The entire season can be summed up in the third quarter game-losing interception: tough scenario, bold plan, terrible execution, awful result.
North Texas kicked off the last season of Mason Fine’s collegiate career with much fanfare. There was a little G5 Heisman talk, some beat writer-led division hype, and the lingering good feelings from back-to-back nine-win seasons.
Instead North Texas finished 4-8, with three straight losses. Seth Littrell and Mason Fine produced their second losing season in four season’s time and miss out on a bowl game for the first time.
Readers of this fine publication will no doubt remember that we warned and cautioned and talked about how when we talk about the wins that could have been we have to acknowledge the losses that were nearly there as well.
Two seasons ago the Mean Green went to the league title game and lost. The louder part of the internet fandom complained that it was the beginning of greatness but it was a few bounces away from being nothing.
This season felt like that one — but with all the bad luck and none of the good. It was difficult to enjoy but Mason Fine said the right things about it in the end. “It wasn’t the way we wanted it to go but that’s life and that’s football.”
It is true. Life does not always reward hard work with triumph and immediate glory. The “mysterious ways” cliché comes to mind.
For supporters and interested parties, it was difficult to enjoy. There is little shame in finding something else to do besides watching a seemingly meaningless game in a losing season.
It did mean that Fine got to go out like Lance Dunbar and Patrick Cobbs: in front of empty crowds.
Ultimately it reinforced his feelings that the people he cares most about are the guys in uniform with him that went through the grind every day. “I’m excited to see what [his teammates] do. They are going to become better men, husbands, and fathers because of this season”.
We all want to give a greater meaning to our efforts to justify it to a critical eye, and yes, every moment can be learned from in some small way.
Ultimately, the program put together a bad season and fell victim to its weaknesses: limited depth, unbalanced recruiting, coaching turnover, and well, some misfortune. Oh yeah, and the other teams played well on the day.
Another truism: If this was easy they would not pay the coaches so much.
The young defense was learning big the seemingly stacked offense sputtered and cane up short too often. Last week NT could not score the game winning TD against Rice despite having the ball in the red zone.
This week NT threw a game losing interception in the third, because the offense got shut down and sacked too much.
Seth Littrell said he was proud of the team because he saw effort and fight. That’s all we want out of anything we spend our precious attention on. Let us applaud them.
It has been clear since about midsession that the real root causes were systemic and not something that would be fixable in-season let alone in-game.
Yes, Jyaire Shorter and Deonte Simpson grew as recovers, but it was not enough to get the offense unstuck for long periods. The line was still allowing sacks, still snapping low or high, and they were not going to be able to improve quick enough for it to matter. There were big numbers but the inability to get first downs and touchdowns in the fourth against Rice and UAB were the reason for the losses.
It’s Blame Season across the nation and coaches are getting ready to pack up and move. NT fans want Seth Littrell to do like Herman at Texas and fire the defensive head man. There are more still that want Bodie Reeder gone for the sin of coaching Mason in a losing season.
Littrell practically turned over his coaching staff last off-season and the scientist in me dislikes the idea of changing another variable. The offense will be led by a new QB — one of Jason Bean or the other guys or maybe a transfer? — and so much change while breaking in yet another staff sounds like a recipe for another losing season.
Note: It has since been reported that Bodie Reeder is out as offensive coordinator, but that has yet to be confirmed by the program.
That said, the strength of the team was not well, strong. That means there is some soul-searching. The good news is that Littrell and his staff are the kinds of people that are willing to put in work and take accountability.
For the fans and stewards of the program that means adjusting expectations a bit. Do we want progress or perfection? If the former (as it should be) then we must acknowledge that progress is not always linear.
So while we should not blindly demonize a set back season, we also should not blindly trust every and all decisions. Littrell hit big on Harrell and Fine, but maybe not so much on Reeder (pending) and has some work to do building a more consistent defense.
Recruits like Simpson, Shorter, Tre Siggers, KD Davis and the young guys have impressed while some of the transfers have not. Compared to the rest of the league NT is in good shape. Finding one QB is a hell of a way to get a program on its feet. NT did that. Finding the next one is how a career is made. That’s yet to be seen.