Boys and Girls, we have found ourselves a week away from North Texas’ 2017 football season.
You may have noticed a paucity of posts here on MGN and that is not by design. A combination of work, life, and a tiny bit of procrastination have combined to sap the energy, time, and resources necessary to crank out the usual fare here.
Fear not, O Reader. There will be obsession.
As a bit of atonement of sorts, you can read this little snippet of the forthcoming preview e-book:
Overview of 2017
The 2016 season ended in the Cotton Bowl Stadium, on a bright, sunny day amid many laughs. Likely you contributed these laughs at an alumni-owned bar in Dallas. When I think about that day I like to imagine a dad-like figure saying to his son, drink in his hand, You know, son. Sometimes losing ain’t so bad. (Slow fade as the dad drinks his beer and the kid looks around, seeing joy on everyone’s faces. Continue zoom as the sun sets and we see the street. Fin.)
No doubt some of you reject this notion immediately and count this among the low-expectation-having North Texas crowd. Nay, I say. This was about all we could reasonably expect for the 2016 season and we had it.
To enjoy this cruel, greedy game we have to enjoy the small victories.
The Cotton Bowl Stadium was a good distance from where I expected Seth Littrell’s first season to end. The awful, inglorious loss in El Paso looked like the ending we initially expected, as a shallow team played out the string.
North Texas Football was in a precarious position following the McCarney era. The marriage of the incoming Athletic Director to the coaching choice of the previous man was no sure thing — Oklahoma origins notwithstanding. The Air Raid system did not blend with the existing run-first roster, recruiting neglect and development mistakes left the incoming staff with very little to build on. All this with a shoestring budget and an athletic department in shambles.
A year later overall situation is not ideal but improving. The sense of despondency and near-panic is gone. The Department would like more NT alumni to open our pocket books and the general public to attend games but at the very least the new Athletic Director has the ship afloat and aimed in the right direction. How fast and for how long remain to be seen.
There is no doubt that the fortunes of the football team will play a large part in answering that question.
We enter Seth Littrell: Year Two, the 102nd of NT Football. He and his staff turned a renovation year into a bowl year and that has consequences both fortunate and unfortunate. The uninformed fans (and writers) will begin with the question: Can They Do It Again? There is already some pressure to repeat last year’s results while things are still being sorted throughout the roster. Were circumstances slightly different, Seth could have a better year coaching but with fewer wins. So will they do it again?
The quick answer: yes. The longer version is contained herein.
Before we can get angry, we have to set some guidelines. Realistically, the upper limit goal for this program is something approaching what Western Kentucky is now enjoying. The Hilltoppers boast back-to-back CUSA titles and are favorites for a third. Their coaches are poached by bigger and better programs while they manage to reload and restock both the staff and the roster. This is the standard by which we should judge this staff and department. After a few drinks we can discuss national championships and other outlandish expectations but outside of a few billion dollar donations the growth of the program will be slow and steady and in the interim the CUSA title is the object of desire.
There are worse fates in college football life (and folks in Denton have lived them.) So while we can dream of playoff games and national prominence we can take the best thing available in the short term and be happy.
This conference is not unsurmountable. That means the climb to the top is not so steep that any year with the right combination of luck and talent could be a title year. Again, look at last year’s results. If the knock on North Texas’ five wins-plus-bowl appearance last season was that it was against weak competition, the bright side is that the competition is weaker on this year’s slate. In place of Middle Tennessee we have just-off-hiatus UAB. In place of WKU we have ODU, a tough team but one having to reload and traveling to Apogee. UTEP and UTSA are in Apogee instead of on the road and the Miners do not have Aaron Jones in the backfield any longer. Things are looking up in Denton even as the staff are still trying to fully unground the Air Raid attack and avoid self-harm on the defensive side.
In the 2016 season the good was pretty good and the bad was pretty awful. While that year’s preview behooved you to remember that no first-year Air Raid attack looks good even with that in mind we were all aghast at the lack of production. The 2017 campaign should have more poise and less erratic play, but similar results. The big questions are the QB and offensive line — just like last year — but with some comforting options as answers. There is more talent on the edges and a better fit and understanding of the concepts throughout. The should smooth over the rougher edges of last season and combined with a talented defense and a slightly easier schedule could mean more wins.