Three new quarterbacks in C-USA West could tell the tale

One of the interesting stories to watch in Conference USA next season continued to take shape this week when former Michigan quarterback Russell Bellomy transferred to UTSA.

Bellomy was a pretty highly regarded quarterback out of Arlington Martin who 247 Sports rated No. 29 among pro style quarterbacks nationally his senior year.

Bellomy will be eligible this year, when the C-USA West Division race could well come down to who comes out ahead when it comes to hitting on their transfer quarterback.

Granted, Rice will likely be among the favorites in the race for the division title after returning quarterback Driphus Jackson and running backs Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard.

When one looks at the conference race at this point, Louisiana Tech has arguably the top team coming back, while UNT and UTSA are looking to jump into the ranks of contenders.

All three teams hopes could come down to their quarterback transfers.  To review …

North Texas: Newcomer — DaMarcus Smith 

UNT coach Dan McCarney said the Mean Green really need to upgrade their quarterback play after starting three different guys last season. Josh Greer, Dajon Williams and Andrew McNulty combined to complete 54.7 percent of their passes and compile a 112.4 efficiency ranking. Both totals ranked 12th in the league.

Granted, UNT could hope that one of those players — particularly McNulty — takes a big step forward. UNT’s best hope for a dramatic upgrade, though, is Smith. The former Butler County (Kansas) College standout threw for 2,746 yards and 31 touchdowns with just eight interceptions last season. The problem is that he won’t be able to participate in spring practice. 

Louisiana Tech: Newcomer – Jeff Driskel

Louisiana Tech hit the jackpot last season with Cody Sokol, a fifth-year senior transfer from Iowa who came in and threw for 3,436 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Bulldogs to a 9-5 finish, an appearance in the C-USA championship game and a win over Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Sokol torched UNT for five touchdown passes in a 42-21 win in a game that wasn’t that close. The Bulldogs led 42-7 in the fourth quarter.

Sokol left a huge void, one Louisiana Tech appears like will fill with Driskel, a former five-star prospect, who played quite a bit at Florida before transferring. 

There is a feeling out there among UNT fans that if Driskel didn’t succeed at Florida that he might not be an impact player at Louisiana Tech. I don’t buy that for a minute. Driskel has the kind of talent that should make him a top-end player at the C-USA level.

UTSA: Newcomer – Russell Bellomy

Bellomy didn’t enjoy nearly the same level of success at Michigan that Driskel did at Florida, but he does give UTSA another option at a position it struggled at last season. UTSA ranked dead last in C-USA in passing efficiency at 106.4 and really missed Eric Soza, who threw for 2,719 while leading the Roadrunners to a 7-5 finish in 2013.

UTSA could have really used Bellomy last season and could look to him to help guide a huge rebuilding process in a season the Roadrunners return just five starters.

 

Sunday leftovers

It’s Sunday night and time for the leftovers, where we pick through the events of the weekend and hopefully put it all in perspective.

The big news is that UNT went unbeaten in basketball, rolling up back-to-back wins in both men’s hoops and women’s hoops.

I will now wait for that to sink in …

Ok.

The UNT men evened their record at 13-13 and also hit the .500 mark in Conference USA play by beating Florida Atlantic and Florida International. The Florida schools are not among the elite in C-USA in hoops, but sweeping that trip was impressive and critical to the Mean Green’s season. UNT is now in a tie for seventh place in the league with UTSA and Rice after extending its winning streak to four games.

The UNT men have a tough closing stretch with a home game against Old Dominion as well as a tough trip to UTSA and UTEP. UNT does have a game it should win coming up on Thursday against Charlotte.

What made the weekend even more remarkable for UNT on the hoops front was that the UNT women swept FIU and FAU at home to move to 5-20 and, more importantly, 4-10 in C-USA play. UNT jumped Rice in the league standings and is now in position to grab the last spot in the C-USA tournament.

BreAnna Dawkins finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds, while Acheil Tac added 11 points and 14 rebounds in UNT’s win over FAU. Dawkins came back to score 21 points in UNT’s win over FIU, while Tac went for 15 points and 19 rebounds.

Those two may have saved UNT’s season.

The UNT swimming and diving team finished fifth in the C-USA meet.

