UNT 5 questions

North Texas quarterback Austin Aune (2) carries the ball as Miami (Ohio) defensive back Silas Walters closes in at Toyota Stadium in the Frisco Football Classic. Aune could return for another season with the Mean Green.

North Texas wrapped up a 6-7 season just a few weeks ago with a loss to Miami (Ohio) in the Frisco Football Classic.

The Mean Green won their last five games of the regular season, a run they capped by knocking off eventual Conference USA champion UTSA. That run secured coach Seth Littrell’s return for a seventh season with the Mean Green.

UNT has played in bowl games in all but one season under Littrell but is still looking for its first postseason win.

Here’s a look at five burning questions for the Mean Green as they look to reach that goal.

1. Who’s the quarterback next year?

UNT has dealt with the same question on an annual basis since Mason Fine graduated following a stellar career in 2019.

Who will the Mean Green’s quarterback be next season, and will that player give them a shot to emerge as a contender in Conference USA?

UNT started off with Jace Ruder under center in 2021 before turning to Austin Aune. The former Argyle standout solidified the position while throwing for 1,991 yards and nine touchdowns.

Aune played six years of minor league baseball, is 28 and has a daughter due early this year.

The former Argyle standout said he would decide if he will return after the season. He has yet to announce his plans.

Ruder is expected to return. UNT also signed transfers JD Head (Louisiana Tech) and Stone Earle (Abilene Christian).

UNT has plenty of options but not a lot of certainty at the position.

2. Who takes over as quarterbacks coach?

UNT had the luxury of having one of the best developers of quarterback talent early in Littrell’s tenure in Graham Harrell.

The former Texas Tech and NFL quarterback developed Mason Fine and did quite well for himself at Southern Cal.

UNT missed Harrell after he left the program. The Mean Green cratered and weren’t nearly as productive offensively in 2019, the year after Harrell left and really haven’t been the same since.

Bodie Reeder lasted just a year as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2019. Tate Wallis stepped down before the season began in 2020, leaving UNT without a full time quarterbacks coach for the season. Former Houston quarterback Blake Joseph lasted just a year in 2021 before leaving the program.

Littrell has to get the quarterback coaching spot right this time.

3. Will UNT’s defense continue to improve?

The biggest story of UNT’s season was the improvement the Mean Green made defensively under Phil Bennett.

The former SMU coach came out of semi-retirement to coach UNT’s defense. The results were dramatic.

The Mean Green went from allowing 42.8 points per game in 2020 to 27.5 this season.

Bennett said he would decide if he would return for another year after the season. His desire has always been for his right-hand man Jim Gush to take over if he decides to hang it up.

UNT’s hope is that it can continue to improve no matter who is guiding its defense. That will be a tall order after the Mean Green lost several key players to graduation, including defensive tackle Dion Novil and linebacker Tyreke Davis.

4. Can a host of injured players return to form?

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of UNT’s late-season run is that the Mean Green won five straight games without running back Oscar Adaway III as well as wide receivers Jyaire Shorter and Tommy Bush.

Adaway suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, while Shorter and Bush were gone by the third week of the year.

All three are expected to be back for 2022.

UNT will have a much better chance of breaking through for a winning season if those players are healthy.

5. Can UNT find a handful of impact transfers?

College football teams at the Group of Five level rise and fall largely on the basis of their ability to land impact transfers.

UNT landed a few contributors last season, including cornerback Ridge Texada, wide receiver Bryson Jackson and defensive tackle Enoch Jackson. The Mean Green could use a few more additions on that level.

What would really help is landing a star-level player or two.

Seeing Head or Earle emerge as that player would be ideal. UNT still has scholarships to give and will likely spend a few of them on other transfers who could fit the bill.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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