UNT extends series with SMU

North Texas and SMU announced Monday that they have extended their football series another four years through the 2021 season. (DRC file photo)

North Texas and SMU announced Monday that they have extended their football series another four years through the 2021 season. (DRC file photo)

North Texas and SMU announced Monday that they have extended their football series through the 2021 season.

The new contract adds four games to what has become a key rivalry game for both schools.

UNT will host SMU on Sept. 1 of 2018 and Sept. 5 of 2020. The Mean Green will travel to SMU on Sept. 7 of 2019 and Sept. 11 of 2021.

UNT and SMU have played 36 times in their history, making it one of the longest series in Mean Green football history.

The Mustangs beat UNT at Apogee Stadium 34-21 last season in Seth Littrell’s debut as the Mean Green’s coach. That victory gave SMU consecutive wins in its series over the Mean Green that has become more evenly matched in recent years.

SMU has won four of the last seven meetings.

Monday morning practice report

New North Texas offensive line coach Chuck Langston talks with Jalen Thomas during the first workout of spring practice on Monday.

New North Texas offensive line coach Chuck Langston talks with Jalen Thomas during the first workout of spring practice on Monday at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility. 

North Texas opened spring practice this morning at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility and ushered in an era of change in the process.

UNT enjoyed a tremendous first season under Seth Littrell, who led the Mean Green to a 5-8 finish and an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

UNT will have four new assistant coaches next season largely because of the success the Mean Green enjoyed. It was pretty apparent on the first day of practice that UNT will have a slightly adjusted defense as well.

The expectation heading into the spring was that the Mean Green would move to a 3-3-5 stack that differs slightly from what UNT ran last season. Troy Reffett has run that system throughout his career. He is now UNT’s sole defensive coordinator after the departure of Mike Ekeler for North Carolina.

Ekeler and Reffett worked together to coordinate UNT’s defense last season.

New North Texas defensive line coach Marc Yellock and his players watch drills from the sideline on Monday morning

New North Texas defensive line coach Marc Yellock and his players watch drills from the sideline on Monday morning

UNT ran a defense with a three-man front last season as well, but used a slightly different system.

Reffett was clearly in charge on the defensive side throughout practice, when UNT three other new assistants made their debuts. Defensive line coach Marc Yellock, offensive line coach Chuck Langston and special teams coordinator Marty BIagi were also working with their players for the first time.

And in other notes and observations:

– Wylie Reinhardt enjoyed a good day in drills at guard and appears poised to make a run at a starting job in his senior season.

– UNT’s starting offensive line consisted of: Elex Woodworth, Reinhardt, Creighton Barr, T.J. Henson and Jordan Murray.

– One player who certainly looks the part is quarterback Devlin Isadore. The Navarro College transfer is every bit of his listed size of 6-4, 228, and threw the ball well in drills. He is coming off a knee injury and couldn’t participate in team drills. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a run at the backup job.

– I mentioned earlier this week that UNT could use Roderick Young at defensive end this year. I am starting to think that is a look the Mean Green will use quite a bit.

Devlin Isadore reaches up to catch a ball during drills during the first day of spring practice for North Texas.

Devlin Isadore reaches up to catch a ball during drills during the first day of spring practice for North Texas.

– UNT needs to find a new safety to partner with Kishawn McClain. The prime suspect appears to be Khairi Muhammad, who made a nice play on the ball to break up  a pass during team drills.

– I don’t think we are going to see much of running back Jeffery Wilson this spring. Littrell mentioned heading into workouts that Wilson would be limited. He was working on rehab all morning.

– Littrell mentioned that transfer Christian Hosley could make an impact for UNT. The former Howard Payne running back played well in the opening practice of spring drills, breaking a couple of long runs.

– Quarterback Mason Fine played well in team drills and hit Kam Duhon for a long touchdown pass. He also threw a bullet while scrambling toward the sideline for a long completion.

– Wide receiver Rico Bussey Jr. made a nice grab on a deep ball and later caught another deep ball for a touchdown.

– JUCO transfer wide receiver Jalen Guyton looks good. He is going to help UNT this year.

