North Texas football still has a long way to go

North Texas football still has a long way to go

When head coach Seth Littrell and his Mean Green take the field at Apogee Stadium on Saturday against SMU, the eagerness to see this new-look North Texas squad will reach its peak. As soon as the players file out and touch the eagle statue before sprinting onto the field, a new era for the Mean Green will begin.

It truly is an exciting time for North Texas football. Littrell appears to be a slam dunk on paper. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s been successful. There’s a new athletic director, Wren Baker, ready to help lead the charge.

Expectations are rightfully high.

But with all this hype, it can be easy to get lost. Sometimes, we need to take a step back, and that’s why I’m here, to deliver news most of you probably know to be true, but don’t want to believe: North Texas football will be bad again in 2016.

Let’s look at the facts. While Littrell has added plenty of recruits from both the high school and junior college levels, depth, personnel and maturity issues will eventually rear their ugly heads.

At the wide receiver position, there are a lot of unknowns. Junior Turner Smiley is the team’s leading receiver from 2015, but is suspended for week one, making sophomore Terian Goree the leading receiver entering the showdown with SMU. Goree caught 15 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown last season.

In the new spread offense, the Mean Green must have higher production from its relatively inexperienced receiving corps, otherwise another dismal season is almost a guarantee. Between sophomore O’Keeron Rutherford, senior Kenny Buyers, Smiley, Goree and freshman Kelvin Smith, one of them must answer the bell. Who will it be?

Indeed, uncertainty is the theme on the offensive side of the ball. Will freshman Mason Fine be redshirted? Who will be the backup quarterback? Who is going to step up on the offensive line, and in what position will they be? In an offense that scored only 15.2 points per game last season, uncertainty has to make you uneasy. But not having a three-man quarterback carousel should help matters.

Littrell mentioned at media day depth along the offensive line was a concern and that many players were getting reps in different positions. Senior Sam Rice is one of these players, and is likely to make the transition from guard to center after the team lost Kaydon Kirby in the offseason. Only time will tell how well he adjusts to his supposed new role.

On the defensive side of the ball, things should be looking up. Then again, it isn’t hard to improve upon numbers that ranked among the worst in the FBS last year.

The secondary repeatedly got torched last season, unable to maintain coverage due to a rush that never got home. The result was unforgiving numbers. North Texas’ opponents put up 41.3 points per game and threw for more than 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2015.

In short, expect more growing pains, especially if the front seven is unable to pressure the quarterback. Don’t be surprised, however, if this is the strongest unit of the entire team. As upperclassmen Ashton Preston, James Gray and Kishawn McClain get better, so will the secondary.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good time to be a North Texas fan. Littrell is poised to do big things with this program, and will move the needle in a positive direction this year.

Just keep your expectations in check. There’s a long way to go.

Featured Image: The football team stands at the entrance to Apogee Stadium before a game. Dylan Nadwodny | Contributing Photographer

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