And finally, the UNT softball team went 2-2 at the Baylor Invitational and pulled off a big upset, edging No. 7 Baylor 1-0. The win was one of the bigger nonconference victories in recent seasons for the Mean Green, who are now 5-9 on the season.

Late night hoops rewind: UNT 70, Florida International 56

Final: UNT 70, Florida International 56

Where UNT stands: UNT hit the .500 mark at 13-13 and also improved to 7-7 in Conference USA play after winning its fourth straight conference game.

Now what?: UNT host Charlotte on Thursday in the opener of a two-game homestand that will conclude with the Mean Green’s home finale against Old Dominion.

Taylor

Star of the day:T.J. Taylor scored a season-high 18 points and hit three 3s in one of his better all-around performances in his time at UNT. The senior hit seven of his 12 shots from the field and posted two steals and an assist while playing 32 minutes without turning the ball over. While Taylor was UNT’s top performer, several others had great games, including Jordan Williams and Colin Voss. Williams came back from an off night against Florida Atlantic in which he scored nine points to tally 16 against FIU. Voss also did a little of everything while scoring eight points, grabbing 13 rebounds and handing out six assists.

Say what?

“It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. I like the way we are playing. There is a lot more buy-in with this team. We have a lot of guys who can score. We can go to whoever has the hot hand.”

– T.J. Taylor, UNT guard on the Mean Green’s performance late in the year.

Our take: UNT continued its late-season run with an impressive win over Florida International and has now won a season-high four straight. The Mean Green have had a different senior step forward every night during its winning streak and got a big performance from T.J. Taylor, who finished with 18 points against FIU.

Taylor’s performance helped UNT jump FIU in the Conference USA standings and move into a four-way tie for sixth place with UTSA, Middle Tennessee and Rice.

The key at this point in the season for UNT is to continue to play well and improve its position in the league standings for the conference tournament. UNT has a tough closing schedule with games against Old Dominion at home and at UTEP and UTSA in addition to what looks like a highly winnable game at home on Thursday against Charlotte.

UNT will head into that game on a roll, thanks to a 15-3 second-half run that allowed it to pull away from FIU.Taylor hit a 3 and converted a three-point play during the surge.

What was somewhat lost in the wake of Taylor’s performance was a pretty remarkable all-around game from Colin Voss, who posted career highs with 13 rebounds and six assists against FIU. Voss didn’t turn the ball over in 36 minutes against the Golden Panthers and continued to strengthen his claim to being the best ball-handling post player UNT has featured in recent memory.

UNT-Florida International preview/running blog

UNT will complete its Florida road trip tonight with a game against Florida International in Miami. The Mean Green enter this one on a huge roll.

UNT has won three straight, matching its best winning streak of the season, which came in the first three games of the season. We went over tonight’s matchup in our regularly scheduled Chalk Talk post last night.

Colin Voss has been the big star for UNT during its run. He scored a career-high 22 points in UNT’s win over Florida Atlantic on Thursday and has averaged 15.3 points a game during the Mean Green’s streak.

This sets up as a huge game for UNT for Conference USA tournament purposes. The Mean Green and Panthers are both 6-7 in league play and are in a three-way tie for eighth place that also includes Rice in the league standings.

UNT’s games against FIU traditionally go down to the wire. Chris Jones hit a runner in the lane in its last trip here to give UNT a win. UNT’s last eight games at FIU were decided by an average of 4.2 points a game.

FIU could present a challenge again. Panthers guard Dennis Mavin is averaging 17.4 points a game to rank second in Conference USA.

UNT is led by senior guard Jordan Williams, who is averaging 15.6 points a game. Williams scored just nine points at FAU and will look to get back on track tonight.

Stay tuned. I will update the blog all night.

Tip — UNT is going with its familiar five of T.J. Taylor, Maurice Aniefiok, Jordan Williams, Jeremy Combs and Colin Voss.

Tip II — Big time UNT booster Ernie Kuehne is here again tonight. FIU traditionally struggles to draw. Tonight’s game is another example. There are only a couple hundred people here.

14:40 — UNT is up 8-6 at the first media timeout. FIU is headed to the line with a chance to tie this game back up. Jordan Williams has four point early for UNT, which is looking to get its lead dog involved early. FIU’s size is giving the Mean Green some problems. UNT is shooting just 33 percent from the field.

