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UNT RB outlook for 2018 college football season: Will loss of Wilson be a killer?

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

There are a few college  football programs across the country that are known for producing terrific players at certain positions.

LSU has often claimed to be "Defensive Back U." Southern Cal has long been known for producing top quarterbacks.

North Texas certainly isn't on the level of those schools, but when it comes to Group of Five schools, the Mean Green have a great track record at running back.

Patrick Cobbs and Jamario Thomas became the first back-to-back national rushing champions from one school in the early 2000s. Cobbs played in the NFL. Lance Dunbar surpassed Cobbs' career rushing record and is now with the Los Angeles Rams. 

Jeffery Wilson finished off his UNT career last year with 3,205 yards and is headed to the NFL Combine.

The question for UNT now is who's next? The dilemma is one we tackle today in the second edition of our position-by-position preview of the Mean Green's 2018 roster.

UNT has one highly regarded player ready to step in for Wilson next year in Nic Smith and also signed one of the top junior college running backs in the country in DeAndre Torrey.

The following is a look at who UNT has coming back, who is coming in and where the Mean Green stand when it comes to continuing their history of success at the position.

Key returnees: Nic Smith, Soph.; Evan Johnson, Soph.; Anthony Wyche, Jr.; Christian Hosley, Jr.; Trever Merrell, Soph.; Josh Adebayo, So.; Andre Alger, Jr.

Key losses: Jeffery Wilson graduation; Andrew Tucker, graduation

Newcomers: DeAndre Torrey, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College; Loren Easley, sat out last season after transferring from Stephen F. Austin

Biggest unanswered question: UNT's offense leaned heavily on Wilson for long stretches of his four-year career with the Mean Green. Wilson never played a full season at UNT due to a variety of injuries. There are ample examples of how UNT struggled without him. He missed the last three games of his senior season with a foot injury. UNT lost two of those three games and and struggled to get its running game going in both of those losses. UNT finished with 81 yards on 35 carries in a loss to Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA title game and lost eight yards on 25 carries in a loss to Troy in the New Orleans Bowl. There were a host of factors that contributed to those tough outings, including UNT's struggles up front and playing a couple of really good teams late in the season. Even though that is the case, UNT's running game without Wilson has to be a concern heading into 2018.

Why UNT's 2018 production could be better: Everything would have to fall into place, but there is an outside chance UNT could improve on its average of 162.9 rushing yards per game. Torrey was a highly regarded junior college player who passed on offers from Troy and South Alabama to sign with the Mean Green. Smith also showed flashes of potential in 2017 on his way to rushing for 684 yards. He rushed for 178 yards in a win over Rice and 101 in a win over Lamar. If UNT improves up front and Torrey makes an immediate impact, the Mean Green could be solid.

Why UNT's 2018 production could be worse: The loss of Wilson could be a huge blow for UNT. The Mean Green's offense didn't look nearly the same without Wilson last season. He's one of the program's all-time greats. Teams don't just replace a player like that, especially at the lower levels of college football where a string of highly regarded recruits don't walk in the door every year.

Overall outlook: UNT's running game is one of a few key questions for the Mean Green heading into the 2018 season. UNT will likely need a combination of players to replace the production Wilson provided on his way to rushing for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns in 11 games. The hope is Smith and Torrey can head a rotation that is up to the task.

Here's a look back at our position-by-position series:

Quarterback -- Will Fine stay healthy? What happens if he doesn't?

FEATURED PHOTO: North Texas running back Nic Smith carries the ball during a win over Army at Apogee Stadium last season. (Jeff Woo/DRC)