Monday morning notes, records pick update

North Texas forward Rachel Holden tries to get  by a Kansas defender in a 2-1 loss on Sunday at the Mean Green Soccer Complex. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Kristen Watson)

North Texas forward Rachel Holden tries to get by a Kansas defender in a 2-1 loss on Sunday at the Mean Green Soccer Complex. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Kristen Watson)

UNT just finished off an eventful weekend, one I wanted to run over real quick here on the blog.

The UNT soccer team had a rare chance to host a Big 12 team when Kansas came in on Sunday. The Mean Green overcame a slow start and a 1-0 deficit to tie the game up at 1-1, but gave up a late goal and lost 2-1. 

UNT was off to a 3-0 start and could have crept closer to cracking the Top 25 with a win.

The UNT volleyball team was also in action over the weekend and finished 1-2. The Mean Green just snuck past Winthrop in five games, but then lost to North Dakota State in five and finished the weekend by being swept by Missouri.

On the Conference USA front, there was a bit of a stunner in volleyball over the weekend, when Western Kentucky beat No. 5 Wisconsin.

Former UNT golfer Carlos Ortiz finished in a tie for 24th in the Barclays. He’s having a great year

And finally, we are starting to see some picks for our annual records contest — Get Your Rear on the Record trickle in. E-mail them to me at bvito@dentonrc.com.

8-4 — Ben Gooding

7-6 — Gonzalo Maturino

6-6 — Aldo Avina, Ryan Munthe

5-7 — LongJim, Brett Vito,  J. Eckstein

4-8 — Thor, John Love (Eagle83), Lee Moses

3-9 — Got5onit

 

UNT preseason projections roundup

North Texas players celebrate during a game last season. Most preseason projections have the Mean Green slated to finish near the bottom of Conference USA's West Division. (DRC file photo)

North Texas players celebrate during a game last season. Most preseason projections have the Mean Green slated to finish near the bottom of Conference USA’s West Division. (DRC file photo)

There are a host of projections that have come out over the last few weeks for teams across the country, including UNT.

Here is a rundown of what some of them have to say about where the Mean Green will end up this season:

Sports Illustrated projects UNT to finish sixth in Conference USA’s West Division. Louisiana Tech is the pick the win the division, while the magazine tabs Western Kentucky as the league’s top team.

USA Today picked UNT to finish third in Conference USA’s West Division behind Louisiana Tech and Rice, rising again after a down year. “North Texas has bobbed between competitiveness and irrelevance under Dan McCarney, though those familiar with the Mean Green’s recent past will view this as improvement.”

Athlon’s has UNT projected to finish fifth out of six teams in Conference USA’s West Division, ahead of only UTSA. The magazine has Louisiana Tech picked to win the league.

It’s time for a MGB tradition — Get Your Rear on the Record

North Texas coach Dan McCarney, center, and the Mean Green will look to improve on a 4-8 finish this season. (DRC file photo)

North Texas coach Dan McCarney, center, and the Mean Green will look to improve on a 4-8 finish this season. (DRC file photo)

UNT head coach Dan McCarney mentioned when I was talking to him this week that the country comes alive when it’s time for the start of college football season.

There are certain signs that the season is almost upon us — the weather cools off and the excitement builds.

And, perhaps most importantly, we make our annual call here on the blog to “Get Your Rear on the Record.”

The annual exercise should be familiar to most UNT fans. Each season, we ask UNT fans and blog readers to send in their picks for the Mean Green’s record to bvito@dentonrc.com. We record them and list them all on the blog for everyone to see. The exercise gives us the pulse of the Mean Green Nation.

Better yet, I dig them up at the end of the season to see who made the right call.

The defending champion this year is Andrew Morris, who correctly picked UNT to fall into a 4-8 abyss after finishing 9-4 and winning the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013. Andrew took a look at the roster and correctly projected:

1. Yes, UNT would miss Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Derek Thompson at quarterback, 2. It would not be easy to fill the voids left by a host of standout players like Zach Orr and Marcus Trice and that, 3. Being a team everyone else in Conference USA was looking to knock off would make a difference.

Our defending “Ridiculous Homers of the Year” are John Lowe (Eagle83) and Darren Foyt (EagleD), who both picked UNT to finish 11-3 last season, and missed it by a smidge. Ok, seven wins.

