NCAA Football Preview - North Texas Mean Green
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From The Sports Network By Ralph Lauro, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: The 2002 season was one of the best in recent North Texas football history, as the team recorded a winning record (8-5) for the first time since rejoining Division I-A in 1995. However, the '03 season was even better as the Mean Green won their third straight Sun Belt title while going undefeated (7-0) in league play for the second straight year. As a matter of fact, the Mean Green own the nation's longest conference winning streak at 18 games, dating back three seasons. The '03 campaign also marked the first time that UNT had reached the nine-win plateau since rejoining the I-A ranks. UNT started the season with losses in three of the first four games, but those setbacks came against the likes of Oklahoma (37-3), Air Force (34-21) and Arkansas (31-7). The team then began league play, where it ripped through the competition on the way to eight consecutive victories and a third straight trip to the New Orleans Bowl. Although the Mean Green were denied a double-digit win season in the bowl game by Memphis (27-17 loss), they still had a season to remember. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Last season, the Mean Green didn't take anybody by surprise on offense as they handed the ball off to tailback Patrick Cobbs and watched him run. Cobbs, along with a powerful offensive line, was the main reason why UNT averaged 177.5 rushing ypg in 2003. Cobbs was simply amazing last season, leading the country in rushing with 152.7 ypg. He was the only back in the nation with four 200-plus yard rushing games. Cobbs racked up nearly 1,800 total yards last season while ranking in the top six in touchdowns with 19. Not only is Cobbs a workhorse, averaging 28 carries per game in 2003, he also has big play potential, as his 81-yard scoring dash will attest to. Opening the holes for Cobbs shouldn't be a problem, as four starters on the offensive line return from a year ago. Included in that group is center Andy Brewster, who is considered the best in the league at his position after earning all- conference first-team honors in 2003. Getting the ball from Brewster will be signal-caller Scott Hall, who earned first-team all-conference honors, despite playing in only nine games. After missing the 2002 campaign with injury, Hall returned to compile a 153.4 passing efficiency rating in 2003. He threw for 1,580 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and should be even better this season with the return of his two primary targets in Johnny Quinn and Ja'Mel Branch. Quinn led the Mean Green with 34 catches for 709 yards and three touchdowns last season, while Branch finished with 22 catches for 213 yards. The Mean Green however, suffered a tough blow in the offseason, as backup quarterback Andrew Smith was killed in a head-on car crash. Smith had started 16 games in two seasons for North Texas, which will surely miss his leadership in the locker room. DEFENSE: The defense is the bread and butter for North Texas, and allowed just 324.3 yards per game last season. The 21.9 ppg allowed by the defense ranked 35th in the country, while the 20.2 ppg yielded in conference play was tops. However, with five starters gone from last year's unit, including two time SBC Player of the Year in DT Brandon Kennedy, the Mean Green defense may be susceptible this year. Although Kennedy is gone from the defensive line, there is still enough talent to be effective. Three starters return on the line in Adrian Awasom, Evan Cardwell and Tommy Harrison. Awasom and Harrison combined for 67 tackles and six sacks from the outside, while Cardwell got into the mix with six sacks and 11 TFLs at the tackle spot. At the linebacker position is where North Texas was hit hard with the departure of three all- conference starters from 2003. Thrown into the mix this season will be Derek Mendoza, Arther McNac and Shawn Early, all of whom have very limited playing experience. With a trio of inexperienced linebackers the Mean Green will have to count on their secondary which welcomes back three starters. Corners Markeith Knowlton and Walter Priestley are two of the finest in the league and will surely give any passing attack its share of troubles. Knowlton recorded 52 tackles and a team-best four interceptions last season, while Priestly came up with 47 stops and four broken up passes. While Knowlton and Priestly are well known throughout the league, there is no more noticeable player in the secondary than Jonas Buckles. The hard hitting free safety and three-time All- Sun Belt selection made 54 tackles last season in addition to picking off three passes. He is on pace to close out his career with an impressive 250 tackles. SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Brad Kadlubar averaged 40.4 yards per punt last season, earning him second team all-conference honors for the second straight year. He also dropped 23 punts inside the opposition's 20-yard line in addition to forcing 19 fair catches. Nick Bazaldua also earned second-team all-league honors in 2003 after making 10-of-15 field goals. He is all but automatic from inside 40 yards and has good range with a 49-yard kick to his credit. OUTLOOK: Following three straight SBC titles, the Mean Green seem to be in fine shape to make a run at a fourth. They return eight starters on offense, including one of the top backs in the nation in Cobbs. The defense isn't as strong as years past, but there is still enough talent there to be amongst the best in the league. The team has another tough non-conference schedule (Colorado, Texas and Baylor) which may mean another slow start, but not necessarily a bad season. Coach Darrell Dickey, who has won three consecutive SBC Coach of the Year awards, is steadily building a solid program that emphasizes defense, and patience on offense. If North Texas can get consistency from its somewhat young defense (linebackers) there is no reason the team could not possibly record a double-digit win season and make another postseason appearance.