– Running back Nick Smith has changed numbers. He is now wearing No. 21.

– Wide receivers Turner Smiley and Quinetin Jackson both made impressive catches.

The Sunday leftovers

Ryan defensive tackle Dayton LeBlanc -- flanked by Denton Ryan senior linebacker Tyreke Davis, right, and defensive end Thomas Wilson III – returns a fumble by Highland Park junior quarterback John Stephen Jones for a touchdown during the Class 5A Division I state semifinal at AT&T Stadium in December. LeBlanc committed to North Texas over the weekend. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

Ryan defensive tackle Dayton LeBlanc — flanked by Denton Ryan senior linebacker Tyreke Davis, right, and defensive end Thomas Wilson III – returns a fumble by Highland Park junior quarterback John Stephen Jones for a touchdown during the Class 5A Division I state semifinal at AT&T Stadium in December. LeBlanc committed to North Texas over the weekend. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

It’s Sunday night and time for the leftovers, when we pick back through the events of the weekend, reheat the good stuff — and some of the bad — while hopefully putting it all in perspective.

The big news of the weekend is that spring practice starters tomorrow morning.

I went over some news and notes on the blog earlier today that also included a quick video interview with Mason Fine.

UNT’s coaches and players feel good about where they are at heading into the spring. After last year, it’s hard to doubt what they have to say.

Be sure to check out tomorrow’s paper for more.

UNT also picked up its first commitment for its 2018 recruiting class in Dayton LeBlanc, a defensive tackle from Denton Ryan. He is the son of now former UNT defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc. Our Ryan writer Steve Gamel will have a story in tomorrow’s paper. Be sure to take a look.

The news of the weekend was decidedly less positive on the basketball front, where we can now officially stick a fork in the UNT men’s basketball team. The Mean Green still have two games to play this week, but they’re done after being eliminated from contention for a spot in the Conference USA tournament with a 76-53 loss to Southern Miss.

The Golden Eagles whacked the the Mean Green when they faced a must-win situation. UNT coach Tony Benford had some interesting comments on his status going forward as his contract comes to an end. Be sure to check it out, if you haven’t yet.

The UNT women (11-16, 8-8 C-USA) are in the tournament, but lost their second straight, falling at Southern Miss 70-48. UNT is in eighth place in the C-USA standings.

UNT could really do itself some good by finishing strong in its final two regular season games against the best team (Western Kentucky) and the worst team (Marshall) in C-USA.

UNT spring practice look-ahead with Mason Fine video

North Texas will open spring practice tomorrow morning as the Mean Green look to build on a remarkable 5-8 season that included a bowl appearance in Seth Littrell’s debut campaign.

UNT lost to Army in overtime in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, just its second bowl since the 2004 season.

I will have a story in tomorrow’s paper that looks at a few key questions, including how UNT will adjust to having four new assistant coaches. Troy Reffett will also take over UNT’s defense full-time after serving as a co-coordinator last season.

The video at the top of this post is of quarterback Mason Fine giving his thoughts on where UNT stands.

There are a few notes and thoughts I didn’t get to in the paper. So until tomorrow …

– UNT will be without a few players for spring practice due to injury. Offensive linemen Chris Miles and Garrett Gunter will miss spring drills. Kevin Dillman, who has moved to defensive end, is also out.

– UNT is going to take it easy with Jeffery Wilson this spring. UNT knows what its star running back can do and he is still getting over a knee injury. The joint is sound, but Wilson could use some additional time off before next season.

– UNT has adjusted its salary pool for assistant coaches. That topic has been a concern for UNT going on pretty much forever. Every time UNT has some success, its staff is quickly raided. It happened during the Miracle Bowl Run of the early 2000s and after UNT’s first appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013. It happened again this year. The figures for that pool will be available after UNT’s coaches sign their deals. Some extra money won’t stop the bleeding if the Mean Green continue to win. Good coaches are going to want to move up to bigger/better programs, but it could help UNT reload.

– This has been mentioned before, but UNT’s coaches believe the Mean Green made their biggest improvements last season during bowl practices. That’s a good sign going forward.

