Brandin Byrd was well aware of the doubts North Texas faced heading into the season when it came to its offense.
UNT struggled offensively in 2012 and had a lot of the same players back in the same spots, which didn’t inspire a lot of confidence outside the Mean Green’s locker room.
“A lot of people probably did doubt us, but we didn’t worry about it,” said Byrd, UNT’s starting running back. “At the end of the day, it’s about 11 guys going out there and getting the job done.”
UNT will face UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day largely because a few players like Byrd, quarterback Derek Thompson and wide receiver Brelan Chancellor did just that.
The Mean Green heads into the bowl season averaging 31.5 points a game, a total that ranks third in program history.
UNT’s special teams and defense have combined for eight touchdowns, but there is little doubt the Mean Green’s offense has shown dramatic improvement over last season. UNT managed just 20.9 points a game in 2012, when the Mean Green lacked playmakers and was held to 19 points or fewer four times.
Head coach Dan McCarney talked throughout the off-season about how UNT had to improve and opened up the quarterback spot for competition even though Thompson had started the past two seasons.
While UNT didn’t blow the doors off opponents all season, it did become much more consistent. The Mean Green set a school record by scoring at least 21 points in its first 10 games of the year and ended up clearing that mark in all but one game.
“People doubted us and rightfully so after last year,” UNT offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. “We were more aggressive this year with our play-calling and trusted our kids to go and execute.”
Thompson has thrown for 2,640 yards, a total that ranks fifth in school history, while Byrd rushed for 1,023 yards and became just the 10th player in school history to clear the 1,000-yard mark in a single season.
Chancellor combined with fellow senior Darnell Smith to give UNT a potent pair of receivers. Chancellor posted 718 receiving yards, while Smith had 716.
UNT’s offensive line played a key role, giving up just 10 sacks all season.
Put it all together and UNT had a unit that surprised a lot of people.
“It means something to us,” Chancellor said. “People thought our offense was going to be our downfall. We had to put a chip on our shoulder and prove a point. It feels good to know that we have been successful.”
UNT exploded for 55 points in a win over Southern Mississippi and scored 42 against Tulsa and 41 against UTEP in games the Mean Green also picked up special teams touchdowns.
UNT’s offense set the tone for a breakout season early on, scoring 40 points in a season-opening win over Idaho.
There were a few tough games that went along with those highlights, including a 21-13 loss to UTSA that knocked UNT out of contention to play in the Conference USA title game.
The Mean Green bounced back from that setback and a few others along the way in what turned out to be a better season for UNT offensively than many anticipated.
“Guys took a stand and were not going to be denied,” Chancellor said. “They took ownership and focused on doing the job.”
The fact that UNT is headed to a bowl game for the first time since 2004 is perhaps the best indication that, in the end, the Mean Green completed the task.
UNT announced that Navarro quarterback Josh Greer, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M linebacker A.J. Smith and Deer Park quarterback Connor Means have all signed national letters of intent and will participate in spring practice.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.