11:23 — This game is all tied up at 10-10 at the second media timeout. Neither team is shooting the ball well. UNT is shooting 27.8 percent, while FIU is shooting 30.0. Jordan Williams has six points for UNT in the early going. FIU has a 4-0 edge in points at the line.

7:39 — UNT is up 14-13 at the third media timeout of the first half. Jordan Williams has six points to lead UNT in an offensively-challenged game. UNT is shooting 29.2 percent from the field. FIU is only shooting 30.8 percent. UNT has a 17-10 edge in rebounds.

5:37 — T.J. Taylor just hit a 3 to put UNT up 22-19. Taylor has UNT’s last five points. FAU took a 30-second timeout.

1:53 — UNT has a 27-25 lead at the final media timeout of the first half. Jordan Williams has nine points to lead UNT. The Mean Green led 25-21 before FIU scored four straight. Colin Voss hit a baseline jumper to put UNT back in front.

Halftime — UNT is up 29-25 at the end of the first half. UNT scored the final four points of the first half on a Colin Voss jumper and a DeAndre Harris runner in the lane. Jordan Williams has nine points at halftime to lead the Mean Green. UNT picked it up offensively late in the first half after struggling early. UNT has a 21-16 edge on the glass. UNT has hit the only free throw it has taken all night. UNT limited FIU guard Dennis Mavin to six points in the first half. He averages 17.4 points a game.

15:29 — UNT is on a 7-0 run and is up 38-32 at the first timeout of the second half. Maurice Aniefiok hit a 3 after FIU had taken a 32-31 lead and Jeremy Combs scored his first four points of the game at the rim. FIU has just taken a timeout.

14:57 — FIU snapped UNT’s run with a Daviyon Draper layup. UNT drew a foul and will have the ball coming out of this timeout. Jordan Williams still has nine points for UNT. Maurice Aniefiok has seven.

13:07 — T.J. Taylor converted a three-point play and hit a 3. FIU has taken a timeout. UNT leads 44-35.

11:29 — UNT is up 46-37 about midway though the second half. UNT was up 11 and just picked up a big call on a block-charge that went its way. FIU would have been headed to the line to complete a three-point play otherwise. T.J. Taylor has 11 points for UNT.

7:41 — UNT has pulled away and is up 53-40 late in the second half. T.J. Taylor has 11 points for UNT. Jordan Williams and Jeremy Combs both have 10. UNT went on a 15-3 run to open things up in the second half.

6:52 — FIU has hit three straight free throws to cut UNT’s lead to 53-43. UNT took a 30-second timeout.

4:45 — FIU is on an 8-2 run and has pulled to within 55-48. UNT has the ball coming out of a timeout.

3:30 — UNT may have weathered the storm here. T.J. Taylor hit a baseline jumper and FIU has gone cold here offensively in the last minute. UNT has a 57-48 lead. Taylor has 15 points.

Final — UNT 70, FIU 56. I will be back later with tonight’s rewind.

Chalk talk — UNT at Florida International

UNT at Florida International

When: 5 pm. Saturday

Where: FIU Arena

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3

Records: UNT 12-13, 6-7 C-USA; FIU 13-13, 6-7 C-USA

Last game: UNT 79, Florida Atlantic 72

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: T.J. Taylor, 6-3, Sr. — 7.8 points, 3.4 rebounds a game, 46 assists, 17 steals on the season. Taylor hit all four shots he took and scored eight points in UNT’s win over FAU. He also grabbed four rebounds.

SG: Maurice Aniefiok, 6-5 Jr. — 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds a game, 33 assists, 22 steals on the season. Aniefiok got back on track from 3-point range in UNT’s win over FAU, hitting two of his three attempts after going 2-for-14 from beyond the arc in the Mean Green’s last four games.

SF: Jordan Williams, 6-6 Sr. — 15.6 points, 5.1 rebounds a game, 53 assists, 42 steals on the season. Williams finished with nine points against FAU, marking just the second time in his senior season that he has failed to reach double figures. He took just eight shots, his second lowest total of the year.

F: Jeremy Combs, 6-7, Fr. — 9.9 points, 6.7 rebounds a game, shooting 63.6 percent from the field, but just 47.0 percent from the free-throw line. Combs scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in UNT’s win over FAU after failing to reach double figures in the Mean Green’s previous four games.