– UNT will tweak a couple of aspects of its offensive system. Kelvin Smith should see more time at tight end. Littrell and his staff are looking at moving him around and using him in a variety of ways.

– UNT’s staff is excited about some young skill position players, including running back Nick Smith and walk-on Christian Hosley. Deion Hair-Griffin is a potential impact player at wide receiver.

– UNT has yet to decide on whether or not it will put Navarro College quarterback Devlin Isadore on scholarship. He will be limited this spring as he comes back from a knee injury.

– UNT has one scholarship left and could be close to adding another player. It sounds like it could be a wide receiver.

– Roderick Young will see time at defensive end this spring. With Kansas State transfer Bryce English coming in at nose tackle, UNT could bump Young over at times. That would give a really big and athletic defensive front.

– It will be very interesting to see what UNT’s defense will look like and if Reffett makes any changes after taking over as the sole coordinator following the departure of Mike Ekeler to North Carolina.

Late night hoops rewind: Southern Miss 76, UNT 53

North Texas freshman guard A.J. Lawson  hangs his head  after the Mean Green lost to Southern Miss 53-76 at the Super Pit on Saturday. UNT was eliminated from contention for a spot in the Conference USA tournament with the loss. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas freshman guard A.J. Lawson hangs his head after the Mean Green lost to Southern Miss 76-53 at the Super Pit on Saturday. UNT was eliminated from contention for a spot in the Conference USA tournament with the loss. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

Final: Southern Miss 76, North Texas 53

Where UNT stands: UNT was officially eliminated from contention for a spot in the Conference USA tournament and hit the 20-loss mark for the third time in the last five seasons by falling to Southern Miss. The Mean Green are now 8-20 on the season and 2-14 in conference play.

Now what?: The Mean Green will head out on the road for tough games at Western Kentucky and Marshall to wrap up the season.

Green

Green

Star of the day: Derail Green didn’t get the win he was hoping for in his final appearance at the Super Pit, but he went out with a solid performance individually. He scored 17 points and hit four 3s. The sad aspect of the way it all played out is that Green came to UNT as a graduate transfer. He spent his final season playing on the college level with a struggling team that won’t manage to finish among the top 12 teams in a 14-team league. Freshman A.J. Lawson also finished with 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Say what?:

“I don’t know if this will be my last game here. That is out of my control. … We have two more games. I love these guys and am going to coach them and hope to finish strong. It’s a great place with great people and great leadership. Ultimately, you have to win games. I have been doing this 25 years and understand that.”

– Tony Benford, UNT coach following the final home game of his fifth season with the Mean Green

Our take: What has been a terrible season for UNT  became just a little worse on Saturday, when the Mean Green were smoked at home in a must-win game when it came to their chances to make the Conference USA tournament.

UNT needed to win out to advance to the postseason and never really threatened to come through after a brief surge to start the game.

The amazing aspect of it all was that Southern Miss hadn’t won a road game all season. The Golden Eagles were 0-11.

Another notable tidbit is that the Mean Green finished 7-11 at the Super PIt, snapping a string of 13 consecutive winning seasons at home for UNT.

The question now is if Benford has coached his last game at the Super Pit. The overwhelming evidence points in that direction after what is shaping up to be one of the most disappointing tenures for a UNT coach in a high profile sport in program history.

Benford took over a team that had posted six straight winning seasons while advancing to two NCAA tournaments and hasn’t posted a winning season in five years. UNT will need to win out to reach the 10-win mark.

UNT had a promotion today that brought in 1,500 school children. Even with those kids in the house, UNT only had 3,360 fans there on Senior Day.

UNT honored Green, Keith Frazier, Deckie Johnson, J-Mychal Reese and Jacob Gross.

It was a tough way for those players to go out.

Chances are, it was also a tough way for Benford to go out in what will likely be his final game coaching at the Super Pit.

UNT-Southern Miss running blog

The North Texas men’s basketball team will take on Southern Miss in a must-win game for this afternoon

UNT has to win its last three games of the regular season and get some help to make the Conference USA tournament. There are 14 teams in the league that will include 12 teams in its postseason event this year.

