Five things that could make matters worse for UNT in 2015

Texas  defensive end Bryce Cottrell (91) and  tackle Hassan Ridgeway (98) sack North Texas quarterback Josh Greer last season at Darrell K. Royal- Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin. UNT fell 38-7 and will face Tennessee and Iowa in a pair of tough nonconference games this season. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

Texas defensive end Bryce Cottrell (91) and tackle Hassan Ridgeway (98) sack North Texas quarterback Josh Greer last season at Darrell K. Royal- Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin. UNT fell 38-7 and will face Tennessee and Iowa in a pair of tough nonconference games this season. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

Earlier this week, we took a look at five items on the to-do list for UNT to improve this fall after a 4-8 finish in 2014.

Unless a team goes 0-12, there is also always a chance for a decline. That’s where we turn today as we look at five ways UNT could end up slipping a little farther in 2015.

1. Falling victim to the schedule

UNT fans are already tiring of reading about the schedule, but any honest assessment of the Mean Green’s challenges has that slate as the team’s big stumbling block.

The Mean Green play not one, but two opportunity/body bag games in 2015 at Tennessee and Iowa. Both the Vols and Hawkeyes are coming off bowl seasons. Ironically, Tennessee beat the Iowa 45-28 in the 2014 Tax Slayer Bowl.

UNT generally fares about as well in guarantee games as blondes in slayer flicks.

The Mean Green are 3-34 all-time against Southeastern Conference opponents and 13-100 against teams in the Power 5 leagues.

And that’s just for starers.

UNT also has a horribly-timed Week 1 bye that sets up a run of 12 games in 12 weeks with just just five home games among them. In addition, UNT also has Conference USA crossover games against Western Kentucky, Marshall and Middle Tennessee, the teams picked to finish first through third in the league’s East Division.

If one asked a few months ago to dream up a realistic worst-case scenario for UNT’s schedule, I’m not sure anyone could have come up with something as bad as what the Mean Green face.

2. Failing to find a solution at quarterback.

UNT head coach Dan McCarney said this spring that he feels a whole lot better about his quarterback situation this fall than he did a year ago. The Mean Green have two quarterbacks returning who started games last season.

That’s good.

Josh Greer was benched after three games and Andrew McNulty was UNT’s third option.

That’s bad.

UNT could be a lot better at quarterback this year, thanks to the experience McNulty gained while starting the last six games of the 2014 season. There is also a chance that JUCO transfer DaMarcus Smith rides in on a white horse and saves the say, despite missing all of spring practice while he worked to become eligible.

There is also a chance UNT will be mediocre at quarterback again this season, especially when compared to C-USA rivals like Western Kentucky, which has the Preseason C-USA Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Brandon Doughty.

If UNT struggles at quarterback again, it could spell trouble.

3. Struggling to replace four starting offensive linemen

Anyone close to UNT’s program is fully aware that offensive line coach Mike Simmonds is great at what he does. It’s also true that UNT has a good player in center Kaydon Kirby, its lone returning starter.

It’s also well within the realm of possibility that losing four starters, including two who are now with the New Orleans Saints in Antonio Johnson and Cyril Lemon is going to be harder to overcome that anticipated.

4. Failing to adjust on defense

UNT is going to use a lot of the same concepts on defense under new coordinator Chris Cosh as it did under John Skladany, who retired after last season.

There is always a chance that UNT will struggle to adjust without Skladany, though. UNT’s players had a special connection with a coach who seemed like the Gandalf of the Mean Green’s operation. He was the wise guide who had been through the wars who everyone would follow into the fire.

Cosh is perfectly qualified and a good coach, but he’s stepping into a situation where UNT is replacing its top two defensive players in linebacker Derek Akunne and cornerback James Jones.

UNT could take a step back this season, no matter how qualified Cosh is just due to the situation.

5. UNT might lack difference-makers

UNT has good players across the board like running backs Jeffrey Wilson and Antoinne Jimmerson, wide receiver Carlos Harris and cornerback Kenny Buyers, but does it have enough difference-makers?

UNT had three preseason All-C-USA selections, but just one was a skill position player in Harris. The other two were Kirby and kicker Trevor Moore.

Great teams have top-end talent at key spots. UNT’s 2013 bowl team had a first-team all-conference safety in Marcus Trice, a first-team all-conference linebacker in Zach Orr, a 1,000-yard rusher in Brandin Byrd and a quarterback in Derek Thompson who threw for 2,896 yards, the second-highest single-season total in program history.

UNT is going to need players to emerge as elite performers in C-USA at key positions to compete for a bowl berth. If that doesn’t happen, it will be tough for UNT to post a winning season.

Happy birthday to Dan McCarney

Dan McCarney’s birthday was today.

Best wishes for one of the good guys in college athletics.