F: Colin Voss, 6-7, Sr. — 9.0 points, 5.9 rebounds a game, shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 79.1 percent from the line, 40 assists on the season. Voss posted one of the best games of his college career  in UNT’s win over FAU, scoring a career-high 22 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Voss has hit all 14 free throws he has taken in UNT’s last two games.

Scouting Florida International:

FIU is a little like UNT in that the Golden Panthers are a defensively-oriented team. FIU leads Conference USA in field goal percentage defense at 40.1 percent, while UNT ranks third at 41.1 percent. FIU relies largely on senior guard Dennis Mavin, who ranks second in the league in scoring with an average of 17.4 points a game, to lead the way offensively.

Who’s hot:

Colin Voss has been on a roll at the end of his senior season. He has scored in double figures in four straight games, including a season-high 22 points in UNT’s win over FAU on Thursday. The Mean Green have gone to Voss more and more late in the season. He has taken at least 10 shots in three of UNT’s last four games.

What you need to know:

UNT broke through for just its second win on the road this season when it knocked off FAU and is on a bit of a roll. The Mean Green upset UAB and then beat Middle Tennessee last week before pushing its winning streak to three games with its victory over FAU.

That streak has put UNT in position to really help itself in its game against FIU today. Both the Mean Green and Golden Panthers are 6-7 in league play and are tied with Rice for eighth place in the C-USA standings. A win today would give UNT not only a one-game lead on the Golden Panthers, but the tiebreaker as well.

UNT posted one of its best offensive performances of the season in its win over FAU, shooting 63.3 percent from the field. Duplicating that performance against an FIU team that is solid defensively will be tough.

FAU not only has one of the top guards in C-USA in Mavin, but also has one of the top interior players in Kansas State transfer Adrian Diaz. The junior is averaging 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. Diaz is 6-11 and the type of player who has given UNT, which is undersized inside, trouble.

Voss and Combs thrived in UNT’s win over FAU. UNT will need a similar performance today against FIU, where the Mean Green will look for consecutive road wins after starting the season 1-8 away from the Super Pit.

Friday afternoon notes (Ryan donation info, hoops, et cetera)

It’s a beautiful day in Florida, but before I take some time out to hang out there are a few items to get to on the blog.

UNT’s regents meeting is going on today. The regents approved board chairman Brint Ryan’s naming rights deal for signage at the Super Pit that will bring UNT $1 million in the next four years as part of a 10-year deal. Our university beat writer Jenna Duncan is at today’s meetings.

The obvious question is where the money will go. It will go into the school’s basketball enhancement fund that was used to purchase the new scoreboard at the Super Pit and renovate a building on the old Liberty Christian campus to create the Ernie Kuehne Basketball Practice Facility.

UNT has pumped a lot of money into the Super Pit over the years, dating back to updating the locker rooms and players’ lounge years ago.

That has really helped matters in terms of making UNT’s home venue a bigger asset to the program.

And while we are on the topic of basketball, the Mean Green women really broke out last night in a 74-55 win over Florida Atlantic. BreAnna Dawkins finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and three steals. I wrote this story about Dawkins trying to get everything she can out of her senior season after coming back from a bad knee injury earlier in the week.

UNT played one of its better games of the season and improved to 3-10 in conference play. Unfortunately for the Mean Green, Rice kept pace and beat Florida International 80-59.

UNT and Rice will swap opponents tomorrow as both teams continue their two-team race to grab that final spot in the conference tournament.

Finally, UNT outside hitter Carnae Dillard will compete in the U.S. women’s national team tryouts this week. Dillard is one of the best players in UNT history.

Late night hoops rewind: UNT 79, Florida Atlantic 72

Final: UNT 79, Florida Atlantic 72

Where UNT stands: UNT improved to 12-13 overall and 6-7 in Conference USA play after winning its third straight conference game.

Now what?: UNT will take on Florida International on Saturday in the finale of its two-game Florida swing.

