No. 99 North Texas
It didn't take long for first-year head coach Seth Littrell to bring optimism and excitement back to North Texas. Just one year after going 1-11, the Mean Green have returned to Conference USA relevance.
2016 Record: 5-8 (3-5, Conference USA)
For just the third time since 2004, North Texas won five games in a season. It was a dramatic turnaround for a program that couldn't move the ball or stop opponents from doing so a year earlier.
While their three conference wins came against teams that won a combined 10 games, and Army was their only victory over a team with a winning record, the Mean Green were much improved.
Head Coach: Seth Littrell (2nd year, 5-8 overall)
North Texas clearly liked what they saw from Littrell in his first season; in February, he received a five-year extension that keeps him under control through 2021.
The former Oklahoma running back and North Carolina assistant head coach began revamping an offense that ranked 115th or worse in total yards per game, passing yards per game, completion percentage and points per game. The offense still struggled, four times scoring 17 or fewer points, but they raised the completion percentage nearly 12 points and averaged 28 more yards and nine points more per game.
His staff was gashed by losses. Three assistants, including co-defensive coordinator Mike Ezelker (to Littrell's former boss Larry Fedora at North Carolina), left for Power Five jobs.
"It's a good sign that people want our coaches," Littrell said this offseason. "We have great coaches who will do a good job."
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Mason Fine, QB Quinn Shanbour, WR Turner Smiley, WR Tyler Wilson OL T.J. Henson, OL Jordan Murray, OL Chris Miles, OL Elex Woodworth, C Creighton Barr
The unfamiliar name is Quinn Shanbour, a little-known former walk-on with one career pass attempt. The 6-foot, 194-pounder from Oklahoma City is battling Mason Fine, who showed flashes of talent but mostly struggled last year, for the starting job.
"Quinn has had a great spring, but so has Mason," he said of the quarterback battle. "They have been neck and neck and have battled. … We don't have depth charts until fall. It's those two at the top continuing to compete. Whoever gives us the best opportunity to win will be our starter.
Whoever wins will take snaps behind an adequately experienced offensive line, led by All-Conference USA selection Jordan Murray and former JUCO transfer T.J. Henson.
Elsewhere, Turner Smiley is the only returnee who caught more than 15 passes in 2016. The 6-foot, 183-pound senior has slowly worked his way into a featured role and exploded late season, catching seven passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns against Southern Miss. Tyler Wilson is an all-conference return man who added two receiving touchdowns.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Roderick Young, LB Brandon Garner, LB Joshua Wheeler, S Kishawn McClain, CB Nate Brooks, CB Eric Jenkins
Playmakers return at all three levels, led by breakout candidate Roderick Young, whose move from defensive tackle to defensive end could be a game-changer. The 6-foot-1, 294-pound junior had 38 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 2016.
Behind him are linebackers Brandon Garner — a converted safety — and Joshua Wheeler. The pair combined for 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks, providing responsible speed and aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage.
Brooks and Jenkins had four and three interceptions, respectively.
Notable Player Losses
RB Jeffrey Wilson, RB Willy Ivery, WR Thaddeous Thompson, WR Terian Goree, WR Kenny Buyers, OL Sam Rice, OT Trey Keenan, DE Jareid Combs, DE Malik Dilonga, DE Jarrian Roberts, LB Cortney Finney, LB Fred Scott, S James Gray,
The Mean Green lose of three of their top four receivers from a year ago in Thompson, Goree and Buyers, along with all-purpose backs Jeffrey Wilson and Willy Ivery. Those five players combined for 165 receptions and 1,617 yards. And their new skill players will be without the protection of Sam Rice and Trey Keenan on the offensive line, both 13-game starters.
Defensively, Combs, Dilonga and Roberts combined for 23 of 24 of the starts in their 3-4 system and two of their more disruptive linebackers — Finney and Scott — are also gone. Safety James Gray, who had nine passes defended and 168 tackles the last two seasons, leaves a hole in the secondary.
Notable Player Additions
QB Cade Peason, QB Devlin Isadore, WR Jalen Guyton, DT Bryce English
If Fine or Shanbour can't figure it out, Seth Littrell could turn to true freshman Cade Pearson or JUCO transfer Devlin Isadore — if Isadore is healthy after a knee injury. Guyton is a 6-foot-1, 202-pounder who caught 12 touchdowns last year at Trinity Valley Community College.
Bryce English, who sat out last season after transferring from Kansas State, is a big addition to the interior defensive line.
The Mean Green's 2017 schedule is loaded with intriguing matchups. They visit Courtland Sutton — the top-rated receiver prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft — and SMU in Week 2, and Iowa in Week 3, their lone Power Five opponent. North Texas returns home to face UAB in Week 4, who will be playing just their fourth game since returning to the FBS.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. Lamar|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at SMU|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||at Iowa|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs UAB|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Southern Miss|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs UTSA|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||at Florida Atlantic|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. Old Dominion|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at Louisiana Tech|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. UTEP|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs Army|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||at Rice|