UNT countdown Darden

North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden dives into the end zone during the Mean Green’s loss to UAB last season at Apogee Stadium. Darden was a first-team All-Conference USA selection last season.

The 2020 season will be a time of change for North Texas for a host of reasons.

The Mean Green lost quarterback Mason Fine to graduation and have five new coaches on staff. And that’s just for starters.

Another sign that UNT is entering a new era is evident in the final installment of our annual countdown of the top players on the Mean Green’s roster.

Fine held down the No. 1 spot the last two years and is one of three players in last season’s top five who are no longer with the program. Wide receiver Rico Bussey Jr. and center Sosaia Mose are also gone.

UNT’s hopes to rebound from a 4-8 season will rest largely on its ability to develop a new generation of standouts and have a few of its established standouts join the ranks of elite players in Conference USA.

The players who have the potential to reach that level or attained that status last season are among the five players who wrap up our annual list.

5. KD Davis, junior, linebacker

Davis was a highly regarded recruit out of Ennis in the class of 2018 and began to live up to his potential after moving into UNT’s starting lineup as a sophomore last fall.

Davis led UNT with 88 tackles and was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection. The knock of Davis has always been his size. He was a high school safety and is listed a 5-11 and 214 pounds.

Being undersized hasn’t hurt Davis in terms of his production. He posted 7 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and recovered two fumbles last season.

UNT will look to Davis to help it make the transition to playing under new defensive coordinator Clint Bowen this fall.

4. Dion Novil, senior, defensive lineman

Novil made an impressive number of key plays last season while serving as UNT’s nose tackle in a three-man front.

The Abilene native finished with 61 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, despite facing double teams for much of the season.

Novil was an honorable mention All-C-USA selection in 2019. He is a converted defensive end who bulked up to play nose tackle.

Novil has the bulk and strength to anchor the middle of UNT’s defensive line at 315 pounds and retained enough of his quickness and agility to be a problem for opponents.

3. Jyaire Shorter, sophomore, wide receiver

UNT’s coaches always said it was just a matter of time before Jyaire Shorter emerged as one of the Mean Green’s top players.

That time arrived in a hurry in his redshirt freshman season last fall. Shorter caught just 24 passes but racked up 473 yards and nine touchdowns and was an honorable mention All-C-USA selection.

The former Killeen Ellison standout is one of the fastest players on UNT’s roster and has an NFL-ready frame at 6-2 and 215 pounds.

The question for Shorter heading into the season is if UNT will have any success getting him the ball after the departure of Fine. The Mean Green’s quarterback situation is unsettled at best with Austin Aune and Jason Bean as the top contenders for the job.

2. Tre Siggers, junior, running back

Siggers finally found his niche in his redshirt sophomore season, when he led UNT with 853 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

The former Duncanville standout played both running back and safety in high school and bounced between those positions in his first two seasons at UNT. Siggers always considered himself a running back and convinced coach Seth Littrell to move him into the Mean Green’s backfield ahead of last season.

The move paid immediate dividends. Siggers rushed for 164 yards in a loss to SMU and 143 in a win over UTSA on his way to earning honorable mention All-C-USA honors.

He’s in line for another big year this fall.

1. Jaelon Darden, senior, wide receiver

UNT had just one player named to the All-C-USA first team last season in wide receiver Jaelon Darden, who comes in No. 1 on this year’s list.

Darden caught 76 passes for 736 yards and 12 touchdowns. All three totals ranked first among UNT players.

Darden’s 12 touchdown catches led C-USA, while his 76 receptions tied for second.

He enters his senior year ranked sixth in program history with 156 catches and seventh in touchdown catches with 19 and will go down as one of the top receivers in program history.

Here's a look back at the countdown:

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

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