Tuesday afternoon tidbits (C-USA title betting odds, et cetera)

North Texas tight end Marcus Smith (18)  and the rest of the Mean Green will open the season as a a decided underdog in Conference USA, according to Sportsbook.

North Texas tight end Marcus Smith (18) and the rest of the Mean Green will open the season as a a decided underdog in Conference USA, according to Sportsbook. (DRC file photo)

There were a couple of items of interest to come down today and a few other tidbits I have been meaning to get to. With that said, here’s a quick lap around the bases in UNT athletics.

A few people have asked when the figure for UNT’s full-cost-of-attendance scholarships will be available. I asked today and didn’t get a definitive timeline. UNT officials still expect it to be available in the next few days.

Considering the date this all goes into affect is Aug. 1, I would assume UNT will release the information pretty quickly. I would be shocked if the number already isn’t set in stone.

I also haven’t gotten around to mentioning that UNT has a new assistant volleyball coach. Vinh Nguyen has volunteered with UNT’s program in the past and will now be a full-time assistant. He takes over for Susan Halverson, who is headed back to Ohio State, where she played and was a volunteer assistant.

I happened to run into Nguyen and UNT head coach Andrew Palileo this afternoon over at the Mean Green Village.

Sportsbook also came out with its odds on which team will win Conference USA this season. It surprised me a bit that the site has Marshall as the favorite over Western Kentucky.

UNT is sitting at 11th out of 13 teams in terms of the odds. Only UTSA and Charlotte have longer odds.

If you sense a theme emerging here, you would be right. UNT will open the season as a consensus underdog in the C-USA race this year.

UNT has a brutal schedule this year with two games on the road against Power 5 opponents Tennessee and Iowa, not to mention games against C-USA East Division powers Marshall and Western Kentucky.

UNT softball team roster now updated, where team stands

North Texas coach Tracey Kee will have 11 newcomers on her roster this season and five returning players. Eight members of the 2015 team that had eligibility remaining are not on UNT's updated roster heading into the fall season. (DRC file photo)

North Texas coach Tracey Kee will have 11 newcomers on her roster this season and five returning players. Eight members of the 2015 team that had eligibility remaining are not on UNT’s updated roster heading into the fall season. (DRC file photo)

We reported earlier this summer that UNT had a series of key players leave its softball program, including record-setting outfielder Taylor Schoblocher and former all-conference selection Spencer Ferrell.

UNT declined at the time to provide an updated roster or acknowledge which members of the 2015 team would return for head coach Tracey Kee’s third season with the Mean Green.

The school updated its online roster in the last few days.

UNT will have just five players from its 2015 team returning for the fall season after eight with eligibility remaining left the program and four seniors graduated.

Schoblocher and Ferrell both said they left the team because they felt uncomfortable playing for UNT’s coaching staff. Kenzie Grimes and Shelby Smith both said that they left the team to live in closer proximity to their families.

The families of Sarah Barker and Madison Tierney both acknowledged that their daughters left the team, but declined further comment.

UNT’s updated roster shows that Monique Garcia and Mallory Land have also left the program.

UNT will have 11 new players on its roster heading into the fall season, when the Mean Green will look to bounce back from a 19-31 campaign. UNT lost 16 of 18 late in the season before recovering to sweep UTEP in its final regular season series.

That series win gave UNT a bid to the Conference USA tournament, where the Mean Green were shut out 5-0 in their opening-round game against Florida Atlantic.

UNT enjoyed a breakout season in Kee’s debut campaign in 2014, winning a school record 31 games.

The Mean Green will look to return to that level in 2016 after just the third losing season in Kee’s 17 years as a head coach. UNT’s 19 wins in 2015 were the lowest single-season total of her career.

UNT finished fourth out of six teams in Conference USA’s West Division last season with an 11-12 record in league play.

Monday night notes (Blair lands at Texas State, et cetera

It’s Monday night and time for a quick lap around the bases as far as UNT athletics goes.

First off, former UNT assistant coach Karen Blair has found a new gig, landing at Texas State.

Blair worked at UNT for Mike Petersen, who has now seen all of his former assistant coaches find new jobs. Wesley Brooks is now at Utah, while Ashley Davis is at Oklahoma State.

Blair was always a pleasure to talk to. It’s nice to see her land on her feet.

And in other news, UNT announced this week that its women’s track and field team earned all-academic honors from the USTFCCCA.

Shahaf Bareni, Connor Bey, Collin Heard and Kedron Sowells made the team as individuals.

