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