The UNT soccer team plays for C-USA outright title tonight

Hedlund

The UNT women’s soccer team plays for the outright Conference USA title tonight when it faces Western Kentucky at the Mean Green Soccer Complex.

The Mean Green have already wrapped up at least a share of the title heading into their last game coming up here at 7 p.m.

I wrote a feature for today’s paper on Rachel Holden and Tori Phillips and their background as former home school students.

Both are standout players for the Mean Green. I found it interesting that they didn’t go to high school like most kids, even though recruiting in college soccer is all about the club scene any way.

I also wanted to break out a little preview here on the blog because this is a milestone moment for UNT.

Here’s the situation, UNT is tied for first with Rice with 22 points heading into tonight’s game. The Mean Green are 7-1-1 in league play, while the Owls have already finished up their regular season slate and have a 7-2-1 record.

All UNT needs is a tie to win the title outright. But make no mistake, UNT wants the win on Senior Night.

Either way, the Mean Green go down as the first team in program history to win a C-USA title, which will be another milestone in the career of John Hedlund, one of the best coaches UNT has had in any sport in its history.

It would just be nice for UNT to finish with an outright title, especially since there seems to be a bit of a rivalry with Rice as far as soccer goes.

Jackie Kerestine is having a monster season in goal for UNT and has 11 shutouts on the season behind a really good defense. Karla Pineda has 11 goals for UNT.

Don’t be surprised if UNT doesn’t take a 2015 QB

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t have any inside information from the UNT end of it on this one, but after some conversations with people outside of the program, don’t be surprised if there isn’t a quarterback in the Mean Green’s 2015 signing class.

UNT didn’t chase many this year. Chris Riddle out of Florida was about the only one we heard a lot about.

It looks like UNT will stick with the five it has heading into next year. UNT has three players who have started at least one game this year in Josh Greer, Dajon Williams and Andrew McNulty, who appears to be on track to start the remainder of the Mean Green’s games.

UNT also has Connor Means coming off a redshirt season next year and Caleb Chumley coming in.

That’s five guys. There was always some question as to whether or not UNT would add a sixth player to the mix.

It doesn’t look like UNT will head down that road.

That could change. The situation with scholarships is always fluid. UNT could have a top-ranked quarterback knock on its door tomorrow that that staff would grab in a heartbeat.

But let’s just assume for the sake of argument that UNT does in fact pass on a 2015 quarterback.

What will does that mean?

It essentially means head coach Dan McCarney is ready to roll the dice on one of a couple of scenarios playing out in UNT’s favor:

1. Andrew McNulty pans out

We have known for weeks that McCarney is high on McNulty in terms of his toughness and ability to take care of the ball. UNT is pretty conservative offensively. Could McMulty come back as a senior and approach the level of play Derek Thompson gave UNT as a senior while leading the Mean Green to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. UNT could be willing to wait and see.

2. Williams figures it out

The other possibility is that UNT has reached the point where it is confident that even if McNulty doesn’t work out, Williams will. The redshirt freshman is very talented, but has a lot going on off the field and has struggled with dedication issues. UNT has given Williams chance after chance. There could be a sense of confidence that Williams is ready to finally capitalize on his potential.

3. Means is the answer

Connor Means looked pretty impressive in spring practice at times. He has the tools. Has UNT seen enough in practice to be confident in the freshman taking over as a starter right off the bat as a redshirt freshman? There is always that possibility.

4. UNT believes the odds are in its favor

It’s not like UNT won’t have options next year if it stands pat. There are a lot of guys who are certain to return. UNT has a ton of holes to fill next season across the board, both the ones that have shown up this year and the ones that won’t be easy to plug after a series of key seniors, including linebacker Derek Akunne, four starting offensive linemen and key secondary starters James Jones and Lariamie Lee graduate.

UNT could come to the conclusion that it has too many holes to fill to spend another precious scholarship on a quarterback.

Like I said, nothing is official.

Just don’t be surprised if this is where this ends up going.

Thursday night notes, including a couple of recruiting tidbits

UNT is off this week in football, but there’s always something going on in the land of the Mean Green. Without further ado, here are a couple of tidbits to mull over …

– Dave Campbell’s Texas Football updated its list of the top 150 Texas prospects in the Class of 2015 this week. UNT doesn’t have a player committed from DCTF’s list, but it does have offers out to several who are still on the board, including South Garland wide receiver Jerminic Smith and Greenville wide receiver D’erren Wilson.

We mentioned earlier today that Smith is on his way to Iowa for an official visit.