Five things UNT must to do improve in 2015

North Texas running back Antoinne Jimmerson (22) fights off a tackle by SMU senior defensive back Hayden Greenbauer in a 43-6 win over the Mustangs last season at Apogee Stadium. UNT ran over the Mustangs, rolling up 245 yards on the ground, but didn't have the success running the ball it did in the past on the season. Whether or not the Mean Green can improve is a key question heading into the 2015 season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas running back Antoinne Jimmerson (22) fights off a tackle by SMU senior defensive back Hayden Greenbauer in a 43-6 win over the Mustangs last season at Apogee Stadium. UNT ran over the Mustangs, rolling up 245 yards on the ground, but didn’t have the success running the ball in 2014 that it did in previous seasons. Whether or not the Mean Green can improve is a key question heading into the 2015 season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT will open fall practice in a matter of days, another key milestone leading up to the Mean Green’s season opener at SMU on Sept. 12.

Just a year ago, UNT was on a roll heading into its 2014 opener off a 9-4 finish and a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Mean Green couldn’t maintain the momentum that season provided and crashed to a 4-8 finish.

So what does UNT need to do to get back on track? Here’s a look at five key challenges the Mean Green face.

1. Solve the quarterback issue.

UNT found out just how important Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Derek Thompson was to its team last season, when the Mean Green struggled mightily to replace him. Thompson threw for 2,896 yards and 16 touchdowns with a passing efficiency rating of 133.6 in 2013.

UNT never came close to filling the void Thompson left while running through three starters in 2014. Those three players combined to throw for 2,073 yards and 13 touchdowns with a passing efficiency rating of 112.4.

Andrew McNulty started the last six games of the 2014 campaign after UNT started Josh Greer and Dajon Williams for three games each. McNulty is back and enters fall practice as UNT’s starter after a solid spring. He will have to hold off JUCO transfer DaMarcus Smith in what figures to be a head-to-head showdown for the starting job.

UNT’s hopes to improve as a team in 2015 will rest largely on McNulty or Smith showing that they can get the Mean Green’s offense rolling. UNT scored 21 or fewer points in seven games last season.

2. Get the running game going again.

UNT spent the offseason working on a new offensive approach based on spreading the field and pushing the pace. Whether or not those wrinkles work out will depend largely on the Mean Green’s success running the ball.

UNT averaged 180.7 rushing yards a game on 4.3 yards a carry and scored 31 rushing touchdowns in 2013. Those totals dropped to 153.2 yards a game on 3.9 yards a carry with 21 rushing touchdowns last season.

Improving on those totals could be tough after UNT graduated four senior offensive linemen, including three four-year starters. Cyril Lemon was a four-time all-conference selection. Lemon and Antonio Johnson signed with the New Orleans Saints.

Getting its running game on track without those linemen and without a proven quarterback will be difficult. UNT has to find a way. It won’t matter if the Mean Green spread the field and push the pace, if they can’t run the ball in what is a generally conservative offense.

3. Adjust to defensive coordinator Chris Cosh.

UNT has a new defensive coordinator in Chris Cosh, who has worked for some of the storied programs (Kansas State, South Carolina, Michigan State) and coaches (Bill Snyder, Lou Holtz, Nick Saban) in the college football.

Cosh knows what he’s doing, but there is always an adjustment period for a new coach with any program.

4. Find wide receivers to complement Carlos Harris.

There wasn’t much of a secret with where UNT was trying to go with the ball in the passing game last season. Wide receiver Carlos Harris caught 70 passes for 863 yards. Darius Terrell finished a distant second with 26 catches for 301 yards in his senior season.

UNT didn’t have enough threats at wide receiver to keep opponents honest.

UNT has some players who have the potential to step forward and provide Harris some help, including redshirt freshmen Tee Goree and O’Keeron Rutherford and junior college transfer Thaddeous Thompson. Their performance will be vital to UNT’s season.

5. Rebuild the defensive secondary.

UNT has some experienced linebackers and what looks like it could be a solid rotation in its defensive line. What the Mean Green lack is experience in their secondary.

Starting cornerback Kenny Buyers returns and safety Kishawn McClain started three games when Sheldon Wade was hurt in 2014. Outside of those two players, UNT lacks experience. Highly regarded JUCO safety James Gray is expected to start along with McClain at safety. Converted linebacker Jamal Marshall and career backup Chad Davis will battle for the other starting cornerback job.

UNT needs that group to come together this fall.

Coming Wednesday — A look at five things that could cause UNT to fare worse than it did in 2014.

The Sunday leftovers (recruiting tidbits, et cetera)

It’s Sunday night and time for the leftovers, where we reheat the events of the last couple of days, pick out the good stuff — and some of the bad — while hopefully putting it all in perspective.

This week is essentially the calm before the storm that is the beginning of fall practice and with it the build-up toward UNT’s season-opener at SMU.

And speaking of UNT’s bitter rival, there was some news to come down on the recruiting front. Any time UNT and SMU go head-to-head on a recruit, it’s a story. The Mustangs came out on top in one of those battles today when Ryan Becker, a tight end out of Marble Falls, committed to SMU.

