jalen Guyton, Trinity Valley CC (3-star)
On the official 2016 North Texas roster, only 5 QB’s were listed, and only two took snaps during a game—freshman Mason Fine, whose season ended early with a shoulder injury, and graduating senior Alec Morris.
Presently, Fine seems like the most likely option as a starter, his 1572 yards last season good enough for 11th best in the conference despite the missed games. Six TD’s on the season, 5 INT’s and a 113.7 QB rating would be downright discouraging if not for his freshman status-- experience, plus a little healthy competition for the position, should help solidify what’s been UNT’s weakest link for the past, oh, dozen years or so.
At the very least, with a healthy backup, UNT should not see any steps backward and be able to again secure at least 5 wins, as the defense remains solid and Fine’s repeated sacks this season (36 on the year) should drop next year with a more experienced QB and o-line. UTSA, for example, had a far better year, and Dalton Sturm still took 35 sacks on the Roadrunners schedule.
If UTSA can win six games on that many sacks, UNT is good for at least that many, if their defense continues to improve as it did this year.
Early QB commits: Cade Pearson, Texas High, Texarkana TX (2-star)