UNT best and worst case

North Texas enters the 2020 season looking to bounce back after finishing 4-8 last fall. UNT has several key players returning but also has several questions to answer. 

North Texas is now just days away from its Sept. 5 opener against Houston Baptist at Apogee Stadium.

The Mean Green are coming off a 4-8 campaign that snapped a three-year bowl run. The question now is if UNT can find a quarterback to replace Mason Fine and rebound behind a revamped coaching staff.

We'll get to our annual column picking UNT's record in a few days.

Until then, here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Mean Green:

Best-case scenario

The focus throughout the offseason has been on the departure of Fine, justifiably so. The Oklahoma native was the two-time Offensive Player of the Year in Conference USA.

Replacing Fine won't be easy, but there is a scenario where the season turns out to be wildly successful for UNT.

Former Argyle standout Austin Aune regains the form that made him one of the top quarterback recruits in the state after six years playing baseball in the minor leagues. Aune emerges as an above-average quarterback in C-USA.

The Mean Green's strength as a team appears to be its offensive skill position players, including running back Tre Siggers and wide receiver Jaelon Darden. That duo and a host of young players live up to expectations to keep UNT among the most productive offensive teams in the league.

UNT's defense also makes huge strides under new coordinator Clint Bowen, who puts his top players like nose tackle Dion Novil and linebacker KD Davis in position to make plays. Novil and Davis take a step forward and become elite players in C-USA.

The improvement UNT makes across the board helps it capitalize on a host of opportunities for headline-grabbing wins, including games against Houston and SMU.

UNT picks up a signature win by knocking off SMU at Apogee Stadium and rolls into conference play. The Mean Green maintain their momentum and win C-USA's West Division after stunning UAB in Birmingham.

UNT then heads to the C-USA championship game to face Florida Atlantic. The Mean Green avenge a loss to FAU in the 2017 C-USA title game and win their first conference title since 2004. 

UNT goes on to win a bowl game for just the fourth time in program history.

A great season boosts head coach Seth Littrell's stock in college football, but he elects pass on other opportunities to stay at UNT and continue building the program.

Recruiting improves as a result and UNT is set up for the type of consistent success it hasn't seen since winning four straight Sun Belt Conference titles from 2001-04.

Worst-case scenario

One criticism of UNT's program over the last four seasons is that the Mean Green are like the board game Jenga with Fine as the all-important piece.

Pull him out of there and the whole thing collapses.

The games UNT has played without Fine the last couple of years have done little to dispel that notion.

The nightmare scenario unfolds for UNT when that doesn't change this season. Neither Aune nor Jason Bean turn out to be the answer at quarterback and the Mean Green's offense struggles.

The plan to rebuild defensively under Bowen doesn't work out either, and UNT allows more than 30 points per game for the second straight year.

The schedule doesn't do UNT any favors following a season-opening win over Houston Baptist. The Mean Green are blown out at home by bitter rival SMU. The Mustangs capitalize on the momentum from winning for the fifth time in six games in the series and continue to pull away from UNT as a program. 

UNT turns around and loses to Houston. C-USA play doesn't offer any reprieve for the Mean Green who quickly fall out of contention in the race for the West Division title and a bowl berth.

Rice builds on a three-game winning streak to cap its 2019 season and UTSA breaks out under Jeff Traylor. Both knock off UNT on their way to a bowl game, giving two in-state C-USA programs an edge on the Mean Green.

UNT's recruiting class quickly falls apart and the Mean Green are left with no clear-cut path to get back on track after back-to-back losing seasons.

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

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