Off-season questions series No. 3 — Can UNT overcome the loss of so many key players, coaches?

North Texas linebackers Will Wright, left, and Zach Orr take down UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring during the Mean Green’s 36-14 win over the Rebels in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Orr and Wright are two of several key seniors and coaches UNT must replace heading into next season. (The Dallas Morning News/Sarah Hoffman)

During the early stages of his tenure at North Texas, Dan McCarney talked a lot about his belief that there would be a senior class at some point in the Mean Green’s near future that would remembered for a long time.

It would be the group of guys who banded together and brought UNT out of its near decade-long football funk.

After the Mean Green finished 9-4 and beat UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, we now know that class finished out its time at UNT last fall. There is no way to under estimate the impact guys like Zach Orr, Derek Thompson and Brelan Chancellor made in their time at UNT, and especially their last season. That trio is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the players who finished out there careers at UNT in 2013.

And that brings us to No. 3 on our list of key questions for UNT headed into spring practice: Can UNT overcome the loss of so many key players, coaches?

My stance on this is pretty well known. The more players a team is expecting to do something they have never done before, the higher the likelihood that at least a few of those players are going to fall short.

Yeah, I know freshmen sometimes excel, that redshirt freshmen and backups sometimes improve greatly. I realize that UNT has improved its off-season program, thanks largely to strength coach Frank Wintrich.

Even if one takes those factors into account, UNT is going to have to replace a whole lot of key players in the off-season. Let’s look at some of the guys who have departed stage left:

– Brelan Chancellor finished his career as UNT’s leader in career all-purpose yards with 5,503
– Derek Thommpson was the Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP and finished with 7.447 career passing yards, good for second place in program history
– Zach Orr finished with 365 career tackles, which tied with Brad Kassell for third in school history
– Brandin Byrd finished with 2,202 yards in his career, good for eighth all-time

And let’s not forget all of the other guys who were seniors last season, including Marcus Trice, LaChris Anyiam, Darnell Smith and Will Wright, not to mention UNT’s entire starting defensive line for much of the season.

That is a lot to replace, not only from a production standpoint, but also a leadership perspective when one considers the influence guys like Orr and Trice had in the locker room.

UNT landed a solid recruiting class, but a lot of the key players in that group won’t arrive until the fall, including wide receivers Fonzale Davis and Tee Goree and running back Willy Ivery.

The best teams in college football just reload on a year-to-year basis, but is seems like a stretch to think UNT is at the point it can seamlessly replace so many key players after a single bowl win. No matter what happens in the spring, its a near certainty that UNT will head into next season with a quarterback with very little experience at the FBS level, a completely rebuilt defensive line and a huge leadership void to fill.

Rebuilding was going to be tough anyway, but now UNT is going to end up with a host of new assistant coaches after being raided on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive line coach Mike Nelson retired. Safeties coach/recruiting coordinator Noah Joseph and cornerbacks coach Ryan Walters left for Indiana and Memphis and major conference coaching salaries, respectively.

Kevin Patrick will take over for Nelson and is a good fit considering he worked at South Florida with so many other members of UNT’s staff.

With that being said, the bottom line remains — replacing so many key players while also rebuilding the chemistry that was so important for the Mean Green last year isn’t going to be easy.

The process will begin this spring.

Here is our list so far:

1. Who replaces Derek Thompson at quarterback?
2. Can UNT rebuild on its defensive line?
3. Can UNT overcome the loss of so many key players?

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