There are a few traditions like no others when it comes to UNT football — the cannon and Scrappy the mascot come to mind.
Of course there is also our own little tradition here on the blog. Yep, it’s time for the Get Your Rear on the Record contest.
We usually trot this out there about two weeks before the start of the season.
Here are the ground rules:
Each year we take guesses via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org on what UNT’s final record will be. We keep a running tally on the blog and then dig them up to see who made the right call at the end of the year.
The exercise was born out of the annoying process of watching people predict that each year would be the big turnaround year for UNT for reasons based on faith and little else. No one would remember at the end of the year or point out who was right and who was wrong when it came to preseason predictions.
The MGB never forgets.
You might be wondering how last year’s contest turned out. Well, I have the answer.
There were 75 people who sent in guesses last year, which was down pretty significantly from previous years for a significant reason. We now require people to attach their name or their handle on GoMeanGreen.com to their picks. A lot of people know UNT fans through their GMG persona because it’s the only good message board on the interwebs to talk UNT football, not to mention we have a working relationship with the site and its owner, the great Harry Miers.
So, who won?
Last year was the first year no one did.
UNT finished 9-4 and beat UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to cap one of the great turnaround seasons in program history.
P. Simmons (also known as Casual Fan) and Trey White came pretty close at 8-5.
The “Ridiculous Homer of the Year” award was left vacant last year for obvious reasons.
97and03, filmerj and Rick Smith (GGRN-WHT) reign as the “Fans with Little Faith” for picking UNT to go 3-9.
And that brings us to this year.
I’m torn on this season.
I’m a big believer in success in college athletics being all about the guys toting the rock, shooting it or trying to hit it.
Coaching is huge. Culture is important.
But in the end, I’ll take guys who can play over a bunch of guys who can’t but are well coached and immersed in a great football/school culture.
That is the crux of the issue for UNT this year. Dan McCarney is a terrific head coach and has a great staff. The evidence is overwhelming. The guy took over for the worst coach in the history of UNT athletics (statistical fact) and inherited a program with huge problems in terms of culture (McCarney and several UNT officials told us that) and turned it around.
UNT won just the third bowl game in school history last season in one of the biggest turnaround seasons in program history. UNT went from 4-8 to 9-4.
UNT lost some key assistants, but did a good job replacing them.
What one has to wonder is if UNT can replace Zach Orr, Derek Thompson, Brelan Chancellor, Marcus Trice and pretty much every other key player who made the Mean Green what it was last season.
UNT has just nine returning starters. Only Utah State has fewer starters coming back among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
The Mean Green came out of its first scrimmage of fall practice still trying to decide between Andrew McNulty and Josh Greer at quarterback. Neither of those guys has much in the way of experience of the major college level.
I have a suspicion that there are going to be times this year that UNT misses Thompson, a guy who was far better and more productive in a run-first offense than Mean Green fans gave him credit for.
UNT basically has two areas of strength — its offensive line that has four starters back and its defensive secondary, where three starters return.
UNT will be really good in both spots. guards Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo are on the Lombardi award watch list.
Outside those two key spots — offensive line and the the defensive secondary — UNT is going to depend largely on a whole bunch of unproven players.
That’s the concern.
My old adage is that the more a team in college athletics depends on players to do what they haven’t done in the past, the more likely that team is to see some of those players come up short and struggle as a result.
One could reasonably expect Thompson and veteran running back Brandin Byrd to be solid last season. It was safe to assume that Orr and Chancellor would be all-conference performers.
The big question last season was whether or not UNT’s defensive line would hold up, but by the time the season started, the Mean Green rolled out a group of players who had played significant roles in the past. Aaron Bellazin and Richard Abbe were among those who had started.
McCarney said that UNT has more questions than at any time during his tenure at the school heading into this season. That’s the concern.
UNT will be well coached, which will help, but let’s think about history.
UNT averaged 20.9 points a game in 2012 under essentially the same staff. We likened the season to sending offensive coordinator Mike Canales to a knife fight with a spork considering what he had to work with, especially after Chancellor went down with an injury. Needless to say, the “Fighting Spork” era didn’t go so well.
UNT allowed at least 37 points in four of its last seven games that same season with the same guy running the show in John Skladany.
Canales and Skladany didn’t suddenly get smarter last year. They had better players.
UNT also seemed to be a team of destiny last season, when everything — and I do mean everything — went its way.
Nearly every key player UNT had stayed healthy the whole year and the ball seemed to bounce just right most of the time, including off the chest of punt returner Keith Whitely and right to Zed Evans in arguably the turning point of the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like about UNT heading into the year. It’s offensive line will be terrific. I don’t think UNT will miss a beat at running back with Antoinne Jimmerson back and Reggie Pegram healthy.
There are some good young players who should come on at a variety of positions.
There are enough winnable games out there outside of tough road trips to Texas, Indiana, Rice and UTSA (which could be this year’s breakout C-USA team) for UNT to once again #Hit6, which is back as UNT’s rallying cry.
I just have a hard time seeing UNT winning nine games again with so many questions looming at quarterback and along the defensive line.
My rule of thumb is to look at the pick and make sure you don’t have a gut feeling that you are being a ridiculous homer.
I’m going with 7-6. That would 7-5 and a bowl loss. I could see UNT winning anywhere from five to eight games (if everything goes just right).
That is optimistic, but not to the point where I feel like I’m going overboard.
Go ahead and send in your picks and I’ll start compiling out annual tally.