The Mean Green have managed to win a couple games down the stretch, but are 2-13 in conference play. UNT is 8-19 overall and will end up posting its third 20-loss season in five years under Tony Benford if it can’t pull this game out today.

In a side note, this will go down as the first losing season at the Super Pit for the UNT men since the 2002-03 season. The Mean Green are 7-10 at home this year.

UNT is honoring four seniors –Jake Gross, J-Mychal Reese, Deckie Johnson, Derail Green — today.

Reese, Johnson and Green all transferred in. UNT does not have a four-year player this season.

The good news is UNT’s seniors are all on track to graduate. Green is picking up his masters this spring.

Starters for UNT — A.J. Lawson, Ryan Woolridge, Shane Temara, J-Mychal Reese and Derail Green.

15:06 — UNT is down 11-9 at the first media timeout of the first half. Derail Green hit a 3 early to help the Mean Green run out to a 7-2 lead. Southern Miss has answered with a 9-2 burst. Quinton Campbell has scored all 11 of the Golden Eagles points.

11:57 — UNT is down 16-11 at the second media timeout of the first half. Derail Green has five points for the Mean Green. Southern Miss went on a 14-2 run to take control of the game. Quinton Campbell has 11 points for the Golden Eagles.

8:44 — Southern Miss is on a 7-0 run and is now up 26-15. UNT just took a timeout.

7:49 — UNT is down 26-15 at the third media timeout of the first half. The school has brought in 1,000 kids today to liven up the environment during the Mean Green’s final home game of the season. Derail Green has five points for UNT.

6:03 — Southern Miss is on an 11-0 run. UNT just took another timeout. The Mean Green are down 30-15.

4:26 — UNT is on a 5-0 run and has pulled within 32-20. Southern Miss just called a timeout. Derail Green has eight points for the Mean Green. Southern Miss is shooting 52 percent from the field.

Halftime — UNT is down 47-30 at halftime. Southern Miss only averages 62 points per game. Derail Green has 14 points and is playing well in his final game with the Mean Green. Southern Miss has hit eight 3s. Michael Ramey has 18 points for the Golden Eagles and is 6-of-7 from 3-point range.

15:58 — UNT was down 20, but is on a bit of a run and has closed to within 52-37 early in the second half. A.J. Lawson is headed to the line to try to complete a three-point play. Derail Green has 17 points to lead UNT.

11:38 — UNT is on a 10-0 run and has closed to within 52-42 as we approach the midway point of the second half. Shane Temara just posted a block and then scored on a layup on the other end. Derail Green has 17 points for UNT.

7:16 — UNT is up 60-47 at the under-8 media timeout. The Mean Green extended its run to 11-0 before Southern Miss broke it. The Golden Eagles answered with a 6-0 burst. UNT is running out of time.

5:10 — UNT is down 67-49 after Southern Miss scored four quick points. UNT just called a timeout. A.J. Lawson has 12 points for UNT now, giving the Mean Green another player in double figures. Derail Green still leads UNT with 17.

3:35 — UNT is down 71-49 and is being blown out in its final home game of the season. UNT just can’t stop the Golden Eagles, the lowest scoring team in Conference USA. A.J. Lawson now has 13 points for UNT.

Final — Southern Miss 76, UNT 53. UNT is eliminated from contention for a spot in the C-USA tournament.

Chalk talk: Southern Miss at UNT

Guard Ja'Michael Brown and the North Texas men's basketball team will host Southern Miss in their final home game of the season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

Guard Ja’Michael Brown and the North Texas men’s basketball team will host Southern Miss in their final home game of the season on Saturday. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

Southern Miss at North Texas

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Super Pit

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1

Records: UNT 8-19, 2-13 Conference USA; Southern Miss 8-20, 5-11 Conference USA

Last game: Louisiana Tech 85, UNT 67; Rice 72, Southern Miss 71 (OT)

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: J-Mychal Reese, 6-2, Sr. — Reese scored in double figures for the fourth time in UNT’s last five games when he scored 12 points in the Mean Green’s loss to Louisiana Tech. Reese has 86 assists on the season and has been UNT’s most consistent offensive player late in the season. He is averaging 10.6 points per game.

