Biggest 2024 Spring Football Question for Each Group of Five Texas Team

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It's spring break across the state, but school is back in session for all Texas Group of Five teams in the coming weeks.

Now that we've more or less established who's on your favorite team with our Roster Autopsy series, it's time to denote the biggest questions that need to be answered in spring football practice. There are no wins and losses on the record yet, but don't be mistaken: teams can win the spring football period, and there's always an argument for why your team did.

In case you missed it, here are our biggest questions for each Power Four team. 

North Texas Mean Green – What adjustments has defensive coordinator Matt Caponi made?

North Texas's 2023 team was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They led the American Athletic Conference in total offense and finished dead last in total defense. Eric Morris floated the possibility of a postseason defensive scheme change in the midst of a 5–7 debut. Does retaining defensive coordinator Matt Caponi mean the Mean Green are sticking with the 3-3-5? Or has Caponi returned with the mandate to veer from the scheme he learned at Iowa State?

The 3-3-5 is by nature a high-risk, high-reward scheme. The added defensive backs means the unit is faster and more athletic, which creates turnovers. But the three down lineman can get exposed in the run game if there's not a hybrid linebacker that can play on the line of scrimmage. The issue for UNT was that they finished 103rd in the nation in turnovers gained and last in rushing defense. The secondary added potential instant contributors. The defensive line, not so much.

North Texas reloaded the defensive back room in the offseason with Texas transfers X'Avion Brice and Bryan Allen Jr, as well as former Iowa State and Ole Miss safety Isheem Young. Senior cornerback Ridge Texada is a leader, while young safeties Evan Jackson and Jayven Anderson showed promise. But they didn't grab any interior defensive linemen from the portal for a quick fix, instead signing three from the high school ranks to develop. 

Rice Owls – Is there a game-changing wide receiver on the roster?

Rice is the state's most intact team heading into 2024, but the few players they lost on offense had the largest impact. Sure, there will be growing pains in life without quarterback JT Daniels, but backup AJ Padgett went 2–1 to close the season and get the Owls bowl eligible. Padgett still had the No.1-wide receiver/security blanket/one-handed catching while helmetless Luke McCaffrey to throw to. Now, whoever takes signal caller reins at Rice won't. McCaffrey had 71 receptions for 992 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The next closest wideout had roughly a third of that production.

But the cupboard's not bare. Landom Ransom-Goelz earned the team's top freshman honors last season and could be in line for the feature role. Rawson MacNeill is a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore projected ahead of spring to start. Of note, former quarterback Chase Jenkins has moved to wide receiver for spring football practice, a position change McCaffrey himself made.

Rice doesn't need one singular receiver to match McCaffrey's production because it can get help from the running backs and tight ends. Dean Conners finished second on the team in receiving yards out of the backfield, while Boden Groen broke out last year, finishing second among tight ends in the AAC with 39 catches.

Sam Houston Bearkats – How improved is the offensive line?

The single toughest position group to elevate from non-FBS ball to FBS level is the offensive line. Sam Houston's 3–9 record can be explained by several worthy arguments: playing two full seasons in 2021 due to the COVID pandemic, redshirting all their leaders in 2022 for the FBS transition, or opening FBS play with games against BYU and Air Force. The truth is, the offensive line wasn't ready yet. 

Sam Houston's most important offseason hire might be strength and conditioning coach Kevin Schadt, most recently of UTEP. The Bearkats return all five opening game starters from last season. They'll need to make physical leaps for a better outcome in 2024. It's hard to generate any offensive momentum averaging 2.9 yards per carry.

The positive news is that all the returning linemen are salty veterans - only one, right guard James Dawn II, is a true junior. Now that they know what to expect in FBS games, expect improvement.

Texas State Bobcats – Defensive playcalling under Dexter McCoil Sr.

GJ Kinne elevated Dexter McCoil Sr. from safeties coach to defensive coordinator in just his third year coaching college football. Don't be fooled by the lack of coaching years: Kinne knows McCoil's football mind is ready for the promotion. The two played together at Tulsa, where McCoil holds both the program and Conference-USA career interceptions record. He played nine years of professional football before coaching high school football in Louisiana for three years.

Texas State's defense struggled at times last year, finishing 91st in the nation in total defense. Part of that can be explained by how fast the offense operates. But McCoil still needs to improve that unit if the Bobcats want to compete for a Sun Belt championship.

The three interception leaders from last year's team are gone, but Texas State has plenty of returning pieces to be excited about. Defensive end Ben Bell led the team with 10 sacks last season. Safety Kaleb Culp played under McCoil and Kinne at UIW and is back after a solid first season in San Marcos. 

UTEP Miners – Just how fun are we talking?

New UTEP head coach Scotty Walden didn't promise a win total in his introductory press conference, but he did say that his team would, "be the funnest product you've ever seen in UTEP history to watch." If the offense is half as fun as Walden in energetic, we're in for a real treat.

The Walden era is off to a good start. UTEP earned the top-ranked recruiting class in Conference-USA, and a total of 47 players are new to campus. A lot of them have followed Walden from Austin Peay, where they set school records for scoring offense, total offense and passing offense. The spring game will be the first showing of the new brand of UTEP football, and the players who will lead it. 

UTSA Roadrunners – Does a QB separate themselves to succeed post-Frank Harris?

Frank Harris was Michael Jordan on the Wizards last season - the program GOAT at diminished powers after more knee surgeries than you can count on one hand. While the stats took a dip, his leadership and poise did not. His shoes cannot be filled, but UTSA's deep roster means they don't need a superhero.

Because Harris was a seventh-year senior with a distinguished injury history, UTSA's backup quarterbacks operated as starters during last year's spring session. The battle to replace Harris has two frontrunners in redshirt sophomore Owen McCown and redshirt junior Eddie Lee Marburger. Marburger got the first nod when Harris missed back-to-back contests against Army and Tennessee, but McCown came off the bench against the Volunteers and then got the start in the Frisco Bowl.

McCown started shaky, throwing two interceptions as the Roadrunners managed 16 yards on the first 16 plays, but finished on a 12-of-15 tear for 230 yards and a touchdown, winning the program's first bowl game. While the performance was gutsy, a Herculean effort wouldn't have made him the surefire starter. If UTSA goes portaling in the summer for another quarterback, fall camp is a new competition. If they don't, odds are they're confident with McCown or Marburger.

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