North Texas endured a tough season last year defensively, giving up 62 points in a loss to Iowa, 56 to Louisiana Tech, 55 to Western Kentucky and a stunning 66 to Portland State, a team out of the FCS ranks.
UNT’s hopes to improve will rest largely with a group of transfers.
Bryce English, who arrived at UNT from Kansas State in the offseason, could be among them.
English is hoping to be granted a waiver by the NCAA that would make him eligible next season.
English talks about his waiver appeal and his thoughts about joining the Mean Green in the video above.
Note: Tonight’s rewind comes to you from Denton. I stayed in town to cover the UNT women, who also fell to ODU 65-48.
Where UNT stands: UNT fell to 9-15 overall and 4-7 in Conference USA play after seeing its two-game winning steak come to an end.
Now what?: The Mean Green will wrap up a two-game road trip with a game at Charlotte on Saturday.
Star of the day: Jeremy Combs posted another double-double that included 10 points and 12 rebounds in UNT’s loss to Old Dominion. Combs went 3-for-7 from the field and 4-for-7 from the free throw line while playing 39 minutes. Deckie Johnson and J-Mychal Reese both finished with 11 points and were UNT’s only other players to finish in double figures. The Mean Green had five other players score, and they combined for just 15 points. The Mean Green shot just 31.4 percent (16 of 51 for the game).
“I give a lot of credit to Old Dominion for making adjustments at halftime. I thought we did a great job on one of the best players in the conference holding Trey Freeman to just 13 points but their rebounders hurt us in the second half. We had a lot of good looks at the basket but they just weren’t falling tonight. We need to regroup and concentrate on bouncing back at Charlotte Saturday.”
– Tony Benford, UNT coach on the way the game turned in the second half, when ODU outscored UNT 46-23
Our take: UNT’s hopes to make another late-season run like it did while winning five straight down the stretch a year ago took a big hit when the Mean Green fell at ODU.
UNT came in having won two straight, including pulling off a surprising win over Louisiana Tech.
The Mean Green played pretty well defensively early on and led 24-21 at halftime. ODU quickly turned the tide and ran over UNT, doubling up the Mean Green 46-23 in the second half.
ODU shot 51.5 percent (17 of 33) after the break.
UNT has played pretty well defensively over the last few weeks, but sometimes it’s pretty important to put the ball in the hole occasionally. UNT didn’t do that nearly enough in its loss to ODU.
UNT’s hopes to post a winning season or come close to breaking even for the first time in four seasons under Tony Benford are fading. UNT is 9-15 and has seven games remaining in the regular season.
The North Texas women’s basketball team will take on Old Dominion tonight at the Super Pit, where the Mean Green will look to break out of a three-game slide.
UNT could be running out of gas here a bit late in the season while playing with a short bench.
The Mean Green are leaning pretty heavily on their top four players — Kelsey Criner, Candice Adams, Terra Ellison and Acheil Tac. All four are averaging between 10.3 and 12.0 points a game.
Criner is at the top of the heap in terms of scoring for the Mean Green.
The key to the game for UNT could be slowing down Jennie Simms, who is averaging 20.2 points a game for ODU. Simms is one of the top players in Conference USA.
ODU has won three straight and has scored at least 84 points in each game in that span.
Stay tuned. I will update the blog all night.
Update 6:54 — I am pretty sure I just saw Seth Littrell wander by across the way.
Tip — Starters for UNT: Kelsey Criner, Candice Adams, Terra Ellison, Tedra Jones and Acheil Tac.
4:51 — UNT is down 7-2 at the first media timeout. Tedra Jones scored teh first points of the game, but the Mean Green haven’t scored since. Jennie Simms has four points and is showing why she might be the best player in C-USA.
3:30 — ODU is on a 14-0 run and is up 14-2. UNT just called a 30-second timeout.
End of the first quarter — UNT is down 19-8 at the end of the first quarter. Acheil Tac has four points for the Mean Green. UNT was down 17-2 before going on a 6-0 run. UNT is getting out-athleted here a bit.
