By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Todd Dodge, a renowned Texas high school coach, was brought in to return North Texas to the top of the Sun Belt, but it just hasn't happened. Dodge has just a 5-31 recorded in thee years as head coach of
the Mean Green and that includes a 2-10 finish last season. While that is a
poor record, it was actually a step up from a 1-11 showing in 2008.
The Mean Green appeared ready for a breakthrough last season after capturing a
surprising 20-10 decision at Ball State to open the campaign. However, the
team quickly fell back into its losing way, dropping each of the next six
A 68-49 victory over Western Kentucky ended a long conference losing streak,
but that would also represent the team's final win of 2009. North Texas would
go on to drop its final four games to finish 1-7 within the conference. The
squad though, was much more competitive than the prior season, as six of the
team's losses came by seven or fewer points.
OFFENSE: Dodge, known as an offensive-minded coach, shook things up this
offseason and brought on board a new offensive coordinator in Mike Canales.
The former South Florida assistant, Canales takes over the offensive play
calling from Dodge and gives this group a new look.
"We are extremely fortunate to be able to hire someone with a proven record of
success like Mike Canales," Dodge said. "He comes highly recommended as an
innovative offensive mind by some of the most respected coaches in the game.
He will have an immediate impact on our program and I can't wait for him to
begin work with our coaches and players."
The first order of business is to find a starting quarterback, as Riley Dodge
is making the switch to receiver. Riley, the son of head coach Todd, was a
highly touted quarterback out of high school, but chronic arm injuries have
forced him to switch positions. That opened the door for career backup Nathan
Tune and inexperienced Derek Thompson. The 6-4, 206-pound Tune saw time in
seven games last season, while the 6-4, 233-pound Thompson is the better
long term option with a bigger upside.
Helping ease the transition of either quarterback will be a wide receiver
corps that returns almost intact. Jamaal Jackson highlights the group of
returnees, as the 5-10, 163-pound wideout led the league with 71 catches, to
go with 701 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Darius Carey (5-10, 188) is
also welcomed back after amassing 56 catches for 509 yards.
The biggest weapon for North Texas comes in the backfield where Lance Dunbar
returns following a terrific sophomore campaign. The 5-9, 202-pound Dunbar
ranked second in the conference with 1,378 rushing yards in 2009, earning him
a spot on the All-Sun Belt first-team. He is also a weapon in the passing
game, notching 28 receptions for 300 yards.
The offensive line, which allowed the fewest amount of sacks in the
conference, returns four starters after helping pave the way for 185.3 rushing
ypg in 2009. Esteban Santiago (6-3, 296) enters his fourth year as a starter
and the tackle should once again compete for all-league honors.
DEFENSE: The Mean Green still struggled on defense in 2009, but the unit did
improve from the prior season. After allowing 482.6 ypg and 47.6 ppg in 2008,
North Texas displayed slightly betters numbers in 2009, surrendering 412.3 ypg
and 35.6 ppg.
If the Mean Green's defense is to further improve, it will need to create a
better pass rush after ranking 116th in the nation in sacks with just 12 last
season. Brandon Akpunku (6-1, 226) was one of the few players that created
some havoc along the line and he returns after registering 47 tackles and
leading the team with six sacks and 11.5 TFLs.
At linebacker, North Texas returns the services of Craig Robertson (6-1, 221),
who paced the club with 107 tackles in 2009. Jeremy Phillips (6-3, 198) and
A.J. Penson (6-1, 225) are the two other options to start alongside Robertson.
"Craig is the heart and soul of our defense, he has done a tremendous job of
leading throughout the offseason," stated Dodge.
The secondary was the strength of the defense last season, allowing the fewest
passing yards in the Sun Belt. Three starters return, including corner Royce
Hill (6-0, 177), who led the team with three interceptions. Safeties Ira Smith
(5-11, 183) and DaWaylon Cook (6-1, 196) are also expected to keep their
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Mean Green missed a bunch of kicks and had several blocked
last season, so change is needed. True freshman Zach Olen was one of the top
high school kickers in Texas and he will try to carry that success over to the
collegiate level. Punter Will Atterberry made his debut as a true freshman
last season and averaged 39 yards per attempt. An improvement is expected with
a year of experience behind him.
OUTLOOK: The Dodge era could come to an end if North Texas doesn't produce
this season. The Mean Green return a wealth of experience, but still have a
long ways to go. Inexperience under center could slow things down. Despite
that, North Texas should be slightly improved in 2010.