G: Ryan Woolridge, 6-3, Fr. — Woolridge posted a a solid all-around game in UNT’s loss to Louisiana Tech, finishing with eight points and six assists. Woolridge has finished with at least five assists in four of the Mean Green’s last five games.He is averaging 9.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

G: A.J. Lawson, 6-5, Fr. — Lawson bounced back from a rare off game offensively when he scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in UNT’s loss to Louisiana Tech. He scored in double figures in four straight games before managing just three in a win over UTSA. Lawson returned to form against the Bulldogs and is averaging 11.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

F: Shane Temara, 6-9, Jr. — Temara’s recent run of success shooting the ball came to an end in UNT’s loss to Louisiana Tech. The junior missed all three of his 3s and went just 2-for-10 from the field. He had scored 19 and 15 points in UNT’s previous two games. Temara is averaging 6.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

F: Derail Green, 6-7, Sr. — Green continued to shoot the ball well from deep in UNT’s loss to Louisiana Tech. The senior hit four of his six attempts from 3-point range and has gone 15-for-24 from beyond the arc in the Mean Green’s last three games. He is averaging 7.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.

Scouting Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles need to win one of their last two regular season games to be assured of a berth in the Conference USA tournament. Southern Miss’ last game is at red-hot Louisiana Tech, which makes Saturday’s game vital for the Golden Eagles. Senior guard Quinton Campbell is averaging 13.3 points per game to lead the Golden Eagles.

What you need to know: UNT’s backs are against the wall coming into its game against Southern Miss.

The Mean Green need to win their last three games of the regular season and catch a few breaks to avoid being one of just two teams in C-USA to miss the conference tournament. Southern Miss is going to come in on a mission, considering winning its game against the Mean Green would wrap up a tournament berth.

Southern Miss ranks last in C-USA with an average of 62.0 points per game. UNT isn’t much better and ranks 10th at 68.7.

UNT will honor its seniors before its game against the Golden Eagles. None of those players have been around the program long. Deckie Johnson, Keith Frazier, Derail Green and J-Mychal Reese are all transfers.

None have been part of a winning season at UNT.

UNT LB outlook for 2017: Mean Green must replace key seniors

North Texas linebacker Joshua Wheeler sacks Marshall quarterback Chase Litton last season at Apogee Stadium. Wheeler will be among UNT's top returning defensive players in 2017. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas linebacker Joshua Wheeler sacks Marshall quarterback Chase Litton last season at Apogee Stadium. Wheeler will be among UNT’s top returning defensive players in 2017. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

Key returnees: Brandon Garner (junior) E.J. Ejiya (senior), Calvin Minor (senior), Joshua Wheeler (senior)

Key losses: Cortney Finney (graduation) Fred Scott (graduation)

Newcomers: Hayden Harrison (redshirt freshman), Kody Fulp (freshman), Chris Thornton (freshman)

Biggest unanswered question: UNT lost two of its most experienced defensive players in Scott and Finney and must find a way to replace both in the same offseason. Finney ranked second among UNT players with 78 tackles, while Scott ranked fifth with 55. UNT has one player ready to fill one of those voids in Brandon Garner. The junior started four games in place of Scott while he was injured and played well, finishing with 50 tackles. UNT will have to find a way to replace Finney at middle linebacker. Ejiya is the top candidate. He finished with 43 tackles last season. UNT appears to be in good shape at its Jack linebacker position with both Wheeler (43 tackles) and Minor (40 tackles) returning. The question is if UNT will suffer a drop-off.

Why 2017 production could be better: UNT lost two solid players in Finney and Scott, but has some talented players set to step in. Garner doesn’t have the experience Scott possessed, but has a high ceiling. Ejiya is physically gifted and could blossom after spending a year adjusting to playing at the major college level. Wheeler is another player with elite athletic talent.

Why 2017 production could be worse: There is no replacement for experience and UNT had a couple of players who had been through the wars last season in Scott and Finney. The Mean Green also lack proven backups and were deeper last season.