Voss

Star of the day: Colin Voss scored a career high 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds in UNT’s win over FAU. The senior forward hit all eight of his free throws and went 7-for-10 from the field. Voss hit four straight free throws to spark a 9-0 UNT run late in the first half that broke the game open for the Mean Green. FAU’s big men struggled to keep track of Voss, especially early in the game when he worked his way free to hit three face-up jumpers that helped set the tone for UNT.

Say what?

“I was really proud of our guys’ focus. It was a total team effort. Offensively, we were as good as we have been all year. We were sharing the ball, getting paint touches and making open shots.”

– Tony Benford, on UNT’s performance while shooting a season-high 63.3 percent (31 of 49) from the field in its win over FAU.

Our take: UNT has really struggled on the road this season, which made its win over FAU all the more significant. The Mean Green’s only win on the road before taking out the Owls came against Rice on Jan. 10 in a game in almost blew late.

There really wasn’t much of a question if UNT would break though for a win away from the Super Pit over FAU after the Mean Green put together a 9-0 run late in the first half. The surge that included a Jordan Williams 3 was just one of the highlights in a standout offensive performance for the Mean Green.

Jeremy Combs finished with 16 points and DeAndre Harris added 14. Williams failed to score in double figures for just the second time this season, but did finish with nine points.

UNT hit 68.2 percent (15 of 22) of its shots from the field in the first half and continued to roll after halftime.

The win moved UNT into a three-way tie for eighth in the Conference USA standings with Rice and Florida International. The Mean Green face FIU on Saturday in what now looms as an even more important game for UNT.

UNT-FAU preview/running blog

UNT will take on Florida Atlantic tonight here in surprisingly chilly Boca Raton, where the Mean Green will look to look on a recent run of success that includes consecutive wins.

UNT upset UAB last week and then came from 21 down to beat Middle Tennessee and post consecutive wins for the first time since December. The Mean Green haven’t won three straight since its first three games of the season, a run that included wins over Arkansas-Monticello and Nicholls State.

A win tonight at FAU Arena would give the Mean Green their most impressive streak of the season.

DeAndre Harris has come through in the clutch in both of UNT’s recent wins, hitting a pair of free throw with 2.0 seconds left to push the Mean Green past MTSU. He also had the steal and layup that were the key in UNT’s win over UAB.

Colin Voss has also been playing well of late and has scored in double figures in three straight games.

FAU is led by its backcourt, including former Plano Prestonwood guard Marquan Botley, who is averaging 13.4 points a game. Botley is 5-10 and quick, much like his running mate Solomon Poole, a 6-0 guard, who is scoring 12.7 points a game. UNT’s guards are bigger. The question will be if the Mean Green can stay in front of Botley and Poole.

UNT (11-13, 5-7) can improve its standing in the Conference USA standings heading into the conference tournament tonight and at Florida International on Saturday. FAU is pretty much done for at 1-11 in league play, if it doesn’t go on a huge run — and get some help — late in the season.

Only 12 of the 14 teams in C-USA make the league tournament. FAU is No. 14 at this point.

Stay tuned. I will update the blog all night.

5:45 — UNT will stick with its familiar starting lineup of Maurice Aniefiok, Jeremy Combs, T.J. Taylor, Jordan Williams and Colin Voss.

First media TO 15:16 — UNT is up 11-9 at the first media timeout after Maurice Aniefiok hit a 3. This has been a close game all the way in the early going. Jeremy Combs has hit a pair of jumpers early on. UNT has looked to post up FAU’s smaller guards, but hasn’t gotten it in to the post in those spots yet.

8:50 — UNT is up 19-18 at the second media timeout of the first half. The Mean Green were up four earlier in the half. DeAndre Harris hit pull-up jumper to put the Mean Green up one after FAU has pushed ahead.

5:22 — UNT is down 28-25 late in the first half, but has ultra reliable free throw shooter Colin Voss headed to the line for a couple. FAU has scored its last six points on a pair of 3s. Voss, Jeremy Combs and DeAndre Harris all have six points in the early going for UNT.

3:55 — UNT and FAU are all tied up at 29-29 at the final media timeout of the first half. Colin Voss is headed to the line for a pair of free throws. Voss has 10 points already for UNT and has hit all seven shots he had taken, four from the field and three from the line.

37.2 — UNT went on a 9-0 run late in the first half before FAU guard Marquan Botley scored. TO UNT.

