Record picks shot

North Texas head coach Seth Littrell gets his players fired up before they take the field for their game against Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl last season at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. UNT will open fall practice on Friday.

Mason Fine could have talked about all North Texas has accomplished at Conference USA media days this summer.

There was a lot to discuss, including the Mean Green playing in bowl games the last three seasons and winning nine games in each of the last two.

UNT’s quarterback chose to talk about how far the Mean Green have to go instead.

“We left to much on the field last season,” Fine said. “That’s one of the worst feelings for me. Maybe if we have focused more during the week, we wouldn’t have made mistakes. We led every game except Utah State at halftime.”

UNT lost three of those games on its way to a 9-4 finish and will look to take another step forward beginning Friday with the opening of fall practice. The Mean Green return 13 starters and are the preseason pick to win Conference USA’s West Division in the league’s preseason poll.

The Mean Green have their eyes on that goal and more this season as they are determined to capitalize on a golden opportunity.

Fine is one of the best quarterbacks in program history entering his senior year. There is no telling when UNT will have a player the caliber of Fine on its roster again.

Fine is the two-time C-USA offensive player of the year and is the preseason offensive player of the year in the league this season. Offensive lineman Sosaia Mose, wide receiver Rico Bussey Jr., defensive end LaDarius Hamilton and punter Alvin Kenworthy were also named to the preseason all-league team heading into their senior seasons.

The challenge now for UNT is living up to expectations and avoiding the close losses that haunted them last season.

“We have had what it takes to get to championships and bowl games,” North Texas head coach Seth Littrell said. “Now we have to continue to grow and get better and do a better job of overcoming adversity.

“We lost three games in conference play last year when we had double-digit leads. That is unacceptable. Part of it is as coaches and players that we overcome adversity better whether it is a turnover, bad call or penalty.”

The process will begin in earnest in preseason practice leading up to UNT’s season-opening game against Abilene Christian on Aug. 31

UNT has several issues to sort through over the course of fall drills. The Mean Green have five new coaches on staff, including offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder.

Littrell and Fine said the Mean Green’s offense won’t look dramatically different, but there will be a few tweaks. Littrell had planned on being more involved with UNT’s offense before former coordinator Graham Harrell left for Southern Cal.

The arrival of Reeder just added a new element to a change that will include an expanded role for UNT’s tight ends.

What Littrell and his players believe will be as important as those tweaks are how UNT handles the tight spots that gave them problems at times last year.

The Mean Green had a field goal blocked in the final minute of a 29-27 loss to Louisiana Tech and also lost one possession games to UAB and Old Dominion. Those losses marked a dramatic change from the 2017 season, when UNT was a perfect 5-0 in one possession games.

Littrell credited UNT’s chemistry throughout the season for helping the Mean Green pull out close games.

UNT is hoping to get back to its winning ways in tight games.

“It seemed like we pulled out every close situation,” Fine said of the 2017 season. “We looked back and studied what the difference was. Was it team chemistry, lack of preparation or letting guys get away with being lazy? We left a lot out there. We don’t want to do that again. We will be more aware of that now.”

UNT will address those issues over the course of the next few weeks.

“We have to come in with the right mindset and be humble,” UNT safety Khairi Muhammad said.

The Mean Green believe that approach will help them improve when it comes to capitalizing on a golden opportunity to take the next step as a program this fall and win a postseason game.

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

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