With a veteran team that includes 19 returning starters, North Texas is hoping to make a big step up in 2010 after managing only 10 wins over the last five years.
Coach Todd Dodge, who is 5-31 in three years, saw major improvement coming out of the spring.
"We have grown so much as a football team and have so much more competition and care on this team about the 2010 season," he told the Denton Record-Chronicle. "It's like night and day from any point that I have been here.
"It's a great feeling."
But some big questions still must be settled, including a big one at quarterback.
With Riley Dodge, the coach's son, moved to wide receiver, the Mean Green will be looking at another first-time starter.
The competition between sophomore Derek Thompson and senior Nathan Tune that began in the spring will carry over to fall camp.
Though he has played in only 14 games in three years, Tune has the advantage of the extra time on campus over Thompson, who played one series as a freshman last year.
New coordinator Mike Canales will want to make a fairly quick decision. The Mean Green opens the season at Clemson, is host to Rice, and then goes to Army in the first three games of the season.NOTES, QUOTES
-- RB Lance Dunbar gives North Texas a proven threat at running back. With eight starts in 12 games, he led the Sun Belt in rushing with a 114.8 ypg average, and his 17 rushing touchdowns ranked fifth nationally. He also had two receiving, giving him 19 total TDs, seventh best in the country.
-- LB Craig Robertson is back after leading North Texas in tackles in 2009 with 107 stops, second in the conference. He had a single-game high of 13 tackles against Arkansas State.
QB Derek Thompson -- With Riley Dodge no longer at quarterback, Thompson is very much in the competition for a starting job after finishing the spring on a high note. Thompson played one series as a true freshman last year, going 3-of-3 passing for 60 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Arkansas State.
RB Brandin Byrd -- Byrd enrolled early to take part in spring drills and put himself in the picture for playing time in his first collegiate season. He was rated a two-star recruit (Rivals.com) after rushing for 980 yards on 125 carries his season season at Copperas Cove, Texas.
WR Tyler Stradford -- The transfer from Oklahoma showed his big-play potential in the spring game with a 69-yard touchdown catch. He earned a starting job with his play in the spring.
WR Riley Dodge -- After starting at quarterback last season, Dodge moved back to wide receiver after a series of injuries that included a broken arm, separated shoulder, and sprained ankle. He had nine receptions as a freshman at wide receiver in 2008 before his season ended after just three games because of injuries. He is listed as second team on the depth chart but should see time in the rotation at slot receiver.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't lose much on defense and have a lot of guys returning. We are hungry and ready to win." -- DE Brandon Akpunku, in the Denton Record-Chronicle, on the Mean Green's outlook for 2010.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: North Texas' fortunes likely will depend on how the Mean Green weathers its early schedule. The opener is at Clemson on Sept. 4, then comes a home game against Rice and a trip to Army. Coming out of that set with two wins could be a big springboard going into the eight-game conference schedule, which starts with a trip to Florida Atlantic on Sept. 25.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: New coordinator Mike Canales isn't apt to make a lot of changes to the Mean Green, which returns a 1,000-yard rusher in RB Lance Dunbar (1,378). Senior Nathan Tune and sophomore Derek Thompson both looked capable of running the spread offense. The top six receivers, led by WRs Jamaal Jackson (72 receptions), Darius Carey (57), and Michael Outlaw (41), all return.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Despite giving up 35.6 points a game, the Mean Green took a step up last year. That average was a 12-point a game improvement over 2008. Eight starters return, headed by leading tackler LB Craig Robertson (107 stops). S DaWaylon Cook and CB Royce Hill, both juniors, are the top returners in the secondary.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: P Will Atterberry averaged 39.0 yards per attempt as a true freshman with 22 of his 55 boots downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line. The kicker will be new. Zach Olen, who was 10-of-15 on field goals as a senior at Berkner High in Richardson, Texas, was among February signees. The Mean Green has three proven kickoff returners in Jamaal Jackson (17-27.2), Royce Hill (15-26.3), and Ira Smith (10-19.7), and Darius Carey is back as the primary punt returner. He accounted for seven of the team total of only 11 returns in 2009.
-- CB Royce Hill is expected to recover from a shoulder injury and be ready for the fall. He is the Mean Green's most experienced corner and led the team with three interceptions in 2009.
-- DE Tevinn Cantley, who had 17 tackles as a freshman last year, was moved from tackle on the post-spring depth chart. He backs up junior Brandon Akpunku.
Previous Report: 02/05/2010