Becker is a big-time get for SMU. He had a ton of offers.

And in other recruiting news …

The competition appears to be heating up for California JC wide receiver Marquis Wimberly, who we talked to for our ongoing UNT recruiting target series.

Quick point here …

UNT has two commitments so far, but it’s far from time to panic.

Plan Powder is still is still out there. UNT is building relationships with top players from across the state and other schools are quickly filling out there classes.’

It doesn’t matter who commits in August. It’s who signs in February. UNT still has plenty of time.

If UNT hits late January and is still sitting there with one of the lower-rated classes in the country, then it might be worth getting worked up over.

A key part of the process of building UNT’s class will take place at its Friday Night Lights camp this week. UNT will have a ton of kids in for the event, including some of its top prospects. We should find out in the next few days who will be there.

And finally …

UNT SID Eric Capper made a good point today. NFL training camps begin this week, when several former UNT players will begin preparing for the season.

COA stipends — my take

North Texas is set to provide full-cost-of-attendance scholarships to its athletes, which should UNT's players and their teams. Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas is set to provide full-cost-of-attendance scholarships to its athletes, which should UNT’s players and their teams. Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

We mentioned on the blog and in the paper this week that UNT will soon settle on the figure for its full-cost-of-attendance scholarships.

The news has caused quite a healthy debate among UNT fans, one that I thought I would join.

First off, it’s not going to be the end of the world for UNT — and it could help the program. UNT is in the position to offer full-cost-of-attendance scholarships to all its athletes. There is a good chance that the scholarships UNT offers will come in with a higher value than some of its competitors in Conference USA and beyond.

Considering selling top high school athletes on coming to UNT isn’t the easiest task, that edge in the scholarship realm could really help.

And like a lot of people, I think it’s only right that the athletes who are playing get a cut of of they money in what has become multi-million dollar industry. Scholarships are great, but they don’t cover everything.

There is no way a college football player is going to have the time to get a job on the side.

Could athletes budget their money better, especially those who receive Pell Grants on top of their scholarships?

Sure.

I see the argument that athletes should have to learn to budget their money like other students.

Here’s the problem.

College athletes are not like all other students. They’re just not.

Student-athletes are brought in under special circumstances, provided special housing, special meal plans and special tutors. They are representing the universities they play for.

One can argue that so is the flute player in the band, but no one gives a flip about the band.

Are athletes are entitled? Of course they are. That’s the system from the ground up. They aren’t regular students. They haven’t been regular students in decades.

This is just another step in the process that has been going on for years. There is no way to turn back now.

UNT really has no choice but to get on board. And if that means the members of the Mean Green football and basketball programs get a little more financial assistance than the kid sitting in freshman English, great.

The idea of athletes playing for nothing more than the glory of their school is an antiquated notion. UNT’s athletes do have pride in their school.

Providing them a little extra isn’t going to change that.

In the end, the scholarships UNT is set to provide could end up giving the school an edge — one it could clearly use at this point.

Quick recruiting tidbit — UNT misses cut for Jaron Bryant

Duncanville safety Jaron Bryan has just released his list of the top six programs he is considering.

UNT missed the cut.

Bryant is among the players we have talked to for our on-going UNT recruiting target series.

Bryant said that he never ended up hearing from UNT’s coaches after receiving an offer.

Chad Hedlund, son of UNT coach, now at SMU

Former Argyle standout Chad Hedlund has joined the SMU football team. (AP file photo)

Former Argyle standout Chad Hedlund has joined the SMU football team. (AP file photo)

Kicker Chad Hedlund, a former Argyle standout and the son of UNT soccer coach John Hedlund, is now playing for SMU, one of the Mean Green’s key rivals.

Hedlund began his career at Wake Forest.

E.J. Holland of The Dallas Morning News pointed out this morning that Hedlund has been added to the Mustangs roster.

John Hedlund is the only soccer coach in the history of the school’s women’s program and has enjoyed a highly successful career. He has never endured a losing season and has led the Mean Green to three NCAA tournaments.

Hedlund’s other son Cole Hedlund is a kicker at Arkansas.

Chad Hedlund handled the kicking duties for Wake Forest as a sophomore in 2013 and hit eight of his 12 field goal attempts and all 26 of his extra points. Mike Weaver handled the kicking duties for Wake Forest last season.

Hedlund will be a senior at SMU this fall. Cody Rademacher was the Mustangs kicker last season during his senior season.

UNT is set at kicker with sophomore Trevor Moore coming off a standout campaign that saw him hit 15 of his 17 field goal attempts and all 37 of his extra points. Moore was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection.

UNT opens its season at SMU on Sept. 12.