North Texas will open the 2022 season at UTEP on Aug. 27, when the Mean Green will begin their pursuit of a sixth bowl game in seven seasons under coach Seth Littrell.
UNT finished 6-7 last season after falling to Miami (Ohio) in the Frisco Football Classic.
As we turn our attention to a new season, it’s time for our annual five bold predictions for UNT.
1. UNT will be better at QB, but the position will remain a hot topic
UNT endured a tough year at quarterback last season. North Carolina transfer Jace Ruder began the season as the Mean Green’s starter but lasted just four games before being benched in favor of Austin Aune.
The former Argyle standout effectively drove the bus for UNT during a five-game winning streak to cap the regular season. He didn’t put up huge stats but was solid and finished with 1,991 passing yards and nine touchdowns.
UNT brought on transfers Stone Earle and JD Head to compete with Aune in spring. When neither of those two looked like they were an upgrade, UNT went out and signed Memphis transfer Grant Gunnell.
Aune has still looked like the starter during fall practice leading up to what he said will be his last collegiate season.
Littrell and his staff are convinced UNT will be better at the position. They’re right. UNT will be better at quarterback this fall, but not good enough that the production at the position won’t be a constant debate.
Aune will start the opener and will be better than he was last year. Gunnell will see the field and flash his talent at some point.
UNT fans will talk about what both are doing, who should be playing and what it means all season.
When it’s all said and done, Aune will be UNT’s guy and will have a solid year.
2. UNT will make a bowl again
UNT has played in a bowl game in all but one of its six seasons under Littrell. The train wreck of 2019 was the exception.
The Mean Green have snuck in as an under-.500 team twice, which takes some of the luster off that postseason run.
UNT will play in a bowl yet again this fall. The Mean Green won’t cruise into the postseason, but they’ll find a way to win at least six games.
3. The Mean Green will keep their game against SMU interesting
UNT will play its biggest game of the year in the second week of the season, when SMU visits Apogee Stadium.
The Mean Green are 6-34-1 all-time against the Mustangs. There is no game UNT and its fans want to win more than the Mean Green’s annual showdown with its neighbor to the south.
SMU beat UNT handily 35-12 last year. One of UNT’s rare wins in the series came in 2018 at Apogee, where the Mean Green clobbered the Mustangs 46-23 in Sonny Dykes’ first full season at SMU.
UNT will have a chance at a repeat when Rhett Lashlee makes his debut as SMU’s head coach against the Mean Green.
It’s a game that will likely go down to the wire. SMU will pull it out in the end but will have to sweat it.
4. UNT’s defense will be among the best in C-USA under Phil Bennett
The Mean Green made a dramatic jump under defensive coordinator Phil Bennett last season, when they allowed 27.5 points per game, down from 42.8 in 2020.
UNT lost several key players to graduation and transfer in the offseason.
The good news is that All-C-USA linebacker KD Davis elected to come back for a fifth season. Davis’ return and the additions of a few key transfers will help the Mean Green continue their climb.
UNT ranked seventh in C-USA in scoring defense last season. The Mean Green will crack the top three this year.
5. Littrell will do enough to return
Littrell is under a lot of pressure to help the Mean Green push through for a breakout campaign capped by a bowl win.
UNT has finished under .500 in each of the last three seasons after posting back-to-back nine-win campaigns in 2017 and 2018.
The Mean Green have enough talent, a better idea of what their strengths are and will pick up at least six wins in the regular season.
Part of UNT’s problem in bowl games has been landing some terrible matchups. The Mean Green lost to a Utah State team with Jordan Love at quarterback, one of the best teams Troy has ever had, and an Appalachian State team that was loaded.
UNT had one of its best shots at a bowl win last season when it faced Miami in its back yard and blew it.
At some point the stars are going to align for UNT in terms of having the right team, getting the right matchup and capitalizing.
This will be the year. UNT will finish with seven or eight wins, including a bowl victory that will solidify Littrell’s status in Denton.