Off-season questions series No. 4 — Is the chemistry there?

Running back Brandin Byrd, left, and Brelan Chancellor were two key seniors who helped North Texas establish great team chemistry. UNT will have to recreate that chemistry next season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Under normal circumstances, I don’t put a lot of stock in team chemistry.

Teams that have talent and win a lot of games tend to have players who like each other and bond for obvious reasons.

It all goes back to talent in college athletics and always will.

With that being said, the 2014 season appears to be one of those rare instances where chemistry could matter more than it usually does for several reasons.

– UNT just lost arguably one of the more productive classes in school history from a statistical standpoint with Brelan Chancellor, Zach Orr, Derek Thompson and Brandin Byrd, just to name a few.

– Several of those players were key leaders, including a three-time team captain in Orr.

– UNT just changed out three of its assistant coaches, including all but one member of its defensive staff.

– So many of the key players who left were skill position guys where chemistry between players (quarterback-wide receiver, quarterback-running back on the zone read) really does matter.

– Head coach Dan McCarney, who knows more about football than anyone outside the business could ever hope to know, credited so much of UNT’s success to last year’s senior class that helped establish the program’s culture.

Just look back at last year and the key moments that made UNT’s season and it is apparent that chemistry made an impact.

Arguably the play that turned the Heart of Dallas Bowl from a 7-7 tie in the second half into a 36-14 UNT win over UNLV was a 17-yard pass on third-and-16 from Thompson to Chancellor on the Mean Green’s second touchdown drive. The same two players hooked up on a 61-yard touchdown pass that helped UNT rally from a 10-0 deficit in a win over Louisiana Tech. Thompson and Chancellor had that chemistry. There is no way UNT holds Rice during its eight-play goal-line stand without some chemistry on defense.

Can UNT rebuild that type of team unity and persistence it showed last season with a whole new batch of seniors, so many new players at key skill positions and a largely rebuilt staff?

One has to like UNT’s chances largely because of the leadership from the top with McCarney, not to mention both coordinators in John Skladany and Mike Canales, but it is a question that will linger into next season.

And don’t forget, the schedule will not be all that favorable at the beginning of the season in terms of getting off to a great start with a trip to Austin looming in week one followed by what will be an absolute dog fight against SMU.

There will be a talent gap with Texas and the SMU game will be tougher than people expect for UNT.

UNT will be tested early, which will make establishing chemistry on a largely reconstituted team all the more challenging.

Here’s 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?
4. Is the chemistry there?

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