– In a side note, JUCO linebacker Claude George committed to Texas A&M today, which is only UNT related because he very nearly committed to UNT a few years ago. George visited UNT, signed with Memphis, landed at Huchinson (Kan.) Community College is now set to sign with the Aggies. He’s a talent. It makes one wonder what might have been. UNT wasn’t involved as far as I know when he came out to junior college. He was headed to a major conference team at that point.

– And while women’s basketball isn’t high on must UNT fans’ radar, the women’s AP Top 25 came out. Two C-USA teams received votes, Middle Tennessee (if you have been paying attention to UNT women’s basketball over the years, you knew that was coming) and Western Kentucky.

Key recruiting tidbit — Smith to visit Iowa this weekend

We are getting into the time of the year when top high school players begin taking their official visits to schools across the country. I bring it up because one of the Mean Green’s wide receiver targets is about to hit the road.

Jerminic Smith of South Garland will visit Iowa this weekend.

If you’ve been following the blog, you know why Smith is such an interesting target. He’s the younger brother of former UNT wide receiver Darnell Smith, who was a key contributor after walking on at UNT. He led the Mean Green in receptions with 70 and finished just behind Brelan Chancellor with 791 receiving yards last season. We talked to him at Friday Night Lights last summer.

The brothers are close. Jerminic posted this photo on his Twitter account this week:

What makes this interesting is that Smith is the third younger brother of a member of UNT’s Heart of Dallas Bowl team who is also a Division I prospect. Zach Orr’s younger brothers Nick and Chris were both top-notch prospects. Nick is currently playing quite a bit for TCU and already has an interception in his freshman season. Chris is headed to Wisconsin.

It would be tough for UNT go go 0-for-3 on younger brothers of guys who played on the bowl team.

What UNT has to hope is the insight those older brothers provided their younger brothers as far as what the school has to offer will lead them to pass on the chance to play for a major conference program to play for the Mean Green.

UNT didn’t land either of the younger Orr brothers, but it still has a shot with Smith, who is just the type of player who could make a big difference for UNT.

The Mean Green have struggled all season to find a complement for Carlos Harris. Smith could be that type of player.

Stay tuned.

How many more wins are possible for UNT? A look at the schedule

North Texas players take the field before a loss to Southern Miss on Oct. 18. UNT has won two games and will look to add to that total in its final four games (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

It’s been tough sledding for UNT this year, needless to say. The Mean Green can’t seem to find a quarterback and have lost four straight.

Linebacker Derek Akunne said after the Mean Green’s loss to Rice last week that UNT isn’t going to give up on its yearly baseline goal to “Hit Six” — that somewhat nifty slogan that made its way into the program’s vernacular last fall. Quarterback Andrew McNulty and wide receiver Carlos Harris expressed similar sentiments.

Technically, UNT still has a shot to win six games, even now at 2-6.

Since this is typically the time of the week we spent a whole lot of time on the blog talking about the upcoming game and there isn’t one this week, let’s take a look at UNT’s four remaining games, where those teams stand.

Florida Atlantic (at UNT Nov. 8) — The Owls have been all over the place since being run by Nebraska and Alabama to start the season and sit at 3-5 heading into a game against UAB. If FAU can pull that one out, it would be 4-5 coming to UNT with a real shot of getting to six wins. FAU might be better than its record considering it also lost to Marshall, giving the Owls three losses against ranked teams. FAU has a competent quarterback in Jaquez Johnson, who has 1,502 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one interception.

This game will also mark the return of standout UNT linebacker Chris Hurd, who played for the Mean Green during the Miracle Bowl Run of 2001-04 when UNT went to four straight bowls and won 26 straight conference games before the Mean Green had a new stadium, an athletic center, new academic center or much of anything else to work with other than a bunch of really good football players. Hurd was one of them.

FAU’s game against UAB will be one to watch for UNT. If the Owls can win that one, UNT’s next game suddenly looks a lot tougher against a team with something to play for.

UTEP (in El Paso Nov. 15) — When the C-USA season began, no team was expected to be worse than UTEP. The Miners were picked last in the league’s West Division and received fewer points than any team in the league in the poll.

Then a funny thing happened. UTEP found a quarterback. Jameill Showers isn’t putting up huge numbers, but he isn’t killing the Miners, either. UTEP has a balanced offense and has won its last two games over Old Dominion and UTSA after being curb stomped by Louisiana Tech to open conference play.

The Miners should be able to take down Southern Miss this week before taking on Western Kentucky. The way this sets up could have UNT heading to El Paso with UTEP either looking to wrap up a bowl bid or trying to get there.

It will be another tough game for UNT.

Florida International (at UNT Nov. 22) — At this point, this one looks like it could be between a couple of teams officially out of bowl contention. UNT has to win out and hasn’t won consecutive games all year.