4:37 — UNT is down 28-12 and is having offensively here in the first half. The Mean Green have four points in the second quarter. Acheil Tac has four points for UNT.
Halftime — UNT is down 37-13 at halftime here at the Super Pit. The Mean Green are really struggling to get anything going offensively. UNT shot 17.9 percent (5 of 28) from the field in the first half. Acheil Tac has four points for UNT. The Mean Green were pounded on the glass 28-18.
4:46 — UNT is down 43-21 in the third quarter of its game against Old Dominion at the Super Pit. UNT has played a whole lot better offensively in the second half. Terra Ellison has eight points for the Mean Green.
2:16 — Old Dominion is on an 11-2 run and is up 50-21 in the third quarter. UNT just took another timeout. The Mean Green hit a couple of 3s early this quarter. It’s been all downhill since then.
End of the third quarter — UNT is down 53-28 as we head into final period of a game that is already pretty much over here at the Super Pit. UNT did score 15 points in the third quarter, more than it did in the entire first half.
7:06 — UNT is down 53-33 in the fourth quarter here at the Super Pit. Old Dominion has been a little sloppy here in the fourth quarter and just called a timeout. Kelsey Criner has eight points for UNT.
4:41 — UNT is down 58-39 late in the second half. Kelsey Criner has 11 points for UNT, which just took a timeout.
3:03 — UNT is down 58-43 late in the second half. Old Dominion just took a timeout.
It can be tough to get an invitation to the combine. Conference USA only had seven players invited, and most all of them played for schools that are traditional powers. Louisiana Tech led the league with three players selected.
Here’s a rundown of C-USA players headed to Indianapolis:
UNT hasn’t had a player drafted since linebacker Cody Spencer was selected in 2004.
The Mean Green have had a whole lot of success sending players on to the NFL as undrafted free agents. Linebackers Craig Robertson and Zach Orr and running back Lance Dunbar have all carved out spots in the NFL after starting their careers as undrafted free agents. And those are just a few examples.
It would really help the perception of UNT’s program to end its draft drought, though. Having players invited to the combine is a big part of the process. Spencer was invited to the combine.
UNT was passed over again this year, which won’t help its cause when it comes to ending its draft drought.
North Texas fulfilled a host of needs in Seth Littrell’s first recruiting class.
The Mean Green needed a quick-fix solution at quarterback and got it when former Alabama quarterback Alec Morris transferred in. The arrival of the Arizona Western trio of linebacker William Johnson, safety Dontavious Baulkman and conerback Darius Turner joined Tyler JC defensive end Joshua Wheeler and North Dakota State College of Science linebacker Eji Ejiya to give UNT an immediate influx of talent defensively.
Considering the limited time it had to work with, UNT came out in good shape.
With that being said, what was the biggest need for UNT that went unfulfilled?
The obvious pick seems to be at quarterback, specifically a player the Mean Green could turn to immediately after Morris and fellow senior DaMarcus Smith graduate following the 2016 season.
UNT signed one high school quarterback in its class in Locust Grove (Oklahoma) product Mason Fine.
Fine put up huge numbers in Oklahoma at the small school level, throwing for more than 13,000 yards. He would have been a big-time national recruit had it not been for the fact that Locust Grove is tiny school and Fine is a tiny quarterback by college standards at 5-11ish and 160 pounds.
Fine could develop into a star at UNT, which essentially put a whole lot of faith in him by making him the lone high school quarterback recruit in the class.
UNT won’t have any other realistic options heading into 2017 with the way things stand now.
Littrell is really high on Fine.
On national signing day, he said to look at the tape.
One has to wonder if UNT could have used another option, though. The Mean Green are banking on Fine in 2017. If he isn’t ready, UNT will have to go the JUCO route or roll with a true freshman or another fifth-year senior transfer.
There weren’t many holes in UNT’s class, but that seemed to be the biggest.
