Every year about this time, we go out on a limb with five bold predictions on North Texas’ upcoming season.
Some years, we hit. Others, not so much.
Last year was a bit of a bust.
We predicted a Heisman run for quarterback Mason Fine, a win at SMU and a Power Five conference school coming after coach Seth Littrell.
None of it came close to playing out in a disappointing 4-8 year.
That won’t prevent us from taking another crack at it this summer. So, without further ado, here are five bold predictions on UNT for 2020.
1. The quarterback race will be messy
UNT had the luxury of having one of the best players in program history running its offense the last four years in Fine.
The Mean Green went down this road before a few years ago with another Hall of Fame quarterback in Derek Thompson. UNT struggled for two years to replace him before Fine showed up.
The Mean Green won’t struggle as much this time around, but it certainly won’t be easy to replace Fine.
UNT doesn’t have a proven replacement waiting in the wings. Veteran backups Jason Bean, Austin Aune and Kason Martin are in contention to take over as the Mean Green’s season-opener at home against Houston Baptist approaches on Sept. 5.
All three have seen some game action, but none have done enough to inspire a whole lot of confidence.
Part of the problem is Fine barely left the field the last three years.
Whoever takes over will have very little experience. UNT is bound to deal with some growing pains, just like it did when Fine was coming into his own.
2. The move to a new defense will pay off
One of the key storylines of the offseason for UNT is the arrival of new defensive coordinator Clint Bowen.
Bowen said he will use a scheme with a base three-man front and vowed to take advantage of the Mean Green’s strengths.
UNT’s players are still getting used to Bowen’s system, but say it is a whole lot less complex than what they ran last season under Troy Reffett.
The Mean Green didn’t look comfortable at times last season, when they coughed up 32.5 points per game.
UNT will certainly be better this fall.
3. UNT will look different offensively
Littrell has joked that he wouldn’t mind finishing his career as a position coach with an option team. He’s a former fullback and certainly isn’t opposed to running the ball.
It’s a safe bet that UNT will run it a whole lot more this fall than they did last season when its best player was Fine. The Mean Green threw the ball 454 times and ran it 395.
One can make the argument that several of UNT’s top players this fall will be running backs. Tre Siggers rushed for 853 yards in 10 games in 2019, while DeAndre Torrey has 1,357 career rushing yards.
Littrell is also excited about some of his young running backs, including Oscar Adaway III and Isaiah Johnson.
Littrell will get the ball to his best players.
Wide receivers Jyaire Shorter and Jaelon Darden will see plenty of balls come their way this fall. But with an inexperienced quarterback under center, don’t be surprised if the Mean Green run the ball more than they have in the past.
4. UNT’s chemistry will be a ton better this year
This is actually not a particularly bold prediction. UNT’s chemistry couldn’t possibly be any worse than it was last year.
The Mean Green had plenty of players with leadership qualities but never seemed to find their groove. UNT was 1-4 in one possession games and inexplicably didn’t show up for a game against Rice late in the season.
UNT needed to beat the Owls to keep its bowl hopes alive with two games left in the regular season. The Mean Green fell behind 20-0 at halftime and couldn’t rally late in a game they lost 20-14.
UNT seemed to miss the fiery leaders they had in the past.
The departure of a few of a dominant players and personalities of the last few years will open up an opportunity for other leaders to emerge.
A changing of the guard will help UNT.
5. UNT’s improved recruiting will pay off
UNT has dramatically improved its efforts in recruiting over the last two years.
The Mean Green brought in the second-ranked recruiting class in Conference USA this year, according to 247Sports and landed the league’s fourth-ranked class in 2019.
There are a number of talented players in those two classes that UNT will need to help out this year.
Some will. The question will be if that influx of talent will be enough to lead UNT back to the postseason.
But that is a prediction for another day and our annual records picks contest that will come up in a few days.