The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We'll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 77: North Texas
Coach: Dan McCarney (5-7, entering second season)
2011 record: 5-7 (4-4 in Sun Belt, fifth in Sun Belt)
Look back: North Texas has been a punching bag for most college football teams since the Mean Green won the 2004 Sun Belt title. The team went 2-5 in 2005, 3-9 in 2006, 2-10 in 2007, 1-11 in 2008, 2-10 in 2009 and 1-6 in 2010. The era of futility started under former coach Darrell Dickey and continued under Todd Dodge.
North Texas hired Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney to shake up the program. While most would not call a losing a season a success, McCarney led the Mean Green to a 5-7 record in 2011.
The team got off to a bumpy start during McCarney's first season, dropping four of its first five games. The team lost 41-16 at FIU. The Mean Green then opened its new $78 million stadium to great fanfare, but lost to a nationally ranked Houston team 48-23. The team lost 41-0 at powerhouse Alabama, earned a 24-21 win against Indiana and lost 41-24 at Tulsa.
The team fared better once it settled in to its Sun Belt schedule. North Texas beat FAU 31-17, lost 30-10 at Louisiana-Lafayette, beat Louisiana-Monroe 38-21, lost 37-14 at Arkansas State, won 38-33 at Troy, lost 31-21 to Western Kentucky and closed out the season with a decisive 59-7 home win over Middle Tennessee.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 8/3
Defensive starters lost/returning: 6/5
Key losses: RB Lance Dunbar, OL Matt Tomlinson, DL Brandon Akpunku, DB Ryan Downing, DB Brad Graham, DB Steven Ford, CB Royce Hill.
Top returnees: LB Zachary Orr, OL Cyril Lemon, WR Brelan Chancellor, P Will Atterberry, TE Andrew Power, OL Aaron Fortenberry, DL Ryan Boutwell, LB Brandon McCoy, QB Derek Thompson.
Strengths: The team returns most of its offensive lineup, including starting quarterback Derek Thompson and dynamic receiver Brelan Chancellor. Thompson led the white team, which included the first and third string offense, to a win over the green team, which included the second and fourth team offense, during North Texas' spring game. Coach Dan McCarney spotted the green team 20 points. Thompson and his teammates easily overcame the deficit, earning a 41-20 win.
If the offense falters, it can count on the special teams unit to put the defense in a sound position. Punter Will Atterberry ranked No. 24 in the country, averaging 43.49 yards per kick.
North Texas added to the new buzz surrounding the program and McCarney's tenure during the offseason, announcing it would be joining Conference USA in 2013. The move should represent an increase in television revenue for the program. It should help North Texas on the recruiting trail and the program's long-term future.
Weaknesses: The team must find a replacement for dynamic running back Lance Dunbar, who carried a heavy workload for the Mean Green last season. Dunbar ranked No. 35 in the nation in rushing yards per game (92.92 yards).
North Texas must continue to work on its defense. The team ranked No. 104 out of 120 teams in pass defense, allowing 265.83 yards per game. The team also ranked No. 97 in total defense (429.33 yards allowed per game and No. 88 in scoring defense (30.67 points allowed per game).
Outlook: North Texas has to replace to some athletes at key positions and shore up its defense, but McCarney seems to have the Mean Green headed in the right direction.
Sept. 1 At LSU
Sept. 8 Texas Southern
Sept. 15 At Kansas State
Sept. 22 Troy
Sept. 29 At FAU
Oct. 6 At Houston
Oct. 16 Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 27 At Middle Tennessee
Nov. 3 Arkansas State
Nov. 10 South Alabama
Nov. 17 At ULM
Nov. 24 At Western Kentucky