North Texas welcomes former conference rival Idaho to Apogee Stadium on Saturday in the Mean Green’s 100th season opener and first at home in 12 years.
Unique, too, is the fact that Derek Thompson will be the starting quarterback for a third consecutive season, the first player to do that at North Texas in 16 years.
That doesn’t necessarily indicate stability at a critical position for a team seeking its third victory in the past 17 season openers.
Thompson emerged from stiff competition among four quarterbacks, including Brock Berglund (transfer from Kansas), Andrew McNulty and Dajon Williams. Coach Dan McCarney seemed to indicate in the days leading up to the first game that that competition will continue.
The surprise contender turned out to be Williams, a 6-foot-3, 199-pound true freshman from Pflugerville. McCarney was so impressed with the young up-and-comer in camp that he signaled that it would almost take an extraordinary circumstance for Williams not to play against Idaho.
“Those guys are all ready,” McCarney said. “The competition has been really good.
“We like what Dajon is doing. Athletically, he’s probably the best athlete we have going at quarterback right now.”
Thompson, McCarney said, graded out as the most well-rounded after taking account of all that the position demands, especially in terms of experience and leadership, consistency and taking care of the football.
The latter was an issue for the fifth-year senior a season ago when he threw as many touchdown passes as interceptions, 14. Thompson has passed for more than 4,500 yards and 26 touchdowns in his career.
“I think competition brings out the best in every player,” said Thompson, the first three-year starter since Jason Mills, 1995-97. “You can either rise to the occasion or you can fold.
“This fall camp, I think all four of us got better.”
If or when a rotation evolves will probably just depend on game situations, McCarney said.
Thompson and any others who see playing time should benefit from the return of four starters from a protective offensive line that gave up the fewest sacks in the nation a season ago.
Added to the unit that includes returnees LaChris Anyiam, Antonio Johnson, Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo is redshirt freshman Kaydon Kirby, who replaces all-conference performer Aaron Fortenberry at center.
Kirby, a former walk-on put on scholarship only recently, showed more consistency in what McCarney termed a “great battle” for the starting job with junior transfer Shawn McKinney, who will also see plenty of action at that position, the coach said.
The Mean Green, entering its inaugural season in Conference USA, once knew Idaho as Big West Conference peers in the 1990s but will face a Vandals team on Saturday essentially sight-unseen.
Idaho, 1-11 a season ago, installed new systems under coach Paul Petrino.
“It has been tough preparing,” Thompson said. “We have an idea of what we think they will do. Now it’s time to go out there and we’ll see what happens on the first snap and go from there.”
Looking for comments?