3 UNT media-day storylines to follow: Can UNT build on a breakout season?

North Texas coach Dan McCarney will join offensive lineman Cyril Lemon and linebacker Derek Akunne at Conference USA media day on Wednesday in Dallas. (DRC/David Minton)

When: Wednesday, July 23

Where: DFW Marriott North

Who: Dan McCarney, LB Derek Akunne, OL Cyril Lemon

North Texas will enter its second season in Conference USA with the goal of proving that last year’s 9-4 season capped by a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl was no fluke.

The Mean Green was flat loaded last season, when several of the better players in recent program history were seniors, including wide receiver Brelan Chancellor, linebacker Zach Orr, safety Marcus Trice, quarterback Derek Thompson and running back Brandin Byrd. Those key players led UNT to its first winning season since 2004 and just the third bowl win in program history. UNT will look to a few key veterans and a host of young players to help the Mean Green continue its rise under McCarney.

Two of those key veterans will represent UNT at media day. Cyril Lemon will start at guard for the fourth straight year and is on the watch lists for the Lombardi and Outland trophies. Akunne is headed into his third year as a starter.

Here are three storylines to keep an eye on when it comes to UNT.

1. Where does the quarterback race stand? UNT ended spring practice without making a whole lot of progress when it comes to picking a replacement for Thompson, the MVP of the Heart of Dallas Bowl and a three-year starter who threw for 7,447 yards in his career. UNT entered spring practice with four players in the hunt for the starting job before junior Andrew McNulty and JUCO transfer Josh Greer emerged as the top two candidates. Redshirt freshman Dajon Williams might have more talent than any of UNT’s quarterbacks, but was inconsistent and then suffered an ankle injury that prevented him from playing in the spring game. Despite that injury, McCarney and offensive coordinator Mike Canales said Williams will be involved in a three-way competition with McNulty and Greer this fall.

2. What is the status of players charged with theft in the off-season? Linebacker Sed Ellis and tight end Chris Loving were both charged with theft following an incident involving a pair of televisions at a Denton Walmart this summer. Both were suspended indefinitely. UNT lost six of its seven starters in its defensive front seven to graduation. Ellis was one of UNT’s few backups with experience and was listed as a co-starter after spring practice at one outside linebacker spot with Jamal Marshall. UNT has solid depth at tight end, but could use an extra weapon in Loving, a highly regarded JUCO prospect who has fought injuries since arriving at UNT. The Mean Green could use both this season. McCarney could provide an update on the status of both players.

3. Who will UNT’s playmakers be on offense? UNT lost a 1,000-yard rusher in Byrd and its top two wide receivers in Chancellor and Darnell Smith, who combined for 123 catches, 1,583 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Antoinne Jimmerson returns and is expected to start at running back, where UNT will also have Reggie Pegram. The Purdue transfer missed the last five games of the 2013 season with a knee injury and will be back this fall. Carlos Harris returns at wide receiver, but there is little doubt UNT needs some young players, including freshman Tee Goree of Carthage, to contribute.

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