FIU has to win three of its last four games and has Rice and Middle Tennessee coming up before its final game of the season at UNT. FIU has lost two straight and will face UNT in its final home game.

This will be UNT’s annual Senior Bowl game. I know some people question the whole production. For those of you haven’t been following along, UNT has a cheap trophy. If UNT wins, the seniors get their picture up in the football offices with the trophy for the whole next year.

If UNT loses, the trophy gets put up for the year and everyone walks away in shame, or something like that. UNT is 2-1 in the game, for the record.

If it works …

The game could be UNT’s best chance for a win the rest of the way.

UTSA (in San Antonio Nov. 29) — When this game was played in Denton last year, we dubbed it the Mean Green Fans Wing Zone Green Kool-aid Suicide Pact Game. We feared at a large number of UNT fans would be tempted to leave this mortal coil if UNT lost to the college football newbies in its 100th anniversary season.

UNT did lose, but by then was well on its way to a bowl game, negating some of the angst about it.

UTSA has struggled just as much as UNT this year and is pretty much toast at 2-6 just like the Mean Green. The hard part of UTSA is this was supposed to be the Roadrunners’ year with a senior-laden roster.

This could be a pride deal for both teams, and a good chance for a season-ending win for UNT.

 

In a side note — Tony Mitchell’s season started tonight

One of the all-time great talents to roll through UNT — at least as far as basketball goes — started his season tonight.

Tony Mitchell and the Detroit Pistons are playing the Denver Nuggets as we speak. Mitchell hasn’t gotten into the game. It should be interesting to see if he gets more of an opportunity to play this season.

He barely got off the bench last year.

Mitchell is getting to the point where it would really help him if he could start to show something and work his way into the Pistons’ rotation. He’s stuck behind Andre Drummond and Jonas Jerebko at this point.

Mitchell is a good guy. You just hope it works out for him.

Mitchell took a bit of an undeserved beating at UNT after not showing a big motor at times. If he was a perfect prospect, he wouldn’t have ended up at UNT in the first place. It’s just the nature of mid-major basketball, football or just about any other kind of ball.

If he was a perfect prospect, he would have ended up at Duke or North Carolina.

Hopefully, Mitchell has gotten past some of his issues with the Pistons and will start to capitalize on his potential.

Thoughts on UNT landing Brice, getting back into the Texas high school ranks

Benford

UNT landed a commitment from one of the better prospects to elect to play for the Mean Green in the last couple of years yesterday in Rickey Brice.

That was good news.

The better news is that Brice, a 6-11 center, is one of those highly important, homegrown, Dallas-area high school talents. He plays for Arlington Pantego Christian.

After a bit of a slow start on the recruiting front and some misses, including P.J. Hardwick, Tony Nunn and Josh Friar to name a few, UNT appears to be picking up a bit of steam in terms of bringing on Texas talent under third-year coach Tony Benford.

If UNT is every going to get to where it wants to be, or where it was a few years ago when it was rolling to 20-win season after 20-win season, landing top local (or Texas) players is going to be its path to get there.

That’s how UNT got there in the past behind players like Calvin Watson and Tristan Thompson and Josh White (Ok, he was from Louisiana, but the point is still the same).

After a few failed experiments that appears to be what UNT is getting back to.

This year’s freshmen include Jeremy Combs, a good prospect from Dallas Carter, and Greg Wesley, although Wesley did sit out a year.

Ja’Michael Brown, a point guard who will play the upcoming season at Pro-Vision Academy in Houston (again, another Texas product) will join Brice in UNT’s 2015 class.

There ‘s nothing wrong with a team that adds a few JUCO transfers. Several have been key elements of UNT’s better teams over the years. Rich Young comes to mind.

Depending too much on two-year transfers always seems to spell trouble for UNT — and any other team for that matter.

One had to wonder if UNT wouldn’t go that route after a couple of tough seasons. The Mean Green finished a stunning 12-20 in head coach Benford’s first season two years ago, despite featuring a loaded roster that included Tony Mitchell, Jordan Williams and Roger Franklin.

Last year wasn’t much better at 16-16, including a 6-10 finish in conference play.

UNT grabbed four junior college players in its last class and is banking on them to come through.

The commitments of Brice and Brown show that UNT isn’t going to get away from the Texas high school pipeline it needs to build to be successful.

UNT will be better in the long-run because of that approach — as long as a few of the quick-fix two-year guys who arrived this fall can provide a bridge to them.

And in an important side note, the UNT athletic department posted its highest ever score this week on the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate report that measures a school’s academic performance.

UNT has really done well academically the last couple of years.

