#64 North Texas 2018 Football Preview

North Texas Mean Green
Overall Rank: #64
#4 Conference USA
 North Texas Logo
North Texas emerged in year two under head coach Seth Littrell, winning nine games and the Conference USA West Division championship. The offense is very dynamic as they averaged 455.1 yards per game last season, along with 35.5 points per game. However, the 2017 season ended with a bit of a thud as the Mean Green lost to Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA Championship game and to Troy in the New Orleans Bowl in decisive fashion. Thus, it will be important for North Texas to get off to a fast start in 2018 to get that bad taste out of their mouth.
2017 Record: 9-5, 7-1
2017 Bowl: New Orleans Bowl vs. Troy (30-50 L)
Coach: Seth Littrell (14-13 at North Texas, 14-13 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Graham Harrell
Defensive Coordinator: Troy Reffett
Returning Leaders:
Rushing:  Nic Smith, RB, 684 yards
Passing: Mason Fine., QB, 4,052 yards
Receiving: Michael Lawrence, WR, 819 yards
Tackles: E.J. Eiya, OLB, 109
Sacks: E.J. Eiya, OLB, 7.0
Interceptions:  Two players with 1 each
Other Key Returnees: WR Jalen Guyton, WR Rico Bussey, LT Elex Woodworth, WR Kelvin Smith, LG Jordan Murray, C Sosaia Moose, RT Riley Mayfield, DE LaDarius Hamilton, DE Roderick Young, MLB Brandon Garner, CB Nate Brooks, CB Kennon Hall, SS Khari Muhammad, NB Ashton Preston
Key Losses: RB Jeffery Wilson, OLB Joshua Wheeler, DE Andy Flusche, WR Turner Smiley, LT Jalen Thomas, DL Tillman Johnson
Mason Fine returns at quarterback and will look to repeat as the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year in 2018. Fine threw for 4,052 yards and 31 touchdown passes in 2017. Nic Smith will provide a nice compliment to Fine at running back and he should see his production get over 1,000 yards with the loss of Jeffrey Wilson to graduation. There is a deep wide receiver group returning this season for the Mean Green. Michael Lawrence caught 62 passes for 819 yards and, along with Jalen Guyton and Rico Bussey, opposing defenses are going to have a matchup nightmare all season long. Now, along the offensive line there is some experience returning but there needs to be improvement in the pass blocking as North Texas allowed 39 sacks last season. This number must get down below 30 in 2018 if the Mean Green are going to win Conference USA.
The high risk high reward approach by North Texas is going to be interesting to watch in 2018 as it did cost them at times last season. If the defensive line can improve as a unit, it will help defensive coordinator Troy Reffett a lot this season. Roderick Young will need to step up at defensive end and develop into a stronger pass rusher. LaDarius Hamilton will be back at the other defensive end spot and, if he can pick up about four to six sacks, that would help things out a lot. E.J. Eiya is back at outside linebacker to lead the unit in 2018. Eiya is the top returning player on defense for the Mean Green as he picked up seven sacks last season and a nice goal for him would be match that sack total in 2018. The pass defense will need to continually improve as well for as the ability to play press man to man type coverage is critical in this 3-3-5 defensive scheme. Look for big seasons out of senior cornerbacks Kemon Hall and Nate Brooks, along with junior safety Khairi Muhammad. Both of those guys will need to pick up a few more interceptions to improve the overall turnover margin this season since the Mean Green ranked 119th in the nation in that category last season.
The Bottom Line:
North Texas should be able to start fast this season as the schedule is relatively manageable in September. On September 15th, the Mean Green will face their toughest non-conference test at Arkansas against the rebuilding Razorbacks. The conference schedule is fairy balanced with Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic visiting Denton along with road trips to UAB and Old Dominion that could be dicey. Overall, if North Texas can keep Fine healthy for most of the season then they should win about eight or so games in 2018.
Projected Bowl: Bahamas Bowl
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 163.2 (67th in nation, 9th in Conference)
Passing Offense: 291.9 (21, 2)
Total Offense: 455.1 (24, 2)
Scoring Offense: 35.5 (19, 2)
Rushing Defense: 202.5 (103, 11)
Pass Defense: 228.9 (72, 10)
Total Defense: 431.4 (97, 12)
Scoring Defense: 35.0 (111,12)
Turnover Margin: -0.79 (119, 12)
Sacks: 1.64 (101, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 2.79 (112, 13)