Overall outlook: UNT has a chance to have a productive group of linebackers with high-end athletic ability. Garner is terrific coming on the blitz and could be a perfect fit for Troy Reffett’s scheme. UNT could be more aggressive next season now that Reffett is in charge of the Mean Green’s defense after sharing the duties with Mike Ekeler last season. Ejiya could be poised to break out, while Wheeler flashed potential last season.

UNT announces new five-year deal for Seth Littrell

North Texas football coach Seth Littrell has signed a new five-year deal after completing the first season of his original five-year contract. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

North Texas football coach Seth Littrell has signed a new five-year deal after completing the first season of his original five-year contract. (Denton Record-Chronicle file photo)

Littrell

Littrell

North Texas announced a new five-year contract for head football coach Seth Littrell today.

The deal will run through the 2021 season. The agreement extends the length of time Littrell is under contract at UNT for one year.

Terms were not disclosed, but a source with knowledge of the deal said it will make Litrrell among the highest paid coaches in Conference USA.

Littrell’s original contract was for five years with a $725,000 base salary per year. Incentives in the deal boosted Littrell’s total compensation to $882,800 per year.

“We are excited to announce this new agreement with coach Littrell,” UNT athletic director Wren Baker said in a prepared statement. “Under one of the brightest young coaches in the country, our football program had the second-best turnaround in the nation last season and his performance was recognized by his colleagues and media members around the nation. This new contract represents an aggressive move to keep coach Littrell, his staff, and their positive momentum intact. This is validation of the successful efforts that Seth has led in the early stages of the turnaround of North Texas football.”

Littrell led UNT to a 5-8 season and a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in his first season with the Mean Green. UNT took Army to overtime before falling 38-31 in just its second bowl game since the 2004 season.

UNT finished 1-11 in 2015, the year before Littrell left his job as North Carolina’s offensive coordinator to take over the Mean Green.

 “It means a lot to me to move forward with this new deal and continue to work hard with my staff to transform this into the championship-caliber program that our tremendous university, fans and alumni deserve,” Littrell said.

 

 

 

Breaking — UNT regents approve combined track/soccer stadium

North Texas will build a new track/soccer venue. The new  facility will allow the school to move its track team out of Fouts Field, which has already been partially demolished. (DRC  file photo)

North Texas will build a new track/soccer venue. The new facility will allow the school to move its track team out of Fouts Field, which has already been partially demolished. (DRC file photo)

The North Texas board of regents approved a proposal to modify its existing plans to construct a new track and field venue near the Mean Green Athletic Center this morning.

The new plan will increase the scope of the project to include a soccer venue at the same facility.

The budget for the combined project will cost $11.9 million, an increase over the previous budget of $6.3 million.

The new venue will be located behind the Waranch Tennis Center. It will include office and support spaces for both track and field and soccer.

UNT athletic director Wren Baker he expects the new venue to help bolster both programs.

“We are going to get more bang for our buck,” Baker said. “We addressed the needs of one of our more successful programs with our women’s soccer team and also helped our track program. We are excited about what a new venue will do for both programs.”

UNT’s soccer team is among its most successful. The Mean Green have won the last three Conference USA regular season titles.

The school’s track program has continued to compete in Fouts Field, which was abandoned by UNT’s football program after Apogee Stadium opened before the 2011 season.

Opening a new track venue will allow the school to demolish the remainder of Fouts Field. The field what was home to the UNT football program opened in 1952 and sits on a premium piece of land near Interstate 35.

The school is planning to break ground on its new track/soccer venue this spring.

“Having a few track will help us tremendously and allow us to recruit Texas athletes more effectively,” UNT track coach Carl Sheffield said. “There are three or four programs in Texas that have built new venues in the last five years. We are able to compete with those programs in a lot of ways. A new track will make us competitive in that regard as well. Having a new running surface will enable us to train at a higher level.”

UNT is planning to use the land where Fouts currently sits for additional parking, university spokesman Margarita Venegas said.

The university will develop a timeline for the demolition of the remainder of Fouts Field and construction of new parking lots once UNT’s new track/soccer venue is in place.