North Texas still has two crucial games left in its season, beginning with a road showdown at Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
UNT still has a chance to become bowl-eligible and reach the .500 mark by beating a pair of teams that already have hit the six-win mark in ULM and Western Kentucky.
Reaching that goal has the Mean Green’s full attention.
Head coach Dan McCarney said this week that he’s ready to take a long, hard look at his roster after that final game against WKU, when he and his staff will evaluate the program from top to bottom.
UNT is preparing to make the move to Conference USA next season, and McCarney wants to be sure that all of his players and coaches are helping the Mean Green prepare for that challenge.
“There are no feelings of entitlement in this program that were probably pretty prevalent before I got here,” McCarney said. “We won’t let that happen under my leadership. You are not entitled to anything. You have to earn everything. If you are going to continue to be in this program, you are not going to hang out, lift weights, show up to practice, get your Nike uniform, your Nike T-shirt and shoes and then go disappear into the night. You had better be showing us on game day that you belong.”
UNT has been shorthanded throughout what has been an up-and-down campaign while facing a difficult schedule. UNT traveled to Kansas State and LSU, a pair of teams ranked among the top 10 in the country.
UNT lost both those games and also fell to Troy in the first month of the season, but has bounced back to arrive at 4-6, including a 3-3 mark in Sun Belt Conference play.
UNT beat South Alabama last week to finish 3-2 at home, its second straight winning campaign at Apogee Stadium.
McCarney often has wondered how much better off UNT would be if it could have worked through a few more of the roster issues he plans to address after the season.
McCarney said UNT started the season with 11 fewer players on scholarship than the NCAA allotment of 85.
What has made the situation even tougher is that UNT has suffered through a series of season-ending injuries. UNT lost freshman wide receiver Roderick Lancaster to a knee injury he suffered over the summer and has continued to lose key players since.
Wide receiver Brelan Chancellor was lost with a broken collarbone in a loss to Middle Tennessee in the eighth week of the season.
Almost a dozen players are out with some type of injury — losses that McCarney says illustrate just how important each scholarship player can be.
UNT’s coaches do not feel comfortable playing in the nickel or dime defenses that feature five and six defensive backs, respectively, because they do not have enough defensive backs they are comfortable putting in a game.
A lack of depth also has hurt UNT’s special teams.
McCarney plans to evaluate each player at the end of the year to make sure UNT will have better depth next season.
“You have to show that you can help us win games,” McCarney said. “Does that mean you have to be an NFL draft pick? No. Does that mean you can continue to sit in the program and never help us? No. That means I made a mistake in bringing you here and you made a mistake in coming here.”
McCarney always sits down with each coach on his staff and each player after the season to evaluate their contributions in the previous season and their future.
Wide receiver Chaz Sampson, a redshirt freshman who has not played in his first two seasons in the program despite being a highly regarded recruit, is one of the players UNT will evaluate at the end of the year. McCarney said Sampson is still with the program but could transfer.
“We are going through that right now,” McCarney said. “He’s not playing at all. We want to make sure he gets his degree. We will make a decision at the end of the season.”
There are three to four players whom McCarney did not identify that he said UNT is likely to move to new positions in spring practice.
Byrd, Atterberry receive game balls
Running back Brandin Byrd and punter Will Atterberry were awarded game balls for their performance in UNT’s win over USA last week.
Byrd rushed for a career-high 109 yards, 85 of which came on a touchdown run that put UNT up for good in the 24-14 win.
Atterberry averaged 39.6 yards on his nine punts, including five he dropped inside the Jaguars’ 20-yard line.
“[Byrd] had his best game since he’s been here at North Texas,” McCarney said. “Atterberry continues to be an outstanding football player and an example to all of our guys of how to be consistent, how to focus and how to do your job each Saturday.”
SBC reprimands officials for call in UNT win
The Sun Belt announced that it has reprimanded an instant replay official for failing to reverse a call in UNT’s win over USA.
Jaguars defensive back Tyrell Pearson intercepted a Derek Thompson pass on a third-and-5 play from the UNT 29-yard line in the third quarter and returned it down the sideline.
Pearson fumbled while diving for the end zone. Officials on the field ruled that the ball hit the pylon, resulting in a touchback, a call that was confirmed by the replay official.
Conference officials reviewed the game tape and said that the replay official should have reversed the call and awarded the Jaguars the ball on the UNT 1-yard line, where the ball went out of bounds before touching the pylon.
UNT was up 24-14 at the time and closed out the game in the fourth quarter.
“Instant replay was established to ‘get calls right’ that are questionable on the field,” Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement. “Our coaches, student-athletes and fans deserve quality performance in the instant replay booth just like they do from the officials on the field.”
The replay official who missed the call was put on probation and will not be able to work a bowl game this season.
UNT to face familiar foe in Sun Belt tourney
UNT will face Middle Tennessee in the first round of the Sun Belt tournament Thursday at E.A. Diddle Arena at Western Kentucky.
UNT (23-11) beat Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock on the final weekend of the regular season to capture its second Sun Belt West Division title in the last three years. UNT will be the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament and will face No. 6 Middle Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in an opening-round match.
The scenario will be a familiar one for UNT, which lost to the Blue Raiders in the semifinals of the tournament in each of the last two seasons.
“We have a good head of steam after this weekend,” UNT coach Ken Murczek said. “We are in a good place both physically and mentally.”
Landing the third seed was a boost for UNT, which is on the opposite side of the bracket from national power Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are No. 17 in this week’s American Volleyball Coaches Association poll and finished 15-0 in conference play.
UNT will have to get by MTSU to have a chance to face the Hilltoppers later in the tournament and appears to have a chance to do just that after sweeping the Blue Raiders in Denton this season. That was UNT’s first win over MTSU since 2006.
The Mean Green will look to freshman Carnae Dillard to help lead it to a second straight win over MTSU. Dillard picked up her second Sun Belt Player of the Week award after leading UNT to the wins over Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock.
Dillard averaged 5.43 kills and 3.86 digs per set last week.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .