C-USA notebook

North Texas tight end Jason Pirtle reaches for a pass as Appalachian State defenders Ryan Huff (21) and Brendan Harrington (29) close in during the Mean Green’s loss to the Mountaineers last season. UNT is hoping to break through for a bowl win and help Conference USA rebound from a 0-6 postseason showing last year.

North Texas coach Seth Littrell couldn’t be happier with the way the offseason has gone for the Mean Green.

“Our guys had an unbelievable spring, and this is one of the best summers we have ever had,” Littrell said on Thursday during the closing session of Conference USA’s media days. “There was a lot of excitement and energy.”

UNT and the rest of the league are hoping that energy will carry over to the 2021 campaign, when C-USA will look to rebound from a dismal bowl season.

The Mean Green snuck into the bowl lineup despite finishing 4-5 in the regular season and were promptly blown out by Appalachian State 56-28 in the Myrtle Beach Bowl.

Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Florida Atlantic, UTSA and Western Kentucky went on to lose their bowl games. UAB was the league’s last hope but saw its showdown with a 2-8 South Carolina team in the Gasparilla Bowl canceled after the rest of the league’s teams went down to defeat.

There might not be a more important challenge for C-USA than finding a way to rebound and get back to the success it enjoyed back in 2018-19, when the league posted a 4-2 postseason record. C-USA won the Bowl Challenge Cup for having the best bowl record among conference’s nationally that season.

There’s nothing UNT would like more than helping the league bounce back from last year by posting its first bowl win since knocking off UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of the 2013 season.

UNT has played in a bowl in all but one of Littrell’s five seasons with the Mean Green but has come up short each time. Littrell pointed to the strength of C-USA as a reason for confidence in the league’s postseason future.

“We have great coaches, great teams and great players in this conference” Littrell said.

Littrell and the rest of the league’s coaches are hoping to prove that is the case this season while bouncing back from a tough year.

UAB coach Bill Clark also cited C-USA’s recent history of success as a reason for confidence in the league’s future.

“What doesn’t get talked about enough is that three years ago we had the best record in the bowl games,” Clark said. “We didn’t get to participate last year, so maybe we would have gotten one. We’ll never know. It’s a big deal to all of the coaches and teams. We want to do well in the bowl games. No doubt.”

Littrell had a similar take on C-USA’s strength as a league and the importance of breaking through.

“Bowl games are important,” Littrell said. “That’s what we do. We want to go out and compete win championships and bowl championships. We came up short last year but that’s why you come back, knock the dust off your boots, go to work and get better the next year.”

Littrell declines to give UNT vaccination rate

Littrell declined to give UNT’s COVID-19 vaccination rate for players but said the program is making progress toward inoculating its roster.

Several coaches talked about the importance of educating players on the importance of vaccinations during media days. Littrell and his staff have also spent time visiting with his players.

“We’re doing a great job of making sure we do the necessary things of educating them, so they understand all the different things that they need to know,” Littrell said. “It’s a very sensitive subject around the country. You want to make sure that you’re handling things the right way.”

Novil tackles challenge of dropping weight

UNT’s coaches have praised senior defensive tackle Dion Novil for his willingness to adapt and change throughout his career.

He’s bulked up and trimmed down depending on the role the staff wanted him to play.

Novil played at 330 pounds last season, when he anchored UNT’s defensive line as its nose tackle. He’s down to 310 pounds now, a change new coordinator Phil Bennett asked him to make so that he can be more active and agile as the Mean Green move to a scheme with a base four-man front.

“I was just doing what he asked and showing that I’m capable of making changes,” Novil said.

Novil is excited about UNT’s new scheme.

“It allows us to make more plays, pressure the quarterback and stop the run a little faster,” Novil said. “In a four-man you get more one-on-ones.

“The adjustment has been good. Guys have been honing in on their techniques.”

Arrival of transfer WR excites Littrell

UNT added Georgia wide receiver transfer Tommy Bush in the offseason.

Littrell is excited about what the Texas native could add to the Mean Green’s offense.

“I’m really looking to seeing him in fall camp,” Littrell said. “He’s gonna have to learn the system and what we do, but he’s a very smart kid [that] loves ball.”

Change of plans leads Louisiana Tech to add QB

Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz was forced to change plans this summer when it came to his quarterbacks and wound up landing Austin Kendall.

Holtz entered the market for a transfer quarterback after Luke Anthony was forced to have a second surgery on a broken leg he suffered last season.

Kendall, a highly regarded former Oklahoma and West Virginia quarterback, wound up being the perfect fit and will compete for the starting job.

“We feel very fortunate that Austin was still out there, and we were able to add him to the mix,” Holtz said.

UTSA benefitted from breakout season

UTSA made a significant jump to 7-5 last season after finishing 4-8 in 2019.

Roadrunners coach Jeff Traylor can see the difference a breakout campaign in his debut season made from a perception standpoint.

“I don’t know that it did anything for me personally or for our staff and players,” Traylor said. “Since Day 1, these kids have had an unbelievable belief in us, and we have had an unbelievable belief in them. Did it validate some things we were doing? Probably.”

UTSA was picked to finish second in C-USA’s West Division in this year’s preseason media poll.

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

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