Where: Ted Constant Convocation Center, Norfolk, Virginia
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1
TV: American Sports Network
Records: North Texas 9-14, 4-6 C-USA; Old Dominion 13-10, 6-4
Last game: UNT 80, Louisiana Tech 69, Old Dominion 74, Charlotte 69 (OT)
Projected UNT starting lineup:
PG: J-Mychal Reese, 6-2, Jr. — Reese finished with nine points on 2-of-7 shooting in UNT’s win over LA Tech. He is a perfect 12-for-12 at the free throw line in the Mean Green’s last two games and is averaging 14.9 points a game.
SG: Ja’Michael Brown, 6-1, Fr. — Brown has hit nine 3s in his last three games combined and has scored in double figures in two of his last three outings. He is averaging 8.3 points a game.
SF: Deckie Johnson, 6-4 Jr. — Johnson is coming off a 21-point outing in UNT’s win over LA Tech that was even more impressive than his scoring total indicates. He hit a series of huge shots to bring UNT back from a 10-point halftime deficit in its second straight win. He is averaging 14.0 points and 4.3 rebounds a game.
F: Jeremy Combs, 6-7, So. — Combs has scored in double figures in 10 straight games and just missed finishing with a double-double while pulling down nine rebounds in his last two outings. He is averaging 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds a game.
F: Eric Katenda, 6-9 Sr. — Katenda enters today’s game off one of the best outings of his time at UNT. The senior scored 16 points in UNT’s win over LA Tech and is averaging 6.6 points and 3.4 rebounds a game.
Scouting Old Dominion:
ODU has won its last three games and features one of the top players in the league in Trey Freeman. The senior guard is averaging 21.3 points per game and is one of just two players averaging double figures in scoring for ODU. Senior guard Aaron Bacote is averaging 13.7 points per game.
Deckie Johnson scored 12 points in the span of 2 minutes, 41 seconds in the second half of UNT’s come-from-behind win over LA Tech. Johnson finished with 21 points for the game and has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games.
What you need to know:
UNT has struggled on the road this season, going just 1-8 away from the Super Pit and will look to break through on the road tomorrow at ODU.
The Mean Green are playing their best basketball of the season and have beaten Southern Miss and LA Tech in back-to-back games. A win today would give UNT three straight wins for the first time this season.
The key to UNT continuing its winning streak could be the Mean Green’s play on the defensive end. UNT held Southern Miss to 54 points and then held a high-scoring LA Tech team to 69.
UNT will look to continue that trend by limiting Freeman. The Mean Green have used their zone defense extensively in their last few games and could go back to it again against ODU.
UNT has leaned heavily on the trio of Combs, Reese and Johnson to lead the way offensively and will need them to be at the top of their games tomorrow night.
Alec Morris could be North Texas key 2016 recruit.
The Mean Green are moving to a spread system under new coach Seth Littrell. Morris transferred in from Alabama to run that system and hopefully plug the hole UNT has been trying to fill since Derek Thompson graduated following the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl.
UNT has gone from Josh Greer to Dajon Williams to Andrew McNulty to DaMarcus Smith back to McNulty and never really found the right fit in two years since.
Morris talks a little in the video at the top of this post about how he will fit now that he has joined the Mean Green.
How Morris fares is anyone’s guess.
Athlon came out with its ranking of all the quarterbacks who are projected to start in 2016. That equates to a guess.
Here’s a rundown of where the quarterbacks in Conference USA rank:
It seems like a reasonable take on who the best quarterbacks in the league are. Mullins is a proven commodity coming off a great season. Stockstill and Litton had great freshman seasons.
Morris could end up being one of the better quarterbacks in the league based on raw talent, but hasn’t seen significant action since he was a senior at Allen back in 2011.
What Morris gives UNT is hope, something the Mean Green could use these days.
North Texas is ranked last in ESPN’s Football Power Index for the 2016 season that was released today. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)
ESPN came out with its the first edition of its Football Power Index for the 2016 season today.
Over the next few months, we are going to write a whole lot about polls and projections, from the Conference USA preseason coaches poll to magazine projections to bowl predictions.
All hold some merit and are good talking points.
Case in point …
Who can forget the epic rant from former UNT coach Dan McCarney over last season’s polls?
I always loved the fact Mac was a quotable guy, but back to the point. ESPN has UNT ranked dead last in its rankings of all 128 teams nationally.
