North Texas didn’t get to where it wanted to go in the second season of the Dan McCarney era.
UNT headed into its opener aiming for its first postseason appearance since the 2004 New Orleans Bowl — not to mention its first winning season in seven years.
The Mean Green didn’t get there in a 4-8 season that ended with a heartbreaking loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday. By then McCarney and his players had known for two weeks they would be sitting at home while area rivals SMU and TCU and a few Sun Belt Conference teams headed to bowl games.
That time gave them a chance to look back at what went right and what went wrong and consider how they feel about the future of the program.
McCarney and his players consider their season to be characterized by missed opportunities, ones they will have the opportunity to make up for because of what the Mean Green believes is the progress the program has made despite not translating to wins.
“I absolutely feel like we still have everything in place,” McCarney said late in the year. “We have tremendous players who are coming out of redshirts, and there is tremendous development going on. I am encouraged immensely and am not discouraged. I know what our weaknesses and issues are, and I think we can work through those.”
McCarney was quick to point out during the year that UNT played a brutal schedule that included games against seven bowl-eligible teams. Kansas State and LSU are ranked sixth and seventh in the BCS standings, respectively.
UNT took its lumps along the way and did so while leaning on several young players and some veterans who filled key roles for the first time.
Zac Whitfield started at cornerback all season despite not playing the position until the start of fall practice and led the Sun Belt with 15 passes defended.
Whitfield and a defensive backfield with four new starters might have been the biggest question mark for UNT heading into the season, but it was far from the only one.
There also was the very large issue of replacing Lance Dunbar and James Hamilton. Dunbar rushed for 1,115 yards while Hamilton added 406 in 2011.
UNT effectively filled that void with the trio of Brandin Byrd (860 yards), Antoinne Jimmerson (544) and Jeremy Brown (500), who all reached the 500-yard mark in rushing.
Freshman wide receiver Carlos Harris started to emerge at the end of the season and posted 263 receiving yards.
“We have a lot of young guys who are starting to grow up and make plays,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “Hopefully they will continue to develop.”
They will have to if UNT is to continue to improve as it heads into Conference USA.
The Mean Green ranks eighth in the Sun Belt with an average of 20.9 points per game.
UNT showed improvement at times defensively and allowed 27.8 points a game, down from 30.7 a year ago in its first season under new coordinator John Skladany.
In the end, that just didn’t matter after UNT let a few games slip away, including a key 14-7 loss to Troy.
“We just didn’t play good enough,” senior tight end Andrew Power said. “A couple of games we let slip out of our hands. You have to put it together in those games. One or two plays can change a game. You can’t let that happen.”
McCarney and his players believe they are on track to rectify their problems next year, but will have to replace a few key players if they expect to improve.
Senior Ivan Delgado led UNT with 570 receiving yards. Also gone will be Power and offensive linemen Aaron Fortenberry and Coleman Feeley. Those four players made UNT’s running game effective.
UNT also loses a few key players from its defense. Senior defensive end K.C. Obi led UNT in sacks (5 1/2) and tackles for loss (10 1/2). Linebacker Jeremy Phillips finished with 54 tackles, while punter Will Atterberry averaged 41.3 yards a kick and was one of the best special teams players in the Sun Belt.
McCarney said that UNT will hit the recruiting trail hard, but a series of redshirts also will be a key part of the Mean Green’s hopes for the future. Quarterback Brock Berglund, running back Reggie Pegram and wide receiver Darius Terrell are expected to play key roles next season.
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2012 year in review
The following is a look back at what went right and what went wrong for North Texas in the 2012 season:
What went right
Development of young players — UNT had a few players emerge and develop into top contributors. Redshirt freshman running back Antoinne Jimmerson (554 rushing yards in 10 games), redshirt freshman cornerback Zac Whitfield (three interceptions, 15 passes defended) and sophomore linebacker Derek Akunne (90 tackles) all played well.
Running game still rolled — UNT answered questions about whether its running game would be effective without Lance Dunbar when it rolled up 2,082 yards on the ground behind the trio of Jimmerson, Brandin Byrd and Jeremy Brown.
Offensive line was solid — UNT allowed just six sacks all season, thanks to the offensive line that also powered its running game.
What went wrong
The bottom line — There were some bright spots for UNT in the second season of the Dan McCarney era, but the Mean Green still finished 4-8, its eighth straight losing season.
Offensive production — UNT averaged 20.9 points per game, and that total was inflated by a 34-7 win over Texas Southern, an FCS opponent. The Mean Green lacked firepower, especially after Jimmerson and wide receiver Brelan Chancellor were lost for the year with injuries.
A lack of big plays — UNT is tied for seventh in the Sun Belt with eight fumble recoveries and is last in touchdown passes with 14. The Mean Green just didn’t make many game-changing plays.