Improved quarterback play is the sine qua non, the essential element, if North Texas is to experience better results in 2015 and surpass the mediocre expectations of league coaches and forecasters.
If starter Andrew McNulty is unable to stabilize a position of volatility in 2014, this season will almost certainly again be one of trial.
The Mean Green kicks off the season against SMU at 6 p.m. Saturday in Dallas, seeking to defeat the Mustangs in back-to-back games for the first time in school history.
Our team believes in him. Our players do, our coaches do.
UNT coach Dan McCarney, on starting QB Andrew McNulty
McNulty was one of three quarterbacks who started last season. Another was Dajon Williams, who has left the program. Josh Greer, the starter for the opener a year ago, is McNulty’s backup.
“Our team believes in him. Our players do, our coaches do,” coach Dan McCarney, entering his fifth season in Denton, said of McNulty.
“He has been much more consistent, taken care of the football and made more plays. He understands what we are doing and isn’t afraid to straighten out something that is wrong. He has emerged as a leader.”
Junior college transfer DaMarcus Smith is third string.
The Mean Green hasn’t defeated SMU in Dallas since the height of the Great Depression. The year was 1933 when North Texas won 7-0.
It’s difficult enough to remember what happened last week, much less 82 years ago. Also forgotten is last year’s game between these two. North Texas dismantled the Mustangs 43-6 in Denton.
If the Mustangs’ season opener last week is indicative, this is a different team under new coach Chad Morris. SMU stuck with top-five Baylor into the third quarter of an eventual loss.
The game is the first of seven on the road for North Texas, which went 0-6 away from Apogee Stadium last year. In all, eight bowl-eligible teams from a year ago are on the Mean Green schedule.
Saturday’s matchup will also have special meaning for left guard Sam Rice, who chose SMU over North Texas out of Coppell High School in 2012. North Texas ultimately was his destination when he opted to transfer, sitting out 2014 per transfer rules.
“Every day he has a smile on his face, whether it is a tough day or an easy day,” McCarney said. “It can be 100 degrees outside for practice, it could be inside weightlifting, or running or scrimmaging.”
6Football coaches who have coached 50 games at North Texas. Dan McCarney will become the seventh today.
Rice is one of four new starters on an offensive line charged with giving McNulty time to make plays. Center Kaydon Kirby is the lone returner to a front line that includes freshman redshirt freshman Chris Miles.
McNulty was North Texas’ leading passer last season, throwing for 1,295 yards and six touchdowns in parts of 10 games. He also threw seven interceptions.
He’ll need to be better than that if North Texas expects to finish better than coaches’ predictions of fifth in the Conference USA West Division.
“Quarterback and wide receiver are much improved from last year this time,” McCarney said. McNulty and Greer “are playing better than at any time last year.”
The game will mark McCarney’s 50th as coach at North Texas. He is only the seventh coach to reach that mark in the 100-year history of the program and third since Hayden Fry (1973-78), following Corky Nelson (1982-90) and Darrell Dickey (1998-06).
North Texas at SMU
6 p.m. Saturday
North Texas coaching history
North Texas coaches who have coached at least 50 games and their record:
Jack Sisco (1929-41), 74-37-10
Odus Mitchell (1946-66), 122-85-9
Rod Rust (1967-72), 29-32-1
Hayden Fry (1973-78), 40-23-3
Corky Nelson (1982-90), 48-52-1
Darrell Dickey (1998-06), 42-64-0