How did they reach that conclusion? Here’s the formula …
“The last four seasons of performance on offense, defense and special teams, with the most recent season counting most; information on offensive and defensive returning starters, with special consideration given to a team returning its starting quarterback or gaining a transfer quarterback with experience; a four-year average recruiting ranking of four systems (ESPN, Scouts, Rivals and Phil Steele); and head coaching tenure. These four components interact and are assigned different weights depending on the team to produce preseason FPI.”
It’s just one way to look at it and one in what will be a long line of preseason projections. It could provide a little motivation for UNT’s returning players and new coaching staff.
My guess is it won’t be the last preseason projection UNT will be able to point to as a sign of being disrespected.
Comes with the territory when a team finished 1-11 the previous season and was blown out on a near weekly basis.
The first few weeks of any coaching regime offers at least a hint of what is to come in terms of what a coach prioritizes and how he will construct his program.
That has been the case with Seth Littrell, and there is a lot to like on two fronts I wanted to point out today: Using social media effectively and recognizing the milestones of the past.
UNT really upped its game during the recruiting season and started posting a tweet from its new account #UNTouchable when the next recruit jumped on board.
Most college football programs go that route these days. It’s legal by NCAA rules and it builds excitement, something a program that has one winning season in its last 11 and just finished a 1-11 campaign desperately needs.
The catchy slogan #UNTouchable was also a big step in the right direction. Marketing the program to the top high school players is a part of the game these days.
Littrell has also made a point of embracing the past, something UNT could generally do a better job of.
The video at the top of this post includes highlights of the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Miracle Bowl Run of 2001-04.
UNT resumed playing at what is now the FBS level in 1995 and has enjoyed a grand total of four winning seasons while playing in five bowl games since. Three of those winning seasons and four of those bowl games came in one inexplicable run that saw UNT win 25 straight conference games and four conference titles while playing in Fouts Field with a shoestring budget.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl was another key milestone.
There have been a parade of UNT coaches in the past who have rolled into town and downplayed the accomplishments of the past and claimed that they would quickly bring the program to unprecedented heights in several sports.
Most left town without coming within shouting distance of that goal.
Littrell will have a chance to avoid that fate and lead UNT to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2002-04. He’s definitely on the right track so far.
It’s smart, smart move on his part to embrace the high points in the history of the program and the players who made them possible instead of downplaying them.
It is the obvious approach.
Littrell made that move and took a step in the right direction, one several other coaches at UNT in several sports didn’t take.
Linebacker Sed Ellis is among a handful of players who will not return next season for North Texas. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)
A couple of good questions have come up in the last few days about North Texas’ scholarship situation in football.
I wish I could provide all the answers. I can’t. If there is one thing I have learned over the years covering programs at the Sun Belt and Conference USA levels and before that at the Division II level is that it is pretty much impossible to accurately run down a team’s scholarship situation at a G5-type program.
UNT’s coaching staff could give an exact account one week. By the next, it could be entirely different.
With that being said, here is what I can say after getting some help from UNT.
– Linebacker Sed Ellis is indeed gone. Ellis started six games in 2014, but saw his role diminish later on. He finished with six tackles last season as a junior.
– Quarterback Josh Greer is also gone. Greer came to UNT in the hope he could help fill the huge void left when Derek Thompson graduated, but was a massive bust.
– Running back Rex Rollins will also not return next season. He endured an injury plagued career at UNT.
– Wide receiver D’Aundrey Bradley could be back after originally electing to leave the program. It sounds like he will be back, but I don’t have a definitive answer on his status.
– Defensive back Jakii Moore has been removed from UNT’s roster, but I could not find out for sure if he will not return. He played sparingly last season, when he appeared in two games.
As far as how many scholarships UNT had to give and where the 25 spots in the Class of 2016 went, all I can say for sure is that coach Seth Littrell mentioned in his signing day presser that he had at least one spot left after signing 19 players.
UNT could end up landing a guy late or it could end up going what what it has.
And in a side note, UNT’s spring drills will start the week that begins on March 21. The spring game is April 23.