Breaking news — Rickey Brice commits to UNT


Brice

Rickey Brice, a 6-foot-11 center from Arlington Pantego Christian, announced this afternoon that he has committed to UNT.

The decision is one Brice made after finding a comfort level with UNT head coach Tony Benford and his staff, who have spent the last few years recruiting him.

“The coaching staff is great and it’s not that far from home,” Brice said of UNT. “I am big on family. I feel like coach Benford is a family man. He will take good care of me. It’s a great fit. I will have a lot of help and support.”

Landing one of the top center prospects in the state is a key recruiting win for UNT.

Brice is ranked No. 23 on TexasHoops.com’s list of the top players in the state in the Class of 2015.

Brice averaged 15.3 points and 7.4 rebounds a game as a junior last season for Pantego Christian and could help fill a significant void for UNT next season. Colin Voss and Armani Flannigan, a pair of key forwards, will graduate after the upcoming campaign.

“The coaches absolutely told me that I could make an impact,” Brice said. “They said there is a possibility I could play right away if I work hard on and off the court.”

Brice said he chose UNT over offers from Stephen F. Austin, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, La Salle, Temple and St. Louis.

“North Texas is getting a tremendous sleeper,” said Alan Branch of TexasBoysBasketball.com said of Brice. “When Tony Benford was at Marquette, I talked Buzz Williams [who was the Golden Eagles' head coach at the time] into recruiting Chris Otule out of Fort Bend Bush, and he is not nearly the athlete that Rickey Brice is. Rickey is a little farther along than Chris Otule was at the same time. Chris Otule was a good player on a team that that went to two Sweet 16s and an Elite 8.”

Family considerations played a key role in Brice’s decision.

“I would like to have my family come and see me play,” Brice said. “My grandmother will be able to come and see me play. I have family all around Texas who will be able to come that might not have been able to fly to see me play in St. Louis or Philadelphia.”

Brice joins a class that also includes Ja’Michael Brown, a guard who will play the upcoming season at Pro-Vision Academy.

Brown is ranked as the 37th-best player in the state by TexasHoops.com.

For more on Brice, see tomorrow’s edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Tuesday morning notes (looks like UNT could land Brice today)

There’s a feeling out there that UNT has all but sealed the deal with Rickey Brice, a 6-11 center from Arlington.

Brice tweeted less than an hour ago that he will commit today. He just didn’t say where.

I would be pretty surprised if it isn’t to UNT.

We wrote about Brice after he came on his official visit.

Brice has been hanging around UNT ever since and it sounds like the family is OK with it if he decides to go there as well.

It would be a big win for UNT if it has sealed the deal with Brice. He’s ranked No. 23 on TexasHoops.com’s list of the top players in the state in the Class of 2015.

I have a call in to Brice, who I suspect went to school and turned off his phone while he’s in class. Check back for more.

And in other recruiting news on the football front …

UNT wide receiver target Jarvis Baxter is visiting UTSA in November and New Mexico in December. I think he’s UNT’s to lose, but the Trinity Valley standout is going to take a look around before he decides what to do.

A couple of coaches show notes

McCarney

I try to make a habit of making it to Dan McCarney’s show on Monday nights during bye weeks for one very important reason: There is no press conference during bye weeks.

Therefore if there is any big news to report, it comes out then.

McCarney was nice enough to have me on for a segment, which allowed me to get a couple of key questions in.

First off, there are no key injuries (ones that are going to keep guys out) that we don’t already know about.

I also got the obvious question in about UNT’s quarterback situation.

Andrew McNulty heads into the bye week as UNT’s starter. That was no big surprise.

McNulty and Dajon Williams will compete during the bye week. Again, no surprise.

What is a bit of a change is that McCarney said he we will likely see both McNulty and Williams in UNT’s game against Florida Atlantic in two weeks. That one did surprise me a little bit.

When we see Williams will depend on the way the game unfolds.

That leaves a whole lot of room for interpretation and it certainly cranks up the pressure on McNulty. That’s part of the deal as a quarterback, but one has to wonder about anyone’s confidence at this point, especially McNulty.

Outside of that news tidbit, there were some other overall state of the program comments. UNT wants to finish strong and have something positive for its graduating seniors to remember. McCarney doesn’t sense anyone giving up.

McCarney also took time out to congratulate UNT’s soccer team and its coach John Hedlund. He’s terrific about things like that. There are a lot of college football coaches who don’t have a clue what is going on outside of their little world, and understandably so.

McCarney knows what’s going on, is a terrific cheerleader for the rest of the department and took time to acknowledge UNT’s soccer team and Hedlund, who has never had a losing season and has been to three NCAA tournaments.

Classy move.