UNT questions 1 shot

North Texas coach Seth Littrell enters his sixth season guiding the Mean Green looking for his first bowl win with the program. UNT has played in bowl games in four out of his five seasons at the school.

North Texas coach Seth Littrell has done a remarkable job rebuilding the school’s football program over the last five years.

The Mean Green barely squeaked out their lone win in a 1-11 season back in 2015, the year before Littrell arrived.

UNT has become a regular in the postseason since. The Mean Green’s appearance in the Myrtle Beach Bowl last season marked their fourth bowl game in five years.

The challenge now for UNT is reaching the goal Littrell set when he arrived in Denton — win a bowl game. The Mean Green are 0-4 in bowls under Littrell, a slide that includes a 56-28 loss to Appalachian State in Myrtle Beach last fall.

There is nothing that would do the program more good than to win a bowl game. Finding a way to reach that goal comes in at No. 1 on our annual list of offseason questions UNT faces heading into the 2021-22 school year.

Part of UNT’s problem when it comes to the postseason has been bad luck in terms of matchups. The Mean Green barely made it into a bowl game in 2016, when they fell to an Army team with a similar talent level.

UNT’s last three bowl opponents were Troy in the 2017 New Orleans Bowl, Utah State in the 2018 New Mexico Bowl and App State. Utah State ended the season ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press poll, while Troy and App State finished just out of the top 25.

“You want to win games and win bowls,” Littrell said following UNT’s 56-28 loss to App State. “We have had four opportunities against four really good teams. We need to find a way to win these games.”

Getting back to the postseason, let alone winning a bowl, will be a challenge this year.

UNT lost its best player in Jaelon Darden. The speedy slot receiver declared for the NFL draft before the Mean Green’s game against App State and was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Running back Tre Siggers (SMU), quarterback Jason Bean (Kansas) and wide receiver Austin Ogunmakin (Liberty) were among the players who transferred out of UNT after last season and landed at other programs.

UNT filled some of those holes by bringing in a series of transfers. North Carolina transfer quarterback Jace Ruder and Georgia transfer wide receiver Tommy Bush are two of several transfers who are expected to make an impact.

UNT’s hope is those players will contribute immediately behind a revamped coaching staff. Littrell brought on an entirely new set of defensive coaches under the direction of former SMU coach Phil Bennett after last season.

Bennett takes over a defense that allowed 42.8 points per game in 2020. He is confident he can provide a steadying influence for UNT’s defense and quickly turn it around.

“I feel very strongly we can,” Bennett said during spring practice. “I can bring in the people and know-how to do it. I can bring stability, knowledge and success.”

UNT’s defensive players gained confidence throughout the spring.

“Coach Bennett had high intensity,” linebacker KD Davis said at the end of spring practice. “We came in and learned techniques and the defense so we can execute it like he wants.”

UNT’s hope is that a host of transfers and a new defensive staff will help the Mean Green navigate a challenging schedule. UNT will face Missouri, Liberty and SMU in nonconference play and will likely be big underdogs in all three games.

“We’ll be ready and believe our key guys will be as well,” Littrell said at the end of spring practice. “We’re going to need them to be. We have a tough schedule and need guys to step up and make big time plays for us.”

UNT’s hopes to reach Littrell’s goal of winning a bowl will hinge on their performance.

There isn’t a bigger question for UNT as it enters the offseason.

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

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