Ben Kercheval's Mean Green Talk
North Texas lost to ULM 42-16 on Saturday to knock the Mean Green out of bowl eligibility. What does it all mean? Glad you asked...
Getting to .500 was a climb for North Texas, but that's officially over. Now this team has to play for each other with one more tough game against Western Kentucky.
The Warkhawks got quarterback Kolton Browning back from a foot injury when he was supposed to be sidelined. Talk about cruddy luck for NT.
Yes, you're supposed be prepared for all situations, and in theory you want to play against a team full strength, but having Browning out could have helped.
It's not like Browning had to shake off a lot of rust, either. You have to put that guy up there for Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year.
Not having second-leading rusher Antoinne JImmerson didn't stall the ground game, but his absence was noticeable.
NT was able to head into halftime down 14-3. Like the Louisiana-Lafayette game earlier this year, that's a deficit NT can overcome with halftime adjustments. But ULM blew the game open in the second half.
It was a disappointing showing for NT's defense, which played well early before getting overwhelmed. ULM, like Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee, has good athletes.
Young guys are stepping up though. Receiver Carlos Harris led all NT receivers with 118 yards and was two yards short of leading all receivers for the game.
We've talked about the strength of the Sun Belt before on Mean Green Talk. The league now has five bowl eligible teams and Troy can get to .500 this weekend if it beats Middle Tennessee.
Speaking of the Trojans, how much would NT love to have that game back?
On Second Thought
There was no way to soften or spin it: NT had a brutal final month of the season and the chance of a .500 record (and maybe even a bowl appearance) was going to depend on the Mean Green playing its best football under Dan McCarney and catching a few breaks along the way.
Unfortunately for the Mean Green, that path hasn't panned out all. In fact, it's NT that's been on the short end of the breaks. It began when Brelan Chancellor was lost for the year with a broken collarbone. It continued when it was announced Kolton Browning would play this past weekend after all and it kept on trucking Monday when McCarney announced that running back Antoinne Jimmerson would also miss the final game of the year with a broken bone in his shoulder.
We're not big believers in astrological coincidences here at MGT, but sorry, North Texas. The stars just aren't aligning for you in 2012. As they say, "them's the breaks."
That's not making an excuse. Coaches prepare their players every week with the expectation of winning. At that point, it's up to the players to go out and executive the game plan. That hasn't happened at times this season. For example, NT came off the best half of football it played all year against Louisiana-Lafayette and simply arrived flat against Middle Tennessee the following week and couldn't catch up. When a program is searching for more playmakers to emerge on both sides of the ball like NT is - remember, this team is predominantly made up of freshman and sophomores - margin for error decreases significantly. We've all seen it. A busted coverage here or an overthrow there - it adds up, and it's been hard for NT to recover from mistakes this year.
When you lose a difference-maker like Chancellor or Jimmerson, it sets you back even further. Depth, play-calling... it all takes a hit. ULM, on the other hand, has all kinds of offensive weapons. Browning came back from a foot injury and threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Warkhawks receiver Je'Ron Hamm led all receivers with 119 yards and another (Brent Leonard) almost had another 100 yards receiving. NT's strength has been on defense this year, but the Mean Green is terribly young and/or inexperienced in some key spots.
All of this has mixed together make for tough sledding for NT in 2012. With one game left, all this team can do is come out fired up knowing it's the last game of the season and play to go out on top. Play for each other, play for the seniors.
Western Kentucky has had one of the more dramatic turnarounds in college football over the past few years. From a winless 2010 season, the Hilltoppers have won 13 of their last 19 games under head coach Willie Taggart. Expect Taggart to be a hot coaching commodity during this year's coaching carousel too. With openings at places like Tennessee and Arkansas, Taggart has to be on the list of names to watch.
As for the game against WKU this weekend, NT needs to watch out for Hilltoppers running back Antonio Andrews. He currently ranks 10th in the country in rushing yards with 1,379 and 10 touchdowns.
However, WKU is also on a three-game losing streaking heading into this weekend. Like the ULM game, NT has an opportunity to take advantage of a team that's sliding a little bit. Clearly -- and check out Captain Obvious over here - teams are different every year, but NT has had WKU's number, beating the Hilltoppers four straight years before last season.
Being able to match last year's win total (five) with the schedule and the injuries NT's had to endure would be a huge accomplishment.
By the Numbers (with some help from NT Sports Information)
Brandin Byrd's 85-yard TD run against South Alabama was the longest run for NT since 1995 and tied for the fifth longest run in school history.
Linebacker Zach Orr has topped the 100-tackle mark for the first time in his career.
NT still hasn't won in Monroe, La., since 2003.
How big are the losses of Jimmerson and Brelan Chancellor? The two have combined for nearly 1,000 yards of offense. That's just under 25 percent of all of NT's offense this season.
A win over WKU would give McCarney 10 wins in his first two years at NT. McCarney would be the first coach since Corky Nelson to win at least 10 games in their first two seasons at North Texas.
A win would also put NT at .500 in Sun Belt play for the second year in a row.
When it rains it pours. In six of seven losses this year, NT's defense has given up at least 35 points. In four wins, NT's defense has given up no more than 23 and held opponents to 14 or less three times.
Andrew Power's 4-yard touchdown grab against ULM was his first of the season.
ULM is the Sun Belt's top scoring offense at 36.1 points a game. However, NT's defense allows only 26.7 points a game, second-best in the conference.
Ben Kercheval is s 2009 graduate of North Texas and is a writer for and co-manager of the NBC Sports website, CollegeFootballTalk.com.