Dave Campbell’s Texas Football is counting down the 50 most important players in the state of Texas, and we’re now cruising through the top 10.
Most important doesn’t always mean the most talented. Talent is a factor, but we’re weighing it against depth at the position, production and how much losing this player would impact a team’s trajectory.
No. 2 barely ended up on an FBS campus. His only other reported offer was from Austin Peay. But when North Texas quarterback Mason Fine ended up on campus, he quickly proved to be a special playmaker.
Check back over the next several days as we count down the rest of the top 10.
Previous: Nos. 50-11 | No. 10 SMU WR James Proche | No. 9 Texas OT Calvin Anderson | No. 8 TCU QB Shawn Robinson | No. 7 Sam Houston State WR Nathan Stewart | No. 6 Baylor QB Charlie Brewer | No. 5 TCU DE Ben Banogu | No. 4 Texas A&M OL Erik McCoy | No. 3 Texas Tech LB Dakota Allen
North Texas quarterback Mason Fine was an astonishing high school player. He threw for 13,081 yards (eighth-most ever) and 166 touchdowns (fifth) for Locust Grove High School in Oklahoma. Fine became the first player in history to win Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year twice. But still, the offers didn’t come because of his size.
Fine proved he belonged quickly. After seizing the starting job in Week 2 as a true freshman, he threw for 1,572 yards in nine starts. However, no one – save for his fans in Locust Grove – knew what would happen next.
Fine threw for a school record 4,052 yards and 31 touchdowns. He cleared the 300-yard threshold seven times, and posted a 400-yard game in a shootout against SMU. For his efforts, he earned All-Conference USA First Team. Fine is fewer than 3,000 yards away from the all-time UNT passing yards record, and he still has another year of eligibility in 2019.
Fine’s (generous) listing at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds gets most of the attention. However, he’s an outstanding decision-maker and very accurate. That combination of skills makes him an elite talent at the Group of Five level.
Even though Fine doesn’t have the strongest arm, he more than makes up for it in other ways. He’s adept at floating the ball to spots where only his receiver can catch it. Fine also gets the ball out quickly and with decent velocity.
However, Fine has fallen into the trap of being turnover-prone. He threw interceptions in 11 of his 14 games, including multiple picks in four. To take the next step, Fine needs to maintain his playmaking ability while limiting his mistakes.
“Mason Fine would be good in any offense. Just the way he carries himself, the way he works everyday, the way he approaches practice every day, the way he approaches life every day. He wants to be held to a high standard because he knows that how he’s going to be the best he can.
I can coach him hard and he responds to it. His attention to detail, his drive to be the best he can be, he’s a special person and he’s going to be successful at whatever he does because of the way he carries himself every single day. “
–North Texas offensive coordinator Graham Harrell
North Texas coach Seth Littrell was a tremendous hire from North Carolina. That said, Fine has sure made Littrell’s job a whole lot easier.
The year before Littrell took over, North Texas ranked No. 114 nationally in passing offense with a paltry 161.4 yards per game. That immediately improved to 186.1 passing yards per game in Fine’s eight starts with similar talent as a true freshman (not counting the WKU game when he got hurt). Last year, the passing offense improved all the way to No. 21 nationally. Most importantly, UNT jumped from one to five to nine wins over that period.
After losing running back Jeffery Wilson to graduation, North Texas will rely on Fine’s passing ability more than ever. Luckily, he has plenty of receiver talent. Leading receivers Michael Lawrence, Jalen Guyton and Rico Bussey are all back.
However, expectations are rising in Denton. UNT is facing national expectations for the first time – maybe ever. The Mean Green were overwhelmingly picked to win the Conference USA Western Division, and maybe even contend for more. Whether UNT can get there is on Fine’s very capable shoulders.