The good news keeps on coming for North Texas.
Just two days after UNT received an invitation to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, several of the key players who made a breakout season possible were named to the All-Conference USA team.
UNT had 12 players named to the team overall, including four who earned a spot on the first team. Placing such a large contingent on the team represented a dramatic improvement from earlier this year when UNT failed to have a single player named to the Preseason All-C-USA team.
Offensive lineman Cyril Lemon, linebacker Zach Orr, safety Marcus Trice and Brelan Chancellor were named to the first team. Chancellor was named to the first team as both a punt returner and kick returner.
Offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo and defensive end Aaron Bellazin were on the second team, where Chancellor earned a spot as a wide receiver.
Running back Brandin Byrd, wide receiver Darnell Smith, defensive lineman Richard Abbe, linebacker Derek Akunne, safety Lairamie Lee and cornerback Kenny Buyers received honorable mention on the team, which was selected by C-USA’s 14 head coaches.
UNT center Kaydon Kirby and punter Blake Macek were named to the all-freshman team.
C-USA will announce the league’s players of the year today.
Being named to the All-C-USA team was another milestone in a season full of them for Orr, Trice, Chancellor, Bellazin, Byrd, Smith and Abbe. All seven are key members of a senior class that has helped guide UNT during its turnaround season.
UNT finished the regular season at 8-4, a performance that landed the Mean Green its first bowl bid since 2004.
“I can’t even put into words what this means for our seniors,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said after the Mean Green found out Sunday it is headed to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. “When the torch was passed to these guys last year, they put their foot in the ground and said let’s be different. We have one more shot together as a team.”
Rice, which won C-USA’s West Division and beat Marshall in the league’s championship game, led the all-conference team with five first-team players. UNT also earned five first-team slots, with Chancellor’s selection as both the punt and kick returner.
The 14 total spots UNT earned on the team tied for second most in school history and is the highest for the program since the 2002 season, when the Mean Green won the Sun Belt title and beat Cincinnati in the New Orleans Bowl.
UNT has won six of its last seven games, its best run since winning four straight Sun Belt titles from 2001-04.
“It seemed like it was destined to happen,” Orr said late in the year of UNT’s breakout season. “We felt that way coming into the year — that we had a good squad and we were going to play in some meaningful games.”
UNT’s all-conference players helped the Mean Green reach that point.
Orr leads UNT with 114 tackles, a total that ranks third in C-USA, to go with four fumble recoveries and 11 tackles for loss.
Chancellor leads the league in kickoff return average (28.1 yards per attempt) and punt return average (16.8 yards per attempt).
Trice’s five interceptions are the most among UNT players and rank third in C-USA. He has 83 tackles and eight pass breakups on the season.
Lemon has been named all-conference in each of his three seasons at UNT and earned first-team honors for the first time. The junior combined with Y’Barbo to help UNT head into the bowl season tied with Alabama and Tulsa for sixth nationally with 10 sacks allowed.
Bellazin is tied with Cory Henry of Florida Atlantic and Derrell Johnson of East Carolina for the C-USA lead with 7 1/2 sacks through the end of the regular season.
McCarney will benefit financially from turnaround
McCarney already has triggered one bonus clause in his contract for leading UNT to the Heart of Dallas Bowl and could reach another, depending on how the Mean Green fares against UNLV.
McCarney received a $15,000 bonus for leading UNT to a bowl game.
There also is a provision in McCarney’s contract that will pay him an additional $20,000 if UNT finishes in the top 60 of the final BCS standings.
UNT is sitting at No. 60 heading into the bowl season and likely would at least hold its position with a win over the Rebels.
UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal confirmed last week that the school is in talks with McCarney on an extension of his original contract.
McCarney signed a five-year deal with UNT after taking over the program shortly after the end of the 2010 season.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
ALL-CONFERENCE USA TEAM
QB – Shane Carden, East Carolina, Jr.
RB – Charles Ross, Rice, Sr.; Trey Watts, Tulsa, Sr.
OL – Stetson Burnett, Tulsa, Sr.; Chris Jasperse, Marshall, Jr.; Cyril Lemon, North Texas, Jr.; Nate Richards, Rice, Sr.; Will Simmons, East Carolina, Sr.
TE – Gator Hoskins, Marshall, Sr.
WR – Justin Hardy, East Carolina, Jr.; Ryan Grant, Tulane, Sr.; Tommy Shuler, Marshall, Jr.
DL – Christian Covington, Rice, So.; Cory Henry, Florida Atlantic, Sr.; IK Enemkpali, Louisiana Tech, Sr.; James Rouse, Marshall, Sr.; Julius Warmsley, Tulane, Sr.
LB – T.T. Barber, Middle Tennessee, So.; Shawn Jackson, Tulsa, Sr.; Zach Orr, North Texas, Sr.
DB – Lorenzo Doss, Tulane, So.; Phillip Gaines, Rice, Sr.; D’Joun Smith, Florida Atlantic, Jr.; Marcus Trice, North Texas, Sr.
K – Cairo Santos, Tulane, Sr.
P – Hunter Mullins, UAB, Jr.
KR – Brelan Chancellor, North Texas, Sr.
PR – Brelan Chancellor, North Texas, Sr.
LS – Trevor Gillette, Rice, Sr.
QB – Rakeem Cato, Marshall, Jr.
RB – Vintavious Cooper, East Carolina, Jr.; Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech, So.
OL – Jordan Davis, East Carolina, Sr.; Garrett Scott, Marshall, Sr.; Clint Van Horn, Marshall, So.; Josh Walker, Middle Tennessee, Sr.; Mason Y’Barbo, North Texas, Jr.; Scott Inskeep, Texas-San Anotonio, Jr.
TE – Turner Petersen, Rice, Sr.
WR – Brelan Chancellor, North Texas, Sr.; Jamarcus Nelson, UAB, Jr.; Jordan Taylor, Rice, Jr.
DL – Aaron Bellazin, North Texas, Sr.; Greg Hickman, FIU, Sr.; Lee Pegues, East Carolina, Sr.; Khyri Thornton, Southern Miss, Sr.
LB – Jermaine Holmes, Marshall, Jr.; Derrell Johnson, East Carolina, Sr.; Andrae Kirk, Florida Atlantic, Jr.; Michael Kutzler, Rice, Sr.
DB – Bryce Callahan, Rice, Jr.; Damon Magazu, East Carolina, Sr.; Michael Mudoh, Tulsa, So.; Triston Wade, UTSA, Jr.
K – Chris Boswell, Rice, Sr.
P – Sean Kelly, Florida Atlantic, So.
KR – Autrey Golden, UTEP, So.
PR – Devon Smith, Marshall, Sr.
LS – Josh Cuthbert, Louisiana Tech, Sr.
NORTH TEXAS HONORABLE MENTION SELECTIONS
RB Brandin Byrd, Sr.; WR Darnell Smith, Sr.; DL Richard Abbe, Sr.; LB Derek Akunne, Jr.; DB Kenny Buyers, So.; DB Lairamie Lee, Jr.