UNT countdown 15-11

North Texas cornerback Cam Johnson (11) breaks up a pass intended for Cal receiver Nikko Remigio last season at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif.

The upcoming football season will be a time of transition for North Texas, which is moving on without some of the key players who came to define an era in program history.

The Mean Green’s headliner for the last four seasons was quarterback Mason Fine.

Fine was also the no-brainer choice for the No. 1 spot on our annual UNT player ranking list for the last couple of years.

The Mean Green are entering a new period now that Fine has moved on, along with several other players who were staples of the countdown previously, including LaDarius Hamilton and Khairi Muhammad.

We will take a look at a largely reconstituted list of the top players on the Mean Green’s roster over the next few days.

Our list is based largely on what each player has shown in the past, with a little bit of projection thrown in on a few up-and-comers who have the chance to break out this season. UNT will need those players to come through if it is to bounce back from a 4-8 campaign last fall.

We kick off our countdown today with Nos. 15-11 on our list.

15. Deonte Simpson, sophomore, wide receiver

UNT’s staff has been high on Simpson ever since he arrived from Beaumont West Brook last fall. UNT planned to redshirt Simpson but changed course when it lost Rico Bussey Jr. to a knee injury after three games. Simpson caught 18 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns in just nine games and rose to the top of the depth chart by the end of the season. He should be in for a big year.

14. Makyle Sanders, senior, safety

Sanders made a combined seven starts as a junior at the nickel and safety spots for UNT last season. He finished with 38 tackles, an interception and three pass breakups. The Mean Green lost Muhammad and Taylor Robinson, their top two safeties, after last season. Sanders should see his role expand this year.

13. Cam Johnson, senior, cornerback

Johnson finished with 58 tackles and broke up four passes last season, when he was often left alone on an island in man coverage. The senior should benefit from the experience he gained last season while starting all 12 of UNT’s games. The Mean Green will need a big year from Johnson after they lost three key starters in their defensive backfield.

12. Joe Ozougwu, senior, linebacker

Ozougwu finished with 42 tackles, three sacks and three quarterback hurries, despite playing in just 10 games last season. The senior started nine of those games at the jack linebacker spot in UNT’s 3-3-5 scheme. Ozougwu was a key playmaker for the Mean Green. His athletic ability should be an asset for UNT as it transitions to a new scheme in coordinator Clint Bowen’s return to the school.

11. Ethan Mooney, junior, kicker

Mooney was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection last season, when he hit 16 of his 20 field goal attempts and all but one of his 44 extra points. He hit a 22-yard game-winner at the gun in UNT’s win over Middle Tennessee last fall and has been a consistent performer in his career.

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

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