UNT five reasons for pessimism

Former North Texas quarterback Mason Fine waits to be introduced before the Mean Green's season finale against UAB last season at Apogee Stadium. UNT will have to find a new quarterback for the first time in four seasons after the departure of Fine, a task that won't be easy.

North Texas is well into an offseason of uncertainty when it comes to its football program.

The Mean Green entered 2019 with high expectations only to finish 4-8 and see its streak of three straight bowl appearances end.

The question now is if UNT can bounce back in 2020, assuming there is a season in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are several reasons to think the Mean Green are capable of getting back to a bowl game. We went over a few earlier this week, including the overlooked talent UNT has returning on offense and the program’s improved production in recruiting

Today, we look at the opposite end of the spectrum and five reasons for pessimism when it comes to UNT’s prospects to wrap up our annual series.

1. UNT won’t have Mason Fine this fall

UNT lost one of the best players in program history in Mason Fine to graduation after last season. Fine was the two-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year and threw for 12,505 yards in his career.

The Mean Green have been forced to play without Fine at times over the last two years.

To say it didn’t go well would be putting it mildly.

UNT lost Fine in the early going of the 2018 New Mexico Bowl and fell 52-13 to Utah State. The Mean Green trailed 10-3 when Fine was knocked out of a game against Louisiana Tech last season.

UNT ended up falling 52-17.

Coach Seth Littrell said backups Jason Bean and Austin Aune split reps last season behind Fine in closed practices. Neither inspired a whole lot of confidence when they got into games.

Bean threw for 176 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions on the year. Austin Aune threw for 136 yards and a touchdown.

Both Bean and Aune have potential, but there is no way UNT doesn’t take a step back at quarterback in 2020.

2. UNT lost a whole lot of talented players other than Fine

Fine isn’t the only talented player UNT lost after last season.

Defensive end LaDarius Hamilton, offensive lineman Elex Woodworth and punter Alvin Kenworthy landed on the All-C-USA team last season. All three were also seniors.

UNT also lost safeties Khairi Muhammad and Taylor Robinson as well as cornerback Nick Harvey. All three ranked among UNT’s top five in tackles last season.

Four of UNT’s five starting offensive linemen from its season-ending loss to UAB were also seniors.

That’s a lot of key players to replace in one offseason.

3. The schedule is brutal

UNT will have a tough road to travel as it looks to get back on track.

The Mean Green open with what should be an easy game against Houston Baptist before the schedule takes a dramatic turn. UNT will face Texas A&M out of the SEC in its second game in College Station.

Outside of a blowout win over Arkansas in 2018, games against Power Five conference teams have not gone well for UNT recently. The Mean Green will then face SMU and Houston, teams that blew them out last season.

UNT’s first two games in C-USA play are against Southern Miss and Charlotte, which are coming off bowl appearances.

The schedule does get more forgiving later in the season. The question is if the Mean Green can do enough early on to have a realistic shot at a bowl game down the stretch.

4. Having spring practice canceled hurt UNT more than most teams

One could argue that this year’s spring practices were more important to UNT than any in recent memory.

And the Mean Green didn’t get a single workout in due to the pandemic.

Aune and Bean have experienced very little game action and need all the work they can get.

UNT also has a new defensive coordinator in Clint Bowen who was set to install his system during the spring.

Bowen isn’t the only new coordinator UNT has, either. Mike Ekeler is taking over the Mean Green’s special teams after Marty Biagi left for Purdue. Littrell fired offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder and will have co-coordinators this year.

Tommy Mainord returns in the same co-coordinator role. UNT’s second co-coordinator will be offensive line coach Mike Bloesch.

And Littrell has said he will call plays this year.

That’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen offensively.

UNT really could have used a full slate of spring workouts to figure it all out.

5. UNT’s offensive line is a huge question mark

UNT returns one of its best offensive linemen in Manase Mose, another player who started most of last season before going down with an injury in Jacob Brammer and not much else.

Oh, and the Mean Green have a new offensive line coach in Bloesch.

UNT gave up 26 sacks last season, when Fine helped the Mean Green avoid several more.

UNT brought in one junior college transfer at the semester break in Anterrious Gray. Another is set to enroll in the fall in Teeshaun Turpin.

Four high school offensive linemen will also join the team in time for the 2020 season.

That is a significant influx of talent.

Chances are it’s going to take some time for that talent to mesh. That will likely prove costly for UNT early in the season.

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

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