In the next day or so (now that I have had some recovery time after the Heart of Dallas Bowl) we will look back on a breakout season for UNT and forward to the future following the Mean Green’s 36-14 win over UNLV in its first bowl since 2004.
There is so much to talk about. There’s the great finish for UNT’s seniors, the way UNT’s win over UNLV will affect the future of the program, what UNT will do with its last couple of scholarship spots, what the key holes to fill next year are and what the key questions heading into next season will be.
But first, the important stuff — GYROTR.
That would be the Get Your Rear on the Record contest.
For those of you who have been following the blog for a while, you know the way this goes. Right before the season starts, we ask readers to guess UNT’s final record. The exercise had its basis in the annoying exercise of watching UNT fans say in the preseason that this was sure to be the big turnaround year for UNT and then see those predictions forgotten by the end of the year.
We record picks for posterity and dig them up at the end of the year.
We required people to put names on their picks this year so that we can identify them. It’s more fun that way.
UNT finished 9-4 in its breakout year following its win over UNLV, which makes the winner …
For the first time ever (Ok, “ever” may be a bit strong. We have done this three or four times).
P. Simmons (casual fan) and Trey White came the closest at 8-5. They would have won if UNT had lost. Adam guessed 9-3. That didn’t make a lot of sense since there is no way UNT could have ended up winning nine games and not making a bowl for a 13th game. Brandon Daniels and Ronald Parrish (RBP79) guessed 8-4, which was pretty close. They also left out that 13th (bowl) game.
What made the whole exercise interesting this season was that there was a sense of trepidation heading into the year. More than 50 people picked UNT to finish 6-6 or worse and miss out on playing in a bowl game. It seemed like a logical call at the time. UNT was riding a streak of eight straight losing seasons and faced a host of questions, including a big one on its defensive line. UNT also didn’t settle on Derek Thompson as its starting quarterback until the last minute. The jump to Conference USA also seemed like one that would have a detrimental affect on UNT’s season.
There were 22 people who picked UNT to finish with a winning record.
And that brings us to our annual awards.
We usually name a “Ridiculous Homer of the Year” That was me last season.
The title will remain vacant this year for obvious reasons.
The “Fans with Too Little Faith” are 97and03, filmerj and Rick Smith (GGRN-WHT) for picking UNT to go 3-9.
I was among the majority that undersold UNT this year. So, where did we go wrong?
Here’s my take on a few key areas where UNT turned out better than expected and made most of us look like a bunch of Negative Neds:
– UNT’s offense broke out:
Few saw this one coming, but UNT averaged 31.5 points a game in the regular season, the third-highest total in school history, and then scored 36 points in its bowl win, a UNT record. UNT averaged just 20.9 points a game in 2012 and talked all summer about how important it was that it improve. Pretty much the same cast of characters — quarterback Derek Thompson, running back Brandin Byrd and wide receiver Brelan Chancellor chief among them — led UNT to a breakout season few saw coming.
– UNT’s defense really was that good:
UNT thought it would be pretty good defensively coming into the season, but few saw what the Mean Green put together coming. The Mean Green allowed 37 points or more in three of its last five games in 2012. The thinking heading into the season was that UNT would be better in its second season under John Skladany. We just didn’t know the guy was the football equivalent of Gandalf (a super smart veteran of the wars who knows the way to the promised land). UNT’s defensive players call him the smartest coach they have ever played for. Defensive lineman Mike Nelson also deserves a lot of credit for helping make a UNT defensive line that had most UNT fans worried play at a remarkably high level. UNT had five sacks in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
– UNT’s special teams turned it around
UNT blocked seven kicks and Brelan Chancellor ranked among the nation’s leaders in both kickoff and punt returns. UNT was pretty bad on special teams before Tommy Perry took over this year. UNT even managed to switch kickers in the middle of the season without it posing a problem.
– UNT turned out to be a team of destiny
There are teams in sports that seemed to be destined for greatness. Everything goes their way. Balls bounce just right. Players remain healthy throughout the year.
Is there any doubt UNT just experienced that type of season?
UNT did lose key running back Reggie Pegram to a knee injury and lost defensive back Freddie Warner before the year started. Antonio Johnson played hurt against Tulane. But for the most part UNT remained remarkably healthy through most of the year.
Here’s a list of guys who played all 13 games — Derek Thompson, Zach Orr, Derek Akunne, Marcus Trice, Kenny Buyers, Will Wright, Aaron Bellazin, Brandin Byrd, Antoinne Jimmerson, Brelan Chancellor and Darnell Smith.
Yeah, pretty much every key player.
UNT also had a good turn of fortune when it played Ball State on a sizzling summer day. The Cardinals led 27-9 before a bunch of guys who grew up where 100 degree days are rare baked in the sun on the visiting sideline while UNT’s sideline was in the shade. UNT rallied and won 34-27. I’m not saying that UNT doesn’t rally and win if it’s a night game, but I have no doubt the heat was a factor.
Just yesterday, UNLV was up 7-0 and about to get the ball back, when Keith Whitely had a punt bounce off his chest and roll right to Zed Evans at the UNLV 42. That was a huge turning point. UNT tied that game up on the ensuing drive.
You add it up and it just seemed like UNT — a team loaded with seniors — was destined to win this year.
Dan McCarney continues to proved that he is a really good football coach and played a huge role in UNT getting a few breaks, but there is little doubt the unexpected turn of events more often than not turned in UNT’s favor.
How it all worked out in the form of a 9-4 season was something few saw coming, at least not if you judge by our Get Your Rear on the Record picks from August.
Here they are …
9-3 — Adam
8-5 — P. Simmons (casual fan), Trey White
8-4 — Brandon Daniels, Ronald Parrish (RBP79)
7-5 — Andrew Morris, Christopher Walker, JRock, Greg Wagner, Gonzalo Maturino, Northeast Mean Green, James Stinson, John Curry, Darren Foyt (EagleD), Stephen Francis (TheFranchise)
7-6 — Rick Herold, Jonathan Dennis, Andrew J. Hinojosa (UNT Satchmo), Chris Van Cleave (UNT_rocket09), Henry Haskins, Brian Martin
6-6 — Harry, Tom Crothers (Eagle MBA), Travis Scott, Shoss, bstnsportsfan3, adman, MeanGreenMatt, Josh Martin, mgfan (Zachary Hallak), NCMeanGreen, Rex Winn (Greenrex), Thomas Van Dieter (Eppie 96), BobFam, Keith Mazy (OXatUNT), Kellen Jemeyson, Scott Robertson (Hunter Green), James Monroe (JKvs.Himself), Alec McKinley, Bob Campbell (Ozark Eagle), Jeff Hale, Lee Hughes (3XNTGRAD), Paul Nordstrom
6-7 — Eagle83, Von Eaglin
5-8 — Brandon Cooper (UNT advances to C-USA title game on a tiebreaker and falls)
5-7 — Brett Vito, Rick Ashwander (Scratch1976), GreenBat, Greendylan, Thor, Travis Miller, Jim Hull, Allen Kriesman (Akriesman), Got5onit, Devin Axtman (An Aquarrian), Jared Morris, Eagle in Omaha, Cody Valle, Will Server, Phillip71, Skip Scott, Nathan Harvey, Jonathan Davidson (MeanGreenTexan), Steven Pettit, Bruce Lathrop (ntsu71)
4-8 — UNT Flyer (Derrick Murray), Bryan Graves (UNTGuy5), Marc Hernandez, Adam Rosenfield, Lynn Ramsey, David Guilligan (Mean Green Scrappy)
3-9 — 97and03, filmerj, Rick Smith (GGRN-WHT)