North Texas running back Antoinne Jimmerson returns to help lead the Mean Green offense. (Jerome Miron / USA Today Sports / October 31, 2013)
The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 62: North Texas Mean Green
Coach: Dan McCarney (18-19, 4th season; 74-104 overall)
2013 record: 9-4 (6-2 in C-USA, tied for 2nd in C-USA West)
Look back: Some tough losses in the first five weeks of the season — a six-point defeat at Ohio, a defeat on the road at Georgia, a three-point defeat at Tulane — could have led to a collapse. Instead, North Texas began to find its footing.
The Mean Green would rebound from that three-point loss to Tulane to win five straight and seven of their final eight contests of the season. The offense played a huge role, averaging 34.6 points per game. North Texas capped the season with a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl — its third bowl victory — to complete its first winning season since 2004.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 4
Defensive starters lost: 7
Key losses: LB Zach Orr, RB Brandin Byrd, WR Brelan Chancellor, DL Richard Abbe, WR Darnell Smith, QB Derek Thompson
Top returnees: OL Cyril Lemon, OL Mason Y'Barbo, DB Kenny Buyers, DB Lairamie Lee, LB Derek Akunne, RB Antoinne Jimmerson, RB Reggie Pegram, WR Carlos Harris
Strengths: The offensive line is undoubtedly the top unit returning for the Mean Green, with four starters back on what is the best front in Conference USA. That should be a big boost as the team breaks in a new quarterback and gets the run-first offense going behind running backs Antoinne Jimmerson and Reggie Pegram. The secondary will be the strength of the defense, with starters Kenny Buyers and James Jones back at cornerback and safety Lairamie Lee, who had 74 tackles last season.
Weaknesses: It is the first time in four years North Texas must find a new starting quarterback after the departure of Derek Thompson, who finished in the top five of every major statistical category for passing in program history. Three-year back-up Andrew McNulty won the job in the spring, but he has just five pass attempts during the last two seasons and will try to hold off junior college transfer Josh Greer. The team ranked No. 2 in the nation in red-zone defense last season and No. 4 in take-aways, but North Texas returns just one starter in the front seven. The team will feel the loss of linebacker Zach Orr and needs production from Derek Akunne.
Outlook: The Mean Green will have a tough task replacing 22 seniors, including 13 starters, as they try to maintain some momentum after a five-win jump from 2012 to 2013. The veteran offensive line should help the offense as it replaces the bulk of its production from last season, and if the defense plays well up front, North Texas will challenge to win the C-USA West.
Aug. 30 at Texas
Sept. 6 SMU
Sept. 13 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 20 Nicholls State