We don’t have a defending “Fan with Little Faith” this time around, for obvious reasons.

And that brings us to this year.

I am already on the record as having picked UNT to finish 5-7 this year. The Dallas Morning News ran interactive previews of the college teams they cover that included season records picks.

What I haven’t written about is how I reached that total.

UNT could be better this year — a lot better. UNT appears to have really helped itself with its incoming recruiting class. There are a host of junior college additions who will upgrade the Mean Green’s talent level, including safety James Gray, linebacker Cortney Finney and defensive end Jareid Combs.

There are a host of players on UNT’s roster who will have improved over last year, including quarterback Andrew McNulty.

There are a few key factors that prevent me from picking UNT to win six games and become bowl eligible, starting off with the Mean Green’s schedule.

This has been discussed extensively over the last few months, but the slate is brutal. The Mean Green have two Body Bag/Opportunity games this year at Tennessee and Iowa, play 12 straight weeks without a bye, have only five home games and drew the top three teams in Conference USA East Division in Western Kentucky, Marshall and Middle Tennessee in crossover games.

UNT could be dramatically better this year and still not win six games.

The Mean Green also have an uncertain quarterback situation to a certain extent. Andrew McNulty will open the season as UNT’s starter — there is no doubt about that. But he was also the third starter up last season after UNT ran through Josh Greer and Dajon Williams.

McCarney named improving at quarterback a top priority heading into the offseason. And UNT still has the same starting quarterback.

UNT is confident in McNulty, but one has to wonder how long the leash is.

I also hesitate to assume that UNT will be able to seamlessly replace all-conference caliber players who graduate. UNT lost two in Derek Akunne and James Jones on defense and also lost four of its five starters on a good offensive line.

There is a lot to like about UNT heading into the season, and other factors that are a worry.

What are your thoughts?

Be sure to Get Your Rear on the Record in the next few days.

Saturday scrimmage notes (updated with Kirby video interview)

UNT held its last major scrimmage of fall practice this morning.

The major story line is that UNT’s offense controlled the workout that lasted 101 plays.

Head coach Dan McCarney and UNT’s players said there are a number of young wide receivers and transfers who are carving out roles with the Mean Green’s offense.

JUCO transfer Thaddeous Thompson, Tee Goree and D’Aundrey Bradley were all named as players who did well today.

And in other news …

– I mentioned late last week that UNT did some experimenting with its lineup on the offensive line. McCarney said that UNT is pretty settled with its starting five. Where UNT has seen some movement is with freshmen Elex Woodworth and Jordan Murray making a push to crack the two-deep as backups.

– McCarney said ever since national signing day last winter that he thought the Mean Green’s recruiting class was going to be a solid one that would produce several impact players. The closer it gets to the season, the more McCarney feels like he was right in his original evaluation. Safety James Gray, linebacker Cortney Finney and defensive end Jareid Combs look like they will help this year.

– For the first time in a while McCarney mentioned DaMarcus Smith in the quarterback rundown. Andrew McNulty is still the top guy and I don’t think there is any question at this point UNT views Josh Greer as the second guy on the depth chart. Smith has crept up to third team. McCarney mentioned today that McNulty, Greer and Smith all made plays.

MGB video: Blake Bean talks about Saturday’s scrimmage

I will have an advance of Saturday’s scrimmage in tomorrow’s paper based in part on a conversation with new middle linebacker Blake Bean. I caught some video with him and posted it on the top of this entry.

Be sure to see what Bean has to say. It’s pretty interesting.

Until then, here are a few key tidbits:

– Former Cedar Hill standout D’Aundrey Bradley could end up playing this season at wide receiver instead of redshirting. His performance tomorrow could play a key role in the decision.

– Fellow freshmen Nate Brooks and Ashton Preston could also play this year at cornerback.

– And in other key news, UNT’s athletic proposals, including spending $5.5 million to upgrade the Super Pit, doing the early architectural work on a new track venue and increasing the student athletic fee by a $1 a semester credit hour were all passed by the board of regents.

UNT scrimmage primer, Marcus Smith video

UNT will hold one of its final scrimmages before its season-opener at SMU tomorrow.

The video at the top of this post is of tight end Marcus Smith. He talks a little about where UNT is at as a team. the role of the Mean Green’s tight ends and how the Mean Green’s quarterbacks have looked in fall practice.

