North Texas is a program that appears to be on it's way back to the good old days when they dominated the Sun Belt, recovering from a lost half-decade caused by the failed experiment of Todd Dodge, a Texas HS Football coach who jumped straight to a D1 HC job and only managed 5 SBC wins before being fired. Now in his 2nd season, UNT HC Dan McCarney is a coach who is well liked and respected in the college football world because of his decent success (and shocking firing) at Iowa St., where he led the Cyclones to 5 bowls over a decade. McCarney walked into a tough situation in Denton, but managed to post the most conference wins in 6 years (4) and a shocking win over a BCS team at home (yeah, it was Indiana. Still counts) Now settling in for his 2nd year at their new home stadium, and hopefully suffering no Ill effects from a mid-spring stroke (which he wanted to self-medicate with a bit of Grey Goose), The Mean Green look to build upon the momentum of a strong finish that left them 1 game short of bowl eligibility. Too bad they have to start against LSU.
UNT's defense looks to be returning a solid group, at least in the first two levels of the D. The DL returns 7 of their top 8 , but the loss is a big one in DE Brandon Akpunku, the Mean Green's leading sacker last season. Overall, this line held opponents to just 164 yds rushing a game and recorded 26 sacks. Against Alabama last season they gave up 347 yds, but still managed 4 sacks (a number that took LSU 2 games to equal). Their Linebacking corp returns 2 of 3 strong starters, especially Zachary Orr, last year's leader in tackles(74) and tackles for loss(5).
UNT's QB play was all over the place due to injuries last season, but they return their 3 leading receivers who all had 300 yds or more last season (which is more than LSU did last season). With hopefully more consistent QB play, UNT could be a serious passing threat in SBC play. UNT managed just 101 yds through the air at Alabama, but again, that was more than LSU managed in either game against the Tide.
If Les Miles wants to make it appear as though it will be an air show year with Mettenberger, you could hardly ask for a softer target to premier against. 7 of the 8 DBs on their 2-deep last season are gone from a unit that gave up more than 200 yds passing in every game but 3 last season (a 563 yd torching by Houston the worst offender, even though that was to be expected last season). The already mentioned Orr is the only returning UNT player who had an INT last season. It's the kind of squishy air defense you'd always hope for when turning over a new passing game for the first time, and it could lead to some gaudy numbers (I hope anyway. Les could always just run one of six star RBs at UNT's line all night until they break)
The ground game has been UNT's bread and butter for the last few years, particularly behind Lance Dunbar, one of only 6 players in NCAA history to have over 4000 yds rushing and 1000 yds receiving in a career. But Dunbar graduated and now their most experienced RB, Jr Brandin Byrd, had just 20 carries and 83 yds last season. The experienced returning OL should help them sort out who is going to be their next workhorse back, but I doubt they will figure it out in game 1 against LSU.
Last Time We Saw Them
LSU has played North Texas just 4 times total, but twice in the Les Miles Era. The Mean Green failed to score more than a field goal in either game. Both games were also effected by hurricanes, with the '05 contest going from season opener to Halloween weekend because of Katrina, and the '08 game becoming the home night opener due to Ike and Gustav. Let's hope this isn't a trend that continues.
In-Depth North Texas Previews
*Updated With Staff Thoughts Below Jump*
Openers have been a weird thing for LSU under Les Miles. His teams haven't always been incredibly fast-starters until last season, when LSU announced its presence nationally within the first month of the season against big-time non-conference opponents. The typical slate of September cream puffs usually allows you to hold some things back for conference play and just focus on setting a baseline for your team.
And that's what I want to see in week one against North Texas. Dan McCarney is a solid coach, and I do think the Mean Green are going to play their hearts out, but that isn't going to make much of a difference in this kind of a mismatch. The important thing for LSU is that they show up ready to play and ready to put last January behind them. Show that the spring practice enthusiasm carried through the summer, and that this team is ready for the kind of statement year we all expect.
It's not likely to be a huge firework display, but just be efficient. Move the ball effectively on offense, and especially through the air, because we all know Zach Mettenberger's gonna have the spotlight in just about every game for the first couple of weeks. I don't expect anything exotic, just a refreshing of the basic recipes and concepts that were successful last year with some better execution. On defense, if the intensity is there, the athleticism will take over against most teams on the schedule, and that's as much as you could hope for in a week one cupcake game. Well, that and for no major injuries, of course.
It's hard to excited about North Texas. It's not hard to get excited about LSU Football starting again. We've waited for months (years, really) to see good QB play. But realistically, our first exposure to it will be a glorified exhibition. North Texas is bad. We're quite used to them being a significant talent disadvantage, but they only won 5 games, and it doesn't seem they have much in the hopper to make us believe they will even be good by "North Texas standards."
What do I expect to see? Modest passing from Mettenberger (unless he goes off the radar like he did against Ole Miss). An early blow out and then a bunch of taking the air out of the football and getting the young and unproven talent on the field, because we will need them as the season wears on. We need to see what we have at TE. We need to see which of these young WR can step up and play snaps for us. We need to see how the new members of the OL work together. Defensively, I suspect we'll run pretty bland packages and be content to form tackle and out athlete them.