What it might take to get UNT to .500 in Todd Dodge's make or break season.
To ensure his return in 2011, Todd Dodge's team must win six games.
Most evaluators see eight games against similar caliber programs (Rice, Army, FIU, FAU, Western Kentucky, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, and Arkansas State) on UNT's schedule.
The pundits also see four games against markedly better programs (Clemson, Troy, Middle Tennessee, and Kansas State) on that same slate.
The difficult schedule leaves little wiggle room for Dodge and company.
Three requirements must be in place as the season begins for UNT to have a realistic shot at .500.
1) UNT cannot manage another season with an undersized defensive line.
They may have a lot more speed and proven play making ability than in recent years, but they are still a small squad that bears a greater resemblance to a 5A Texas high school team than a college team.
UNT's linebackers are mostly in the 200-220 lb range. Their DBs weigh considerably less.
The team will not be able to consistently stop the run if they roll out another undersized line.
The defensive line's inability to hold their position at the line of scrimmage vs. run blockers has been an ongoing problem for many years.
Even when they hold position, the ends are frequently turned, opening gaping running lanes.
Last year, UNT had a fairly strong linebacking core, but the D-line's inability to anchor greatly neutralized the linebackers' productivity.
This year, the linebackers should be even better, but they won't be any bigger.
If UNT cannot keep opponents from driving Mean Green linemen off the line of scrimmage, wins will be tough to come by.
UNT cannot afford to start two 225 lb defensive ends.
At the end of spring practice, sophomore KC Obi was listed as the first team strong side DE. Sophomore pass rusher Brandon Akpunku was listed as the starting weakside DE.
Clemson will eat UNT alive if we run those two D-ends out there, as will most of UNT's Sun Belt schedule.
Obi is a competent Sun Belt-level run defender on the weak side, especially vs. lighter and weaker left tackles.
Akpunku is an elite pass rusher, and a volatile bucket of gasoline, who will fight anyone at any time, but Obi plays with better technique against the run.
Both players will be good DEs by their senior year, but neither is a full time DE at this point.
There is some hope.
UNT has 3 DE's coming in the fall. The coaching staff seems very much in love with 2 star recruit Michael Miller (6'3" 260 lbs), a DE out of Antelope Valley CC.
They seem to think he might be an underrated steal. Freshman Aaron Bellazin (6'2" 230 lbs) is a plenty tough, three star recruit. Frank Gaines is a (6'1" 250 Lbs) 3 star Juco recruit out of City College of San Fransisco who could also take a starting job.
In addition, sophomore DE LaCrhis Anyiam (6'4" 287), DE Tevinn Cantly (6'4" 301), Ryan Boutwell (6'3" 245) and even senior Sam Owusu-Hemeng (6'2" 242), who was banished to the bench for most of the second half of the season due to an unnamed offense, will be available.
John Webber (6'3" 288 lbs), a former JUCO star DE who has been moved to DT in a maneuver eerily similar to the Eddrick Gilmore debacle that gutted UNT's defense for the first half of last season, would make sense as at least a part-time strong side DE.
Cantly and Boutwell are currently on the second team of the spring depth chart.
I hope the spring depth chart is simply a mirage due to the new DEs not being on campus yet, but the plain facts are UNT needs a lot more size on the field at DE to prevent teams from rolling over them again this year.
UNT cannot afford to sell out their run defense in an attempt to get more speed on the field.
If they do so, there is no chance this team will win 6 games this year.
The defensive tackle spots should be better this year with returning starters and great depth.
This team can't wait several weeks into the season to learn to stop the run. If it takes that long, this staff is as good as fired.
2) Special teams have to be competent.
Last year, only the kickoff return game thrived. UNT had numerous kicks and punts blocked.
That is horrific incompetence. UNT has to break even on special teams this year to win.
With seven new 3 star recruits in the defensive back seven, one would hope that, at minimum, UNT's coverage teams will be dramatically improved. Ultimately, this has to be put on the coaching. Can special teams coordinator Shelton Gandy deliver?
3) The staff needs to convince the players to compete every week.
Last year, UNT conceded the Troy and Alabama games before stepping on the field.
There are no teams on the schedule this year that will be as good as Alabama.
This UNT team will be far more talented than last year's team.
There comes a point when a team needs to man up.
To concede potential upsets to their four toughest opponents before the ball is even snapped is both foolish and weak.
A win in any of those games could be the difference in the staff staying or even UNT making a bowl game.
And they can't play down to competition, as they did vs. Western Kentucky last year.
I see three glaring "trap games," where UNT will likely be favored, but could easily lose if they overlook their opponent like they did Western Kentucky last season.
Strong coaching and senior leadership will be very important in making sure the players play hard in these games.
Without further ado, lets look at the schedule with the idea that UNT addresses these issues.