All of UNT’s practices and scrimmages are closed in the fall, but here are a few items of note to track heading into the workout:

1. What does UNT’s offensive line lineup look like?

One of the few pull-back-the-curtain moments of fall practice was UNT head coach Dan McCarney mentioning that highly regarded freshman Chris Miles is working at both guard and tackle. It appeared heading into practice that Miles was a stone-cold lock to start at tackle.

UNT’s offensive line has been solid for years, but switching around at this point has to at least raise a bit of a concern in a year UNT has just one returning starter up front in center Kaydon Kirby.

Michael Banogu started the last two games of the 2014 season at one tackle spot, but is far from a proven commodity. UNT has other options, but don’t forget that the Mean Green kicked standout guard Cyril Lemon out to tackle and out of his best position at guard last season to try to fill a tackle spot. If UNT had another tackle if felt comfortable with being a full-time starter, it never would have gone down that road.

Lemon wasn’t nearly as effective out there and played both positions.

If UNT moves Miles inside, there are not a whole lot of other familiar names to slide in at tackle and pair with Banogu. Several of the same players UNT passed on as options for a full-time tackle remain. What’s the plan at this point?

2. What about the cornerback spots?

Zac Whitfield could be back with the Mean Green this fall. The former Sherman standout graduated with a year of eligibility remaining. That appeared to be it for Whitfield, who all of the sudden has switched course and could return.

That raises the question — Does UNT feel comfortable with what it has at the cornerback spot opposite Kenny Buyers?

UNT has two older players in that spot in converted linebacker Jamal Marshall and career backup Chad Davis.

Whitfield might not be out there for the scrimmage tomorrow. He might not be back at all. The question his potential return raises is if it’s just a matter of Whitfield wanting to play one more year or if UNT really NEEDS Whitfield to play one more year after the departure of James Jones.

3. Are there any late news items about to come down?

One of the benefits of closing camp for UNT is that it can keep pretty much everything about what goes on quiet.

But when one thinks about it, there has been about zero in the way of real hot camp news.

McCarney has said that there have been no season-ending type injuries. There hasn’t been much word on depth chart movement, either.

There is a whole lot more that has gone down behind the scenes in closed workouts. There is a chance some of that info will be approved for public consumption in the next few days, possibly tomorrow after the scrimmage.

Thursday night notes, tidbits

We have gotten to the point in Dan McCarney’s tenure where some of the landmarks of the calendar year have become familiar. Today was one of those days.

It was Champions Day at UNT.

Every year McCarney brings in a high-profile speaker to talk to his players in the days leading up to the season-opener. This year’s guest was former Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace.

Wallace was one of the great players during McCarney’s time with the Cyclones.

And in other news, the UNT board of regents will consider the school’s proposal to increase its student athletic fee $1 per credit hour tomorrow.

A couple of quick points here:

1. If you read the fine print in the board briefing (page 571) or the original legislation — and kudos to you that did — “the fee may be increased by up to 10% of the amount of the fee last approved by a student vote.”

UNT is looking at pushing the fee up 10 percent, and that’s all it can do without student approval.

2. The athletic department has increased its revenue by $4 million since the original fee went into place four years ago, according to the proposal.

3. Upping the fee would “generate approximately $400,000 in additional revenue” and will be used to cover the cost of operating UNT’s program. Once the increase is in place, it would “replace funding historically provided through the Student Service Fee.”

The UNT athletic department has dipped into that fee in the past, but would be more self-sustaining with the extra funds in place.

Whitfield in process of returning as grad student

North Texas cornerback Zac Whitfield, right, is trying to enroll at the school as a graduate student and return for one final year with the Mean Green.  (DRC file  photo)

North Texas cornerback Zac Whitfield, right, is trying to enroll at the school as a graduate student and return for one final year with the Mean Green. (DRC file photo)

UNT defensive back Zac Whitfield is in the process of trying to enroll as a graduate student and rejoin the Mean Green football program, a school spokesman confirmed Thursday.

Whitfield, who experienced an up-and-down career with the Mean Green, graduated after last season. He has one season of eligibility remaining.

He finished with 18 tackles last season and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown in a win over Nicholls State. He served as a backup behind Kenny Buyers and James Jones throughout the year.

