A new coach and new stadium usher in a new era in Denton, Texas.
By: Braden Gall | 6/3/11, 1:00 AM EDT
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#109 North Texas
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dan McCarney, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Canales | DEF. COORDINATOR: Clint Bowen
Handing the ball to running back Lance Dunbar, the nation’s No. 6 rusher last season, will provide stability to second-year offensive coordinator Mike Canales, who was retained by new head coach Dan McCarney. Dunbar rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season, but the line must replace two All-Sun Belt first-teamers from a year ago. And UNT can’t move the ball only on the ground.
“I think it’s fair to say you have a guy in (Dunbar) you can feature, but I think he can improve,” McCarney says. “He has to be a good blocker, and ball security is paramount. But we have to become balanced on offense to be effective.”
Dunbar and Canales need help. No quarterback on the roster has started more than two games, and ex-starter Riley Dodge transferred after his father, former head coach Todd Dodge, was fired. Sophomore Derek Thompson is likely the best option at quarterback. Darius Carey led UNT receivers in catches (38), yards (524) and touchdowns (five) last season, but was dismissed from the team in late June. Former Oklahoma transfer Tyler Stradford will be asked to step into the No. 1 role with Carey out of the picture and few proven pass-catchers after that.
With several players returning from 2010 injuries, competition should be fierce for playing time.
New defensive coordinator Clint Bowen comes to UNT from conference foe Western Kentucky. He inherits a defense that didn’t make enough big plays a year ago, ranking last in the Sun Belt in takeaways and tackles for a loss
McCarney and Bowen want a more physical attitude and complete effort on defense. Defensive ends Brandon Akpunku and K.C. Obi are steady pass-rushers, but their run defense must improve. Both defensive tackles will be new.
The linebacking corps and secondary should be solid, despite having to replace linebacker Craig Robertson, the Sun Belt’s top tackler a year ago. Standout safety DaWaylon Cook returns from a torn ACL, and cornerback Royce Hill is a solid three-year starter. UNT tied for a league-low eight interceptions last season, but that should improve if the front four can bring more pressure.
Kicker Zach Olen and returner Brelan Chancellor both had big freshman seasons. Olen made 13-of-15 field goals, and Chancellor returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Junior punter Will Atterberry returns from a 2010 injury.
With a new coach, new stadium and a hint of progress late last season, UNT may be on its way back. But McCarney knows it will take time.
“Everything needs to change,” McCarney says. “When you’ve gone 8–40 in the last four years, my gosh, what in the world doesn’t need to improve?”
McCarney has made a career of resurrection projects, both as an assistant at Iowa and head coach at Iowa State. He also was the assistant head coach on Florida’s 2008 national title team, so he knows how to win and how to turn around programs.
There are early opportunities on the schedule to make a statement. UNT plays at FIU, the defending Sun Belt co-champion, in the season-opener, and then hosts non-conference games versus Houston and Indiana. But aside from that, the Mean Green need some moderate success in conference play this season and then recruit a talent-rich area in Texas to revive the program. That will take more than one season.