North Texas football coach Seth Littrell fields questions Monday at the Mean Green Athletic Center during a forum for fans and boosters. (Al Key/for the Denton Record-Chronicle)
North Texas football coach Seth Littrell and men’s basketball coach Tony Benford commented on the state of their programs Monday at an event hosted by Trip Kuehne and Michael Sicuro.
The pair of consultants have been hired by the university to evaluate the school’s athletic program following the departure of former athletic director Rick Villarreal.
Both Littrell and Benford had some interesting things to say that I followed up on in today’s paper.
What I wanted to do on the blog today was offer up a few quick opinions on a couple of key points.
– The most insightful piece of information that came out of the coaches’ portion of the event was Littrell pulling back the curtain a bit and giving an honest assessment of UNT’s roster and what he’s doing to try to build some depth heading into his first season.
Littrell said UNT would have 68 scholarship players with his current team, plus his incoming recruiting class.
People have been wondering for weeks why UNT is trying to add players as blueshirts — a process that allows a player to joint the team as a walk-on in the fall and then be put on a scholarship that can be pushed back to count toward the following recruiting class. There have also a lot of good questions raised about why UNT is loading up on junior college players.
There are 13 junior college players set to join the team in the fall at last count.
That 68 number is your answer.
It’s going to be awfully hard to be competitive with 68 scholarship players, about what teams competing on the Football Championship Subdivision level have to work with.
UNT got in this boat by having a ton of attrition. There are already seven players who were members of UNT’s 2015 recruiting class at one point or another who have left the program or never showed up by my count. Four out of the 14 high school signees from the 2013 class are also gone.
UNT is having to find creative ways to fill those slots, which is not a good sign.
– Another key point Littrell made was giving an honest assessment of how many junior college players UNT has committed will make it to campus.
Litttrell said that chances are not all of them are going to make it.
I said that I would keel over dead of shock if all of UNT’s junior college guys make it. What UNT has to hope is that most make it, especially the ones who could really help. We know that linebacker Eji Ejiya is on campus.
We should know in July if other key guys, including linebacker William Johnson and offensive lineman Cody Hayes, make it.
– Littrell also gave a pretty good indication that Alabama transfer Alec Morris is going to be this team’s starting quarterback. UNT’s new coach talked at length about Morris becoming a team leader.
That isn’t even an issue if Morris isn’t going to end up starting for this team. He’s really UNT’s only viable option unless JUCO product Devin O’Hara can come in during fall practice and win the job, which I doubt.
O’Hara looks like he’s the guy UNT brought in to start in 2017, unless high school signee Mason Fine really comes along quickly.
– On the basketball front, Benford said that this will be his best and most talented team. He said UNT will win this year and asked that UNT fans give his players a chance. UNT’s attendance of 1,979 fans per game last season ranked 11th out of 14 teams in C-USA and represented a 50.6 percent decrease from the 2011-12 season.
UNT’s fans flat bailed on the program last year.
UNT does have some good players coming back in J-Mychal Reese, Deckie Johnson and Jeremy Combs, who is terrific.
I’ll take some grief for saying this, but it’s a huge reach to say the Mean Green’s roster heading into this season is better than the stacked group of Benford’s first year that included Tony Mitchell, a second-round NBA draft pick who has more blocked shots that any player in UNT history, Jordan Williams, the ninth-leading scorer in school history, Alzee Williams, the 19th-leading scorer in school history and Chris Jones, who ranks sixth in school history in career assists. And that doesn’t even take into account Roger Franklin and Jacob Holmen.
Mitchell, Jordan Williams, Franklin and Holmen have all played professionally overseas.
UNT finished 12-20 last year and will essentially have the same team back.
The Mean Green have some talent. They also have a whole heck of a lot to prove if they want to be considered on par with that group headlined by Mitchell in terms of talent.
And yes, I know that team also finished 12-20 and failed to capitalize on that talent.
– Benford made the point that UNT is having to raise $215,000 this year from guarantee games. The top teams in Conference USA, including UTEP, UAB, Old Dominion and Charlotte don’t play guarantee games.
It’s a good point, one that has been a constant source of consternation for UNT for years. Darrell Dickey, the most accomplished football coach UNT has had since it resumed playing on the major college level in 1995, raised those issues more than a decade ago when he was being shipped off to play schedules that included games at Texas, Alabama, TCU and Arizona in a single season.
UNT has played guarantee games in basketball for years as well.
It’s just part of the deal at UNT.
Always has been.
The question the new athletic director at UNT will face is if it always will be and how Benford and Littrell will handle those challenges this season.