Whitfield played a larger role in the Mean Green’s bowl season in 2013, when he intercepted three passes and started the first two games of the year.

The former Sherman standout’s career appeared as if it would finish on a down note last season in a loss to Texas-San Antonio, UNT’s final game of the year.

UNT was about to have one last possession after coming up with a defensive stand with about two minutes remaining down 34-27. UNT’s players all ran away from a shanked punt that hit down around the 50-yard line except for Whitfield, who tried to scoop the ball up and run with it.

Whitfield fumbled the ball before UTSA’s Marcellus Mack fell on it. UTSA took over and ran out the clock.

“It was a crazy way for it to end. I don’t blame him,” former UNT linebacker Derek Akunne said of Whitfield at the time. “He was trying to make a play and help us out. If he had picked it up and scored, he would have been the hero.”

Whitfield is looking for a chance to make up for that mistake. If he does return, he will join what is a crowded cornerback depth chart late.

Kenny Buyers is entrenched as a starter on one side, while veterans Chad Davis and Jamal Marshall are fighting for playing time on the opposite side. UNT head coach Dan McCarney also said this week that he has been impressed with the performance of freshmen cornerbacks Ashton Preston and Nate Brooks.

Whitfield would also be pretty far behind at this point.

That might not matter to Whitfield, who could provide UNT depth and contribute on special teams while trying to end his career on a high note.

Regents to hear athletics proposals

The North Texas board of regents will hear a series of proposals over the next two days, including one to upgrade the Super Pit. (DRC file photo)

The North Texas board of regents will hear a series of proposals over the next two days, including one to upgrade the Super Pit. (DRC file photo)

We mentioned a while back that the UNT board of regents would hear a series of proposals that could have a dramatic impact on the future of the school’s athletics program.

Those meetings are taking place as we speak.

Among the proposals on the agenda are …

– Increasing the athletic fee UNT students pay by $1 a semester credit hour, a move that would pump some much-needed money into the school’s athletics program.

– Spent $400,000 on the initial design and engineering work on a new track facility that would allow UNT to move the track team out of Fouts Field. The new venue would sit on the opposite side of the highway near the Mean Green Athletic Center and the Waranch Tennis Center. With the track team out of Fouts, the university would be able to tear the rest of it down and use that space for other purposes.

– UNT’s regents are also set to consider spending $5.5 million on renovating the UNT Coliseum. The university-owned venue that is also known as the Super Pit is home to the UNT men’s and women’s basketball programs. The money would be used to upgrade lighting in the facility and renovate the concourses.

By the time proposals like this are brought before the school’s regents it usually pretty much a done deal.

We should know more in the next day or so.

If they are all approved, it would be a pretty positive turn of evens for UNT athletics in general.

Football magazine comes out tomorrow

Mag cover

Tomorrow is the day.

After months of work, more than a dozen photo shoots, hours of writing and editing and a lot of sleepless nights, the Denton Record-Chronicle’s 2015 football magazine will be in tomorrow’s paper.

This year’s edition is 108 pages of all local content, about a third of it covering UNT’s future and its past.

It’s the best product we put out all year.

This theme of this year’s edition is the long line of great quarterbacks in Denton history. UNT has featured several, including Steve Ramsey back in the 1960s. We talked to his daughters and his former teammates for a retrospective story on one of the great players in UNT history who passed away several years ago.

We also look at UNT current situation at quarterback and ask some of the recent greats, including Scott Hall and Derek Thompson, about how they developed in their careers.

There are a host of other features in this year’s edition that are UNT related as well. We look at Carlos Harris and his rise to put himself in position to finish his career as one of the leading receivers in UNT history and also have  a stories on Chris Cosh, Kaydon Kirby and a host of other Mean Green players and coaches.

The center section photo spread looks back at some of the great quarterbacks in UNT/Denton history.

For those of you who are also into the local high school football scene, we cover that as well.

The idea for this year’s theme stems from Guyer quarterback Shawn Robinson, the top dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2017 who committed to TCU over the summer. He is just the latest in the local high school pipeline that has also produced Jerrod Heard, James Battle, Scotty Young and J.W. Walsh, to name a few.

It’s a bargain for the $1 newsstand price, if you are not already a subscriber.

Be sure to pick up a copy. The paper sells pretty quickly tomorrow.