Three reasons UNT could be worse

North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden (1) catches a 75-touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Aune (2) as UTEP defensive back Josh Caldwell gives chase during the Mean Green's win at Apogee Stadium earlier this season. Darden declared for the NFL draft shortly after the game. 

North Texas wrapped up a 4-6 season last week with a 56-28 loss to Appalachian State in the Myrtle Beach Bowl.

The Mean Green returned to the postseason after a one-year absence.

We went over three reasons UNT could be better in 2021 a few days ago. We wrap up our annual series today with three reasons UNT could be worse.

1. Jaelon Darden is off to the NFL

The NCAA granted players an additional season of eligibility due to the impact the coronavirus pandemic had on college sports.

A whole lot of teams across the country will get their best player back for another season.

UNT isn't one of them.

Wide receiver Jaelon Darden declared for the NFL draft after the Mean Green's win over UTEP to cap the regular season. The Houston native was one of the biggest reasons the Mean Green won as many games as it did. 

Darden caught 19 touchdown passes in nine games. Four of those touchdown catches came in a 45-43 win over UTEP. 

UNT is deep at wide receiver and will have plenty of options when it comes to filling the void Darden leaves.

The bottom line is it isn't going to be easy to replace a generational talent like Darden.

2. UNT's nonconference schedule is brutal

Getting off to a good start next season isn't going to be easy for UNT due to a brutal nonconference schedule.

UNT has a winnable game to start the season at home against Northwestern State but then has games at SMU and Missouri followed by a home game against Liberty.

UNT is 6-33-1 all-time against SMU. The Mean Green have beaten the Mustangs in Dallas just once, and that was back in 1933.  SMU is 25-1-1 against UNT on the Mustangs' home field.

UNT's track record against the SEC isn't much better. The Mean Green are 4-36 all-time against the league. UNT did knock off Arkansas back in 2018, but that was when quarterback Mason Fine was still under center for the Mean Green.

Liberty finished 10-1 and will end up in the final AP top 25 poll. The Flames might not be the same team they were this year, but they will likely be a whole lot for UNT to handle next fall. 

There is a very good chance UNT could be looking at a 1-3 start. 

3. One has to question the talent level of UNT's roster

UNT had two first-team All-Conference USA selections this season in Darden and defensive tackle Dion Novil.

Offensive lineman Jacob Brammer was a second-team pick.

That doesn't paint an encouraging picture of the talent level of UNT's roster.

UNT has recruited at a higher level the last few years and brought in some promising young players, including defensive ends Gabriel and Grayson Murphy, running back Oscar Adaway III and wide receiver Deonte Simpson.

Defensive backs Upton Stout and DeShawn Gaddie as well as JUCO transfer linemen Anterrious Gray and Davontae McCrae were all members of those highly regarded classes and played significant roles this season.

UNT has been selling the hope that the cavalry is coming with higher ranked recruits for the last couple of years.

They were here and on the field to a large extent this season. That didn't help matters. 

Those young players will continue to grow and improve, but are they any better than the young players other C-USA schools recruited? Will they push UNT past its key rivals in the league and ensure UNT makes a jump as a program?

UTSA running back Sincere McCormick and defensive back Rashad Wisdom were first-team All-C-USA selections as sophomores this year. Southern Miss running back Frank Gore Jr. was a second-team all-league pick as a freshman. Louisiana Tech linebacker Tyler Grubbs was a second-team all-league pick as a freshman.

UNT has another round of highly regarded players set to arrive this summer. 

After the last two seasons, one has to question if the players UNT is bringing in are as good on the field as they look on paper and if they will help the Mean Green push back above the .500 mark after back-to-back losing seasons. 

It's hard to imagine UNT improving if those recruits don't start developing into impact players a whole lot quicker than they have been.

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

Recommended for you

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!