By Gray Gardner.
University of North Texas
Location: Denton, TX
Nickname: Mean Green
Colors: Green and White
Conference: Sun Belt
Stadium: Fouts Field
Head Coach: Todd Dodge (5-31 record in 3 seasons)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Canales
Defensive Coordinator: Gary Leloach
2009 Record: 2-10 (1-7 in conference)
The Mean Green return 10 offensive starters this season, including preseason All-Sun Belt players Lance Dunbar and Esteban Santiago. Dunbar led North Texas’ offensive charge last season from the running back position, averaging 114.8 yards rushing a game with 17 touchdowns. Santiago looks to continue as an anchor on the Mean Green’s offensive line, starting 21 of the last 22 games. Mike Canales will take over as offensive coordinator after previous years in the same position at South Florida.
The storyline going into the 2010 season for the North Texas offense is the situation at quarterback. Last year’s starter Riley Dodge (son of head coach Todd Dodge) was moved to wide receiver in the spring after suffering an injury last season, leaving senior Nathan Tune and sophomore Derek Thompson to battle for the position. Dodge leaves big shoes to fill after finishing 3rd in the Sun Belt conference for total offense a season ago. Tune seems to have the edge to start this fall after playing in 7 games last season, completing 64.5% of his pass attempts for 646 yards and 5 touchdowns. Thompson played in just 1 game in 2009, completing 3 passes in that many attempts for 60 yards and a touchdown.
The Mean Green had success with their run game last season, ranking 28th in the nation in rushing offense. With quarterback concerns and a returning all-conference running back, it is likely that the offense will rely heavily on the ground game again this season. Offensive coordinator Mike Canales will not bring significant changes in his first year as far as scheme and formations are concerned. However, he does intend on being less predictable in his play calling as well as using the tight end more in the passing game.
• Key Players on Offense: RB Lance Dunbar, WR Jamaal Jackson, OT Esteban Santiago
• Newcomer to watch: WR Tyler Stradford (Oklahoma transfer)
Defensive coordinator Gary Leloach will return 8 starters on his side of the ball this season, including preseason All-Sun Belt players Brandon Akpunku and Craig Robertson. Akpunku made his name known a year ago from the defensive end position with 6 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Robertson led the team in tackles from the linebacker position last season with 107.
The Mean Green defense looks to improve this season after giving up nearly 413 yards per game a year ago. The defense was 104th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of 195.6 yards a game on the ground. Their pass defense was not much better, leaving them outside of the top 96 defenses in the country. Defensive end Brandon Akpunku seems to be the only bright spot on the Mean Green’s defensive line, but incoming transfers Mike Miller and Frank Gaines should help out immediately. The team’s top linebackers from a year ago, Craig Robertson and A.J. Penson, add strength to the middle of the defense, while defensive backs DaWaylon Cook, Ira Smith, and Royce Hill all return this season. Cook and Smith were in the team’s top 5 defensive leaders a year ago while Hill led the team in interceptions with 3.
Overall, the Mean Green defense can only improve from a year ago. The addition of Miller and Gaines on the defensive line will help considerably in stopping the run. With an experienced defensive backs and linebackers corps behind them, North Texas should fair better than 97th in the nation in total defense.
• Key Players on Defense: DE Brandon Akpunku, LB Craig Robertson, DB DaWaylon Cook
• Newcomers to watch: DE Mike Miller, DE Frank Gaines, CB D’Andre Wood
Special Teams Outlook
The Mean Green will be replacing kicker Jeremy Knotts this season while returning punter Will Atterberry. Knotts handled both field goals and kick offs a year ago. Trent Deans will be his likely replacement in 2010. Atterberry punted 55 times last season, averaging 39 yards a kick with a long of 59 yards. The sophomore was successful in pinning back opposing offenses in 2009, hitting 22 of his punts inside the 20-yard line.
Wide receivers Jamaal Jackson and Darius Carey will join defensive back Royce Hill as the team’s top kick and punt returners. The Mean Green did not return a kickoff for a touchdown last season, although Jackson and Hill both averaged over 25 yards a return.
North Texas has not been able to rely on their special teams to change the course of a game in past seasons, and the same will be true in 2010. Incoming wide receiver Tyler Stradford, a transfer from Oklahoma, could possibly help in the return game. Regardless, this special teams unit is not likely to win games for the Mean Green this fall.
The North Texas football program has been in a slide the last few years. Todd Dodge is going into his 4th season as head coach of the Mean Green after previously coaching at high school power Southlake Carroll. Dodge holds a 5-31 record in his first 3 seasons with no bowl appearances. With the coaching seat heating up, Dodge went out this off-season and hired offensive coordinator Mike Canales from South Florida and wide receivers coach Conroy Hines from Louisiana Tech. The new hires should improve the team’s passing game, but quarterback concerns will slow the process. Gary Leloach’s defense can only improve from a year ago, returning 2 all-conference players among the 8 returning starters. North Texas was selected to finish 8th in the preseason Sun Belt coaches poll. With the pressure on Dodge to win this season, I look for the Mean Green to fair better than their 2-10 season a year ago.
Regardless of the improvements made within the Mean Green program, it is still North Texas. The Mean Green will be no match for Clemson on September 4th, regardless of potential quarterback concerns for the Tigers. Clemson’s run game and talented defense will highlight what should be a 20 to 3.