An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Mean Green.
Why They Might Look Familiar: Forgive us the Eeyore headline, but North Texas is just depressing. A school of over 30,000 students, a head coach plugged into the Texas high school scene, and still a capable team cannot be fashioned. The melancholy does fit Denton's suspiciously excellent music scene, so it's not completely without appeal for young up-and-coming gridiron stars, if they're into Midlake.
Fact to impress at Sun Belt cocktail parties (they have them): Even the mascot is named Scrappy. But the Mean Green weren't always this low, having enjoyed four consecutive New Orleans Bowl trips under coach Darrell Dickey as Sun Belt champions from 2001-04, the first four years of the conference's existence. Their most notable claims to fame since include a seven-overtime triumph featuring eight missed field goals between UNT and winless Florida International in 2006 and a locker room fistfight between assistant coaches as the curtain descended on the Dickey era later that year. And contrary to suburban legend, Mean Joe Greene is not the inspiration for the team name.
Previously on: Even grim 2009 predictions for UNT were out-grimmed by disaster after onfield disaster. The wins column is short and sweet: 20-10 over Ball State in the opener, and 68-49 in a Halloween pantsing of fledgling Western Kentucky. The column for blowout losses is slightly bulkier: 53-7 at the hands of Alabama, 50-26 to Troy, 33-6 to Louisiana-Monroe. Most depressing, though, were the close losses: 31-30 in double overtime against Ohio U., 30-26 to Arkansas State, 44-40 to Florida Atlantic, 17-13 to Army and 38-34 to Louisiana-Lafayette, which scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to hand the Mean Green the first of four blown fourth-quarter leads. These puny efforts were good for a 1-7 conference mark, ahead of only winless WKU in the Sun Belt standings.
A series of nastily low national rankings explain the team's shortcomings well enough: 104th in rushing defense, 112th in scoring defense, 117th in punting, 101st in punt returns, 117th in turnover margin, and 116th in sacks. Oh, bother.
Encounters in the wild: Opening the season with a beatdown at Clemson isn't going to help anybody's morale. Below-the-radar games abound the rest of the year unless you count the season finale, an odd visit from Kansas State. If you happen to be a fan of UNT's crumbling infrastructure, get your home-game dinginess while you can: This is the last season of scheduled play on Fouts Field, with the new Mean Green Stadium projected to be armed and operational by this time next year.
Indeed, in the contemporary landscape, to provide a facility "nicer than what recruits played in in high school" is very important.
Stock characters: Head coach Todd Dodge brought on former South Florida offensive coordinator Mike Canales in the offseason, but the Mean Green will be sticking with the spread that helped make Dodge a Texas high school legend at Southlake Carroll, where he coached future stars Chase Daniel and Greg McElroy to state championships and, along with Mike Leach at Texas Tech, helped spread the gospel of the spread passing game statewide. They'll be operating without last year's starting quarterback, the Texas-ly monikered Riley Dodge, who moves from the shotgun to wide receiver this season after multiple injuries left his throwin' arm a painful facsimile of its former self. Riley's replacement, whoever it is, will come largely untouted to the starting job: Senior Nathan Tune is a former walk-on, and sophomore Derek Thompson's redshirt wasn't pulled last year until the final quarter of the final game, when Tune was knocked out against Arkansas State. They'll have three returning starters back in front of them, a unit that led the Sun Belt and ranked tenth nationally in sacks allowed despite dropping back 35 times per game.
Junior running back Lance Dunbar is coming off a conference-best, 1,700-yard season on the ground, and may crack 2,000 yards in 2010 in the absence of a proven talent under center. On the other side of the ball, the Mean Green retain three starting linebackers in AJ Penson, Jeremy Phillips and Craig Robertson. And we would be remiss if we assessed a Texas-based roster without mentioning last year's third-leading receiver, Michael Outlaw.
Prognosis: This is a team with experience, but that experience is largely bad. With Rice and Army rounding out the non-conference slate, however, this isn't a worst-case schedule for a team perpetually on the rebound. Wins are easier to come by in the Sun Belt, but Dodge has been told in no uncertain terms that even a .500 record won't cool his seat without some upward mobility in the conference standings.
- - - Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.
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Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.