Lance Dunbar is down to his last chance to become North Texas' all-time leading rusher.
The opportunity is one that head coach Dan McCarney believes he will be ready to capitalize on.
Dunbar appeared as if he would roll past Patrick Cobbs and the 4,050 yards he posted from 2001-05 heading into this season, but he has been slowed in recent weeks by a knee injury suffered in a win over Troy on Nov. 12.
Dunbar went down twice against the Trojans and finished with 38 yards on 11 carries. James Hamilton filled in for Dunbar against Troy and started last week against Western Kentucky.
Dunbar played sparingly against the Hilltoppers and finished with 2 yards on three carries. He was cut down for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on a key play in the third quarter.
The former Haltom standout has 3,911 career rushing yards and needs 140 yards to surpass Cobbs.
Dunbar will have a week off to prepare for his last game at UNT - at home against Middle Tennessee on Dec. 2 - which could help him return to form.
"He should be fine," McCarney said of Dunbar's chances of playing in the final game of the season. "We have an open week, so he can get healthy, get rested, get ready to go. We want something real special for these seniors for this last home game."
There might not be anything more special for Dunbar than breaking the school rushing record after a tough season.
Dunbar came into the year off a junior season in which he rushed for 1,553 yards and ranked sixth nationally with an average of 129.4 yards a game.
He has enjoyed big games this season, including a 144-yard effort in a win over Louisiana-Monroe, but has been held under 75 yards in six games due to injuries, playing behind an inexperienced offensive line and an offense that has lacked playmakers at other positions.
"I'm a competitor and want to compete and help my team win," Dunbar said after UNT's loss to WKU.
Dunbar should get that chance against MTSU, which ranks last in the Sun Belt in rushing defense with an average of 210.9 yards allowed a game heading into a game against Florida International on Saturday.
Coach didn't expect huge outing from freshman
UNT head coach Johnny Jones knew he had a great player in Chris Jones coming into this fall.
But even he didn't expect Chris Jones to be as effective as he has been through three games. Chris Jones scored 31 points in the Mean Green's loss to Texas Tech last week and headed into the Mean Green's game against Texas-Arlington on Tuesday night averaging 17.5 points a game to go along with 11 assists.
"I knew he would be a great player for us and continue to get better, but I didn't think he would put up 31 in that game," Jones said.
Despite a big game from the freshman, UNT fell 69-64.
The Mean Green shot just 36.5 percent (23-for-63) from the field and hit just one of its 16 attempts from 3-point range.
UNT didn't have another player score in double figures.
"We just didn't shoot it as well as we would have liked to," Johnny Jones said. "We took care of the ball and played hard, but when you shoot 36 percent and hit only one 3-pointer, it's tough to win. We had some looks; they just didn't go down. We played hard but didn't defend as well as we could. We have a ways to go."
UNT has five players averaging at least seven points a game, including freshman Jordan Williams, who is averaging 11.0 points a game.
"We needed some other folks to knock some shots down," Johnny Jones said. "We got wide-open looks at shots we are capable of hitting. They just didn't go down."
Aston sees progress early in season
UNT headed into its game against SMU on Tuesday night having won two of its first three games under Karen Aston.
What was even more important to the Mean Green's new head coach is the way her team has improved early in the season.
"We are a little better defensively than I thought we would be," Aston said. "We are better than we were a month ago and are a little better with our work ethic and attitude and coachability.I am enjoying coaching this team. I like coming to practice. They are trying to learn, and that is what you are looking for as a coach."
UNT has already beaten rival UTA and New Mexico after losing its final 11 games of last season.
Aston attributed the Mean Green's improvement largely to a group of veterans who have developed quickly since she took over the team, including Tamara Torru and Desiree Nelson.
"Tam has really improved from where we started," Aston said. "Her comfort level is so much better. Desiree Nelson might be one of the most improved, and the young ones are catching up. That is fun to watch. Braylah [Blakely] is catching up quick."
UNT settles on point guard rotation
One of Aston's key concerns heading into her first season at UNT was settling on a point guard.
Just three games into the season, the Mean Green has settled on a rotation. Sophomore Laura McCoy has moved into the starting role with Alyssa Hankins coming off the bench.
McCoy was averaging 6.7 points and had six assists and six turnovers in the Mean Green's first three games.
Hankins had just three points on the year, but handed out a team-high seven assists to go along with seven turnovers.
"We are settled in with McCoy at point guard with Alyssa backing her up," Aston said. "I don't know that there is a lot of difference. I feel comfortable with having two and knowing that each one gives us something a little different."
UNT signs class of four
UNT head coach Ken Murczek announced this week that he has signed a recruiting class of four.
UNT added middle blocker Kaci Eaton of Lake Travis, outside hitter Carnae Dillard of San Antonio Johnson, middle blocker Katie Dudding of Canyon Randall and middle blocker Tayler Whittington of Sherman.
Eaton, Dillard and Dudding were all listed on the Under Armour Preseason All-America Watch List.
Whittington was named the District 13-4A MVP Blocker.
UNT finished 17-17 and lost to Middle Tennessee in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The Mean Green posted a 20-13 record in Murczek's first season. UNT had not gone .500 or better in back-to-back seasons since the inception of the program in the 1976-77 season.
Track and field
Abbey joins UNT staff
Pete Abbey has joined UNT's coaching staff as the Mean Green's throws coach, head coach Carl Sheffield announced this week.
Abby has coached at LSU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and has 15 years of experience in coaching.
Sheffield is in his first season as UNT's head coach.
Swimming and diving
UNT continues successful fall season
The UNT swimming and diving team continued a successful fall season recently with two of its divers breaking school records and the team landing in the top 15 of the mid-major poll.
Sophomores Catherine Johnson and Rebecca Taylor both broke the school record in the 1-meter dive at the Tiger Southwest Invitational in Southlake. Johnson posted a score of 304.85, while Taylor posted a score of 296.85.
UNT is ranked 11th in the CollegeSwimming.com/CSCAA Mid-Major Poll. Sun Belt rivals Denver and Western Kentucky rank seventh and eighth, respectively.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .