UNT questions No. 2 art

North Texas safety Jaxon Gibbs greets a fan during the Mean Green’s opener against Abilene Christian last season at Apogee Stadium. UNT is facing a series of key questions as it prepares for the 2020 season after spring practice was canceled due to the spread of COVID-19.

EDITOR’S NOTE: North Texas saw the 2019-20 sports season come to an unexpected end due to the spread of COVID-19 and is now turning its attention to the upcoming school year. Over the next few weeks, the Denton Record-Chronicle will look at questions the program faces as college sports resume.

Not all offseasons in college football are created equal.

The number of practices is the same. Each team is allowed 15. It’s their importance on a year-to-year basis that varies widely.

The spring is significantly more important for teams that have new coaches, are installing a new offensive or defensive scheme or are looking for a new quarterback.

North Texas was headed into its most important spring in years just a few weeks ago because it hit the trifecta. UNT has a new defensive coordinator in Clint Bowen, five new assistant coaches and no idea who its quarterback will be following the graduation of Mason Fine, one of the program’s all-time greats.

UNT didn’t get a single workout in before the spread of COVID-19 forced Conference USA to cancel spring practice for its member schools.

The question for UNT is how the loss of spring drills will impact the program. That issue comes in at No. 2 on our rundown of questions UNT is facing in the wake of the shutdown in college athletics.

UNT closed its campus in March and has since brought three waves of approximately 30 players back for an offseason conditioning program. The first of those groups arrived on June 8. Two more have followed.

The remainder of UNT’s players are scheduled to report Monday, which is also the opening of the six week return-to-play period laid out by the NCAA.

Players will be allowed to participate in strength training, film review, walk-throughs and meetings that will gradually increase over those six weeks leading up to the beginning of fall camp on Aug. 7.

“It’s obviously challenging for us,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said shortly after spring drills were called off. “Everyone, especially those in leadership roles, has to stay positive. We will be fine. When we open things back up, we will get back rolling.”

UNT has largely done just that. The program has experienced a few setbacks, including having a handful of players and staff members test positive for COVID-19 antibodies or active infections but has been largely pleased with the way returning its football team to campus has gone.

“The return to campus has been good,” linebacker KD Davis said shortly after UNT’s players began returning to university facilities. “Everyone got tested and did what they were supposed to do. We can’t work in big groups right now and are working in small groups. That is making us better and closer as a team. The coaches are always there to make sure we are doing every rep and are getting better every day.”

The question for UNT is if the time it missed during the spring will hamper its efforts to bounce back from a disappointing 4-8 season.

UNT’s players and coaches would have had a full three weeks of practices in the spring, plus all of fall camp to prepare for its opener against Houston Baptist on Sept. 5 at Apogee Stadium. The team’s players will be allowed six hours of walk-throughs per week from July 24-Aug. 6, the last section of the NCAA’s six-week buildup to the opening of fall practice.

Those walk-throughs will help, but they certainly won’t make up for the spring drills UNT lost to the pandemic.

UNT was forced to put on hold its quarterback competition expected to be headed by Austin Aune and Jason Bean. Bowen and UNT’s defensive players have held a whole lot of meetings but haven’t hit the field to adjust to his defensive scheme.

Every program in college football is behind at this point. UNT’s situation potentially puts the Mean Green further behind than most.

The question now for the Mean Green is if missing out on spring drills is a killer in terms of their hopes to contend for a bowl berth in 2020.

Here’s a link back to our rundown:

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

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