In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
[divider]RANKINGS: Top 100 FBS Teams for 2018
TRIVIA: Daily CFB Trivia Question
MORE: Best FBS Player for Each Jersey Number
MORE: Best FCS Player for Each Jersey Number[divider]
No. 63 North Texas
Seth Littrell's quick rebuild of North Texas is one of the most impressive coaching feats of the last decade. Now, it's time for the 39-year-old former Oklahoma running back to take the Mean Green to the next level. Tha means 10 wins and a Conference USA Championship — and, dare I say, a New Year's Six bowl?
2017 Record: 9-5 (7-1, Conference USA)
North Texas played 14 games for the first time in program history and tied the program's highest win total, an incredible achievement for a team that went 1-11 two years earlier.
The Mean Green were terrific in close games, winning all five games that were decided by seven points or fewer. They were, however, on the losing end of several blowouts, losing all five games but at least 17 points, including two by at least 34 points. One of those losses came to FAU, 69-31, whom they could face in this year's Conference USA Championship.
Head Coach: Seth Littrell (3rd Year, 14-13)
Seth Littrell's head-coaching stock is rising. By the end of this season, it will be through the roof as several programs making their pitch to the former Power Five offensive coordinator. In just two years, Littrell has transformed the Mean Green from a miserable one-win team with little hope into a potential New Year's Six bowl contender.
RB Jeffery Wilson, G T.J. Henson, WR Turner Smiley, DE Andy Flusche, LB Joshua Wheeler, S Kishawn McClain, K Trevor Moore
Jeffery Wilson was one of only eight FBS running backs who averaged at least 6.5 yards per carry last year. A UDFA signee of the 49ers, Wilson left North Texas with nearly 4,000 career yards.
Kishawn McClain wasn't the biggest safety but he could hit and run with bigger receivers and tight ends. The three-year starter finished his career with seven interceptions, 12.5 tackles for loss and more than 300 tackles.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Mason Fine, RB Nic Smith, WR Jalen Guyton, WR Michael Lawrence, OT Riley Mayfield, OT Elex Woodworth, C Sosaia Mose,
Seth Littrell is on his way to a Power Five head-coaching job and his offensive coordinator, Graham Harrell, might not be far behind. Harrell spent just two seasons as outside receivers coach at Washington State when Littrell handed him the North Texas offense. It was a bold move that paid off big time.
In 2015, the year before the pair arrived, the program ranked 115th in the FBS in passing offense, 83rd in rushing and 124th in scoring. Last year, they ranked 21st, 53rd, and 20th, respectively. And that's just the tip of the iceberg; drill into their efficiency stats and the improvements are staggering.
Quarterback Mason Fine was Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year despite being a first-year starter who was sacked nearly 40 times. He throws the deep ball as well as any quarterback in the country.
Check out this quote from Littrell — who coached Mitch Trubisky at North Carolina, Nick Foles at Arizona and Nate Sudfeld at Indiana — on Fine's leadership skills (courtesy of 247Sports):
“I couldn’t keep him off the field as a freshman because of all the guys around him,” Littrell said. “He brings the confidence. He has something about him. Those guys are hard to find. You find a lot of players that have great leadership skills. But that player everybody loves, is drawn to and feeds off of, you don’t find many of them. Mitch Trubisky was one of those guys. Nick Foles was one of those guys. Nate Sudfeld was one of those guys.
“I will tell you this: He’s as good or better than all of them when it comes to that.”
One big issue: Fine's 15 interceptions were among the team's 28 turnovers and contributed to a minus-11 turnover margin on the season.
Four of Fine's top five targets are back, including leading receiver Michael Lawrence and home-run hitter Jalen Guyton (averaged 16 yards per catch as a freshman and had at least catch of 35 yards in five of their first six games). Sophomore Nic Smith steps into Jeffery Wilson's shoes and three starters return on the offensive line, including all-conference picks Elex Woodworth and Sosaia Mose. Also, tackle Riley Mayfield was granted a sixth year of eligibility and will anchor the right side.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Roderick Young, LB E.J. Ejiya, LB Brandon Garner, CB Nate Brooks, CB Kemon Hall, NB Tyreke Davis, S Khairi Muhammad
Former UTEP, ULM and Memphis assistant Troy Reffett enters his third season as defensive coordinator. His 3-3-5 defense is built to generate pressure and turnovers and though the unit greatly improved in his first year, they were underwhelming in his second year. Their sack percentage dipped from 6.4 to 5 and they forced 0.7 fewer turnovers per game.
Linebacker E.J. Eliya was the only guy who had more than eight tackles for loss and four sacks, though that could change as Roderick Young (below) is primed for a breakout senior season. At times, the 6-foot-1, 297-pounder is dominant and had a career-high 6.5 tackles for loss last year.
They spent a ton of time during spring ball focusing on preventing deep balls after allowing 14.2 yards per completion, 114th in the FBS.
"We got tired of getting beat on deep balls and [Reffett] yelling at us," nickel/safety Tyreke Davis said during spring practice. "We had to step up late. We had a lack of focus and communication early on. Later on in the game we started to get back on track."
In addition to Davis, junior safety Khairi Muhammad is back, as are senior corners Nate Brooks and Kemon Hall. Hall led the team with seven passes defended.
LB Kody Fulp, K Cole Hedlund
Kody Fulp is competing for time at inside linebacker after a redshirt freshman, and Cole Hedlund is a grad transfer from Arkansas, who he attempted only nine field goals over the last two years. He was 58-for-58 on PATs and 9-for-15 on field goals as a freshman in 2015.
North Texas' schedule is set up perfectly for a run at a Conference USA title and New Year's Six bowl.
There's a big opportunity in Week 3 at Arkansas, and from the C-USA East, they get FAU at home and don't play Marshall. The FAU game will be must-watch TV on Thursday, Nov. 15.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. SMU|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Incarnate Word|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at Arkansas|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||at Liberty|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||vs. Louisiana Tech|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at UTEP|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||vs. Southern Miss|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||at UAB|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||vs. RIce|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||at Old Dominion|
|Thursday, Nov. 15||vs. FAU|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||at UTSA|