Key returnees: Jeffery Wilson (senior), Andrew Tucker (senior), Anthony Wyche (junior)
Key losses: Willy Ivery (left program after failing to remain academically eligible)
Newcomers: Nick Smith (redshirt freshman), Tre Siggers (freshman), Evan Johnson (freshman)
Biggest unanswered question: North Texas has one of its top offensive weapons coming back in Wilson. The senior has been terrific throughout his time with the Mean Green, but has struggled to remain healthy. Wilson has never played a full season. He rushed for 936 yards and 14 touchdowns in 11 games last year. He missed three games after undergoing knee surgery. He enters his senior season with 1,909 career rushing yards.
Wilson’s struggles to remain healthy makes UNT’s backup job vitally important. The Mean Green lost their second-string running back when Ivery left the program. UNT could turn to Tucker, who rushed for 153 yards last season, as its second option. Another possibility is Smith, a player the Mean Green’s coaching staff has been high on since his arrival.
Why 2017 production could be better: There is always a chance that Wilson could remain healthy the entire year. Wilson has had a series of tough breaks throughout his career, including missing time with a broken finger. There is no reason this couldn’t be the year he is healthy throughout the season. Smith was also a highly regarded recruit, who could make an immediate impact. UNT coach Seth Littrell said late in the 2016 season that there were a few redshirt freshmen on the roster who would make an immediate impact in 2017. There is little doubt Smith is among those players.
Why 2017 production could be worse: Wilson has gone down in three straight seasons. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that he will miss time again as a senior. He carries a heavy load for UNT’s offense and isn’t the biggest running back at 193 pounds. The loss of Ivery was a key blow. He rushed for 489 yards and six touchdowns in his final season. Smith may have potential, but he isn’t a proven player like Ivery was.
Overall outlook: UNT’s running back situation hinges entirely on Wilson and his health. He is a solid Conference USA back when he is healthy. If UNT loses him for any length of time, it could be in some trouble.
Ivery was a perfect insurance policy. Without him, UNT is looking at an uncertain situation. Smith has a ton of potential, but isn’t a proven player like Ivery was.