Halftime — UNT converted on its last possession when DeAndre Harris hit a baseline leaner. FAU got a shot off just before halftime, but came up empty. uNT leads 38-31 at halftime. Colin Voss has 12 points and has hit all nine shots he’s taken, including all six of his free throws. DeAndre Harris has eight points for the Mean Green. UNT hit everything it threw up in the first half — or pretty close to it — while shooting 68.2 percent from the field. FAU also shot the ball pretty well, hitting 46.4 percent. That 9-0 run near the end of the half was huge for UNT.

17:17 — UNT has scored the last four points to push its lead to 44-35 early in the second half. FAU has taken a quick timeout. Colin Voss scored again and has 14 points.

15:11 — UNT is up 47-40 at the first media timeout of the second half. The Mean Green had a 10-point edge before Marquan Botley hit a 3 and drew a foul from Armani Flannigan. Botley is headed to the line.

13:45 — UNT is up 49-44, but FAU is closing. The Owls have scored four straight. UNT dodged a bullet on a FAU 3 that bounced out.

11:53 — UNT appears to have righted the ship here a bit in the second half and has pushed its lead back to 53-46. FAU was within five. Colin Voss has 16 points and Jeremy Combs 10 for UNT.

7:51 — UNT still has a comfortable 61-49 lead, but FAU is headed to the line and has a chance to make things a little more interesting at the line. DeAndre Harris now has 12 points for UNT.

5:19 — FAU is on a bit of a run here and has cut what was a 15-point deficit to 67-60. UNT just took a timeout.

2:54 — UNT is up 71-64 at the final media timeout. Colin Voss came up with a huge rebound that led to a Jeremy Combs basket that helped UNT hang on to a pretty comfortable lead. Voss has 18 and Combs 16.

1:01 — UNT is up 75-70 coming out of a timeout and has the ball.

20.6 — UNT is up 76-72 after FAU drilled a 3. FAU just took a timeout.

Final — UNT pulls away for a 79-72 win for just its second road win of the season. Check back later for tonight’s rewind.

A couple of quick thoughts on UNT’s roster, et cetera

UNT cornerback Zac Whitfield returns an interception 99 yards for a touchdown last season in a win over Nicholls State. Whitfield is no longer on UNT's roster. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT updated its roster for spring practice this week. A couple of sharp UNT fans/blog regulars spotted it and brought up a few moves I wanted to at least mention on the blog.

I’ve been swamped with basketball and haven’t had a chance to get to it until now, as I prepare to make the run up from a hotel in Miami to Boca Raton for tonight’s UNT-FAU men’s basketball game.

The quick headlines are cornerback Zac Whitfield and tight end Cooper Jones are no longer on the roster. Both were at the end of their careers and were not likely to play a major role next season.

You just hate the fact that Whitfield’s last big play for UNT was his ill-fated attempt to field a punt before fumbling in late in a loss to UTSA at the end of last season.

The other item of interest is that all three of the players who started at quarterback last season are still around. The plan was always for Josh Greer, Dajon Williams and especially Andrew McNulty to return, but one had to wonder if all three would still be around once spring arrived, especially after UNT signed JUCO transfer DaMarcus Smith. And don’t forget that Connor Means will be available after redshirting last season.

Smith is out for the spring, but UNT still has a lot of quarterbacks to look at while pondering what direction it wants to go next season.

And on the women’s basketball front, I wrote this story on BreAnna Dawkins, one of UNT’s seniors who is trying to finish her career on a high note. Dawkins came back from a horrific leg injury last season and is playing well for UNT this year.

Dawkins went though a lot to have the opportunity to play this year. UNT is hoping to get her and its other seniors to the conference tournament at the end of the year.

The Mean Green plays a key game against FAU tonight at the Super Pit.

