2019 North Texas Season Preview

By Hoss McBain

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To gauge just how impressive the job Seth Littrell has done at North Texas, you have to look around at how other college football coaches treat him.

USC, one of the most storied programs in college football, poached offensive coordinator Graham Harrell from North Texas. Five coaches from Littrell’s initial staff of nine overall were ultimately poached by Power Five programs. Bodie Reeder, the offensive coordinator who led Eastern Washington to the FCS title game, bolted at the chance to work with him. SMU coach Sonny Dykes heaped praise on what the crosstown rival has done.

“The thing that they’ve done that’s hard to do is won consistently,” Dykes said. “They’ve been a team that’s been in the fight for a conference championship the past couple of years. That’s what you want out of a program.”

The ultimate compliment came during the offseason, when Littrell was rumored as a candidate for multiple Power Five jobs. At one point, he was the leading candidate at Kansas State. But after working through specifics, staying at North Texas ended up being the easy decision.

“There’s a lot that goes into looking at a job,” Littrell said. “I think the resources and administration that they have made the decision a little easier. I think North Texas is a special place. If we ever leave North Texas, it better be a special opportunity.”

It doesn’t hurt that Littrell has unfinished business in Denton and a roster that’s capable of checking off all the boxes.

North Texas was fully capable of going undefeated a season ago in the regular season. In fact, after beating SMU and Arkansas in the first few games of the year, UNT probably should have gone undefeated. In all three losses to Old Dominion, UAB and Louisiana Tech, the Mean Green had a dominant double-digit lead at the half. All of them slipped away, along with a shot at 10 wins for the first time since the 1970s.

“Those are the ones you always remember as coaches and players,” Littrell said. “You learn so much from the failures. You have to learn from those situations. I think we’ll be a much better team this year because of those situations. It’s hard to go through at the time, but all you can do is grow from it, and I think our staff has tried to do that.”

Luckily, plenty of playmakers from that team are ready to capitalize on those failures. Quarterback Mason Fine continues his burning of the UNT record book. He became the leading passer in program history a season ago and will quickly set the touchdown record, too. His favorite target, Rico Bussey Jr., should be an NFL draft pick next season if he can replicate his 1,000-yard performance.

The defense is dicier, but the defensive culture has risen dramatically in Denton under Troy Reffett. Safety Khairi Muhammad and defensive lineman LaDarius Hamilton will step into leadership roles with the departure of E.J. Ejiya and Brandon Garner.

The schedule is undoubtedly harder next season. The Mean Green play at SMU, at Cal and against Houston at home. All three games are losable, even if North Texas has another strong year. But on the flipside, all three are just another opportunity for UNT to prove itself.

Littrell is in a perfect situation as a Group of Five coach. The program is in a great place. He doesn’t have to rush out the door to capitalize on short-term hype. But with so much experience and talent back, this is where great coaches capitalize.

“I think it’s about the impact you leave within a program,” Littrell said. “I want to be sure if [I ever left], there would be a great culture here of winning and success, but also people and relationships. You’re going to be remembered here. If you’re remembered here, I want them to say he was passionate about UNT and he worked extremely hard to make sure it was a great place.”

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