North Texas most productive position last season was safety, where Kishawn McClain and James Gray came through with terrific years.
Both made a ton of plays for UNT. That was good. They also made a ton of tackles. That wasn’t so good for UNT, considering the pair was often the Mean Green’s last line of defense.
Both finished with more than 100 tackles and will again be key components of UNT’s defense. They are also members of the top five of our Mean Green roster raking that comes to a close today.
The top five also includes three key members of UNT’s rebuilt offense.
Each member of our top five will be key leaders in addition to be key playmakers for the Mean Green as they look to bounce back from a 1-11 finish in Seth Littrell’s debut season.
1. Kishawn McClain, safety
McClain led UNT with 110 tackles and was often the best player on the field for the Mean Green. He intercepted a pass, broke up three more, forced two fumbles and posted 2.5 tackles for loss in 2015. He led UNT in tackles in games against Rice, Southern Miss, Marshall, UTSA and UTEP. The Mean Green are hoping for a big season from McClain, who has a lot of experience entering his junior season and will be a key leader for UNT.
2. Jeffrey Wilson, running back
Wilson has struggled to stay healthy in the first two seasons of his college career, but still managed to lead UNT with 830 rushing yards in 2015. The junior missed two games due to injury last season and has missed five games in his first two seasons combined. Wilson is UNT most proven and decorated playmaker. The Mean Green need him to have a big season this fall.
3. James Gray, safety
Gray was everything UNT hoped he could be in his first season playing for the Mean Green after transferring in from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. The senior finished with 104 tackles, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles. UNT needs Gray to be an all-conference level player as a senior and help what was a terrible Mean Green defense in 2015 improve.
4. Alec Morris, quarterback
Morris came out of spring practice as UNT’s starting quarterback. The Alabama transfer barely had time to adjust after transferring at the semester break before taking the field in spring. Despite having no previous experience playing with UNT’s wide receivers, he was the Mean Green’s best quarterback throughout the spring. UNT’s rival Louisiana Tech has won bowl games the last two years with fifth-year senior transfer quarterbacks. UNT will try to follow that path this fall. Morris has the best pedigree for a UNT quarterback in a long, long time. UNT desperately needs him to work out. Far too often, UNT has started quarterbacks whose backstories sounded like feel-good tales of overachievers. Riley Dodge, anyone? Great in high school, not a top FBS-level college QB. Those out-of-the-norm scenarios rarely have happy endings in real life. Morris is just the type of quarterback UNT needs — a once highly regarded high school prospect with legitimate size, arm strength and talent and a background that isn’t littered with warning signs.
5. Sam Rice, offensive lineman
Rice was an anchor on UNT’s offensive line in 2015, his first season playing for the Mean Green after transferring from SMU. The senior started all season at left guard. UNT shifted Rice to center in spring practice following the unexpected departure of Kaydon Kirby. There is a good chance Rice will be the only returning starter UNT will have in its lineup along its offensive front for its season-opener against SMU. Rice will have to play well, make all the protection calls at the line of scrimmage and provide leadership for a rebuilt unit that struggled at times in the spring.
Here’s a look back at the rest of the countdown:
Nos. 6-10: Key wide receivers included on list
Nos. 10-15: Key returning defensive players will be vital
Nos. 16-20: Veteran linemen will be key to UNT’s hopes to improve
Nos. 25-21: Rutherford, Wheeler among key playmakers