A look at North Texas key position battles this spring

One of the key story lines of spring practice for UNT will be the quarterback battle. Andrew McNulty started the last six games of the 2014 season for the Mean Green. (The Dallas Morning News/Nathan Hunsinger)

North Texas will open spring practice on March 10, when the Mean Green will look to begin the process of bouncing back from a 4-8 campaign. There are several key position battles the Mean Green will try to sort through. Here is a look at a few:

Quarterback

Participants: Andrew McNulty, Connor Means, Dajon Williams, Josh Greer

Just a few weeks ago, the quarterback battle looked like it would be the story of spring practice. UNT started three different quarterbacks last season and never found any consistent level of success with any of them. Greer started the first three games of the season before giving away to Williams for three before McNulty started the last six. When it was all said and done, UNT ranked 12th out of 13 teams in the league in passing efficiency at 112.4. UNT head coach Dan McCarney said UNT had to get better at the position before next season. UNT signed Butler County College product DaMarcus Smith in the hope that he could help the Mean Green reach that goal, but he isn’t eligible to compete in spring practice. That also puts Smith’s status for UNT’s season-opener — its now annual class warfare battle for DFW supremacy with SMU — in doubt. The Mean Green will need another option in case Smith isn’t ready in the fall. McNulty will be the odds-on favorite, but Williams is talented and Means will be in the race for the first time as a redshirt freshman.

Safety

Participants: Kishawn McClain, John Schilleci, James Gray, Jakii Moore, Matthew Dash

UNT lost both of its starting safeties after last season in Sheldon Wade and Lariamie Lee, who started 33 games in his career with the Mean Green. McClain performed well when he was asked to step in for Wade when the senior suffered a shoulder injury last season and seems like a good bet to play a big role next season. UNT didn’t have many other options it felt good about and picked up two transfers who could play key roles in Moore and Gray. Moore spent last season as a redshirt at UAB after an injury-shortened sophomore season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, while Gray was a top player at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College. Both of UNT’s transfers will have a chance to play right away and could be locked in what shapes up to be a three-way battle with McClain for the stating spots.

Offensive line

Participants: Kaydon Kirby,Travis Ellard, Micah Thompson, Brian Ochs, Sam Rice, Aderius Epps, Creighton Barr, Michael Banogu, and that’s just a few

UNT lost three players who were not only the anchors of its offensive line, but also ranked among the better players in recent Mean Green history in Cyril Lemon, Mason Y’Barbo and Antonio Johnson. Lemon and Y’Barbo started every game of their careers at UNT and were named to the Lombardi watch list before their senior season. UNT also lost senior guard Shawn McKinney to graduation. That leaves just center Kaydon Kirby returning. In short, UNT is in full rebuild mode and will have a whole host of players to sort through to form a starting lineup. UNT signed Ochs out of Butler County (Kansas) Community College to be a plug-in starter at either guard or center and is also high on SMU transfer Sam Rice. There is no telling where UNT ends up before next season with so many players leaving, but it will be interesting.

Linebacker

Participants: Fred Scott, Anthony Wallace, Jamal Marshall, Sed Ellis, Calvin Minor, Cortney Finney, Dakota Smith

UNT lost arguably its best player on defense in each of the last two seasons from its linebacker corps that were so vital to its run to the Heart of Dallas Bowl and a nine-win season in 2013. Last year, it was Zach Orr who graduated and ended up making the Baltimore Ravens roster. This time around, it’s first-team All-Conference USA linebacker Derek Akunne who is leaving after a standout senior year. UNT struggled to fill the void Orr left after last season and faces a similar challenge in trying to replace Akunne. Fred Scott started at middle linebacker last season, while Ellis and Marshall split time at the outside linebacker spot opposite Akunne. There doesn’t seem to be anyone with a spot secure heading into the spring. Finney was named the NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year and should end up starting somewhere, either by bumping Scott out at middle linebacker or taking over for Akunne. Marshall, Ellis and Minor will compete for the outside linebacker jobs as well. Smith, who UNT signed to bolster its pass rush, will also be in the mix.

Defensive line

Participants: Austin Orr, Sir Calvin Wallace, Sid Moore, Chad Polk, Malik Dilonga, T.J. Tauaalo, Tillman Johnson, Mustafa Haboul, Jarrian Roberts

UNT lost a couple of key players from its defensive line in Alexander Lincoln and Daryl Mason and is hoping to upgrade its play at the position heading into next season. The Mean Green’s hops are pinned largely on a host of incoming recruits who will arrive in the fall, including Iowa Central Community College defensive end Jareid Combs. Spring practice will give a host of returning players a chance to emerge, including a couple of intriguing young prospects in Johnson, a defensive end, and Tauaalo, who could help UNT at defensive tackle.