Coach: Darrell Dickey (8th season, 37-46) 2004 record: 7-5 (Lost to Southern Miss in New Orleans Bowl) Sun Belt finish: 7-0 (1st) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 23rd (186.4 ypg) Passing: 107th (157.6 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 74th (172.8 ypg) Passing: 92nd (241.3 ypg)
at Middle Tennessee
at Kansas State
at Florida Int.
at Louisiana Tech
at Florida Atlantic
Depth Chart: Offense
5 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
4 returning starters in red
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At North Texas, the spoils of four consecutive Sun Belt Conference titles include a new, state-of-the art training complex, a 6,000-square foot weight room, a spacious new locker room with players lounge and three full-size practice fields.
Among the standouts enjoying the new digs will be the nation's last two rushing champions, Patrick Cobbs (2003) and Jamario Thomas ('04). The running game will be the Mean Green's calling card again this season.
But there are holes to fill as well: North Texas enters the season without a decisive starter at quarterback, the offensive line must replace three regulars -- including two all-conference performers -- and the entire defensive line has departed.
For the first time in college football history, two national rushing champions will play in the same backfield.
Cobbs (152.7 ypg in 2003) returns after a medical redshirt (thumb and knee). He'll be joined by '04 Sun Belt Player of the Year, Thomas (180.1 ypg), who set an NCAA record for freshmen by topping the 200-yard mark five times.
The two have combined for 3,481 yards and 36 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Cobbs had the edge coming out of spring practice, due in part to Thomas' minor knee injury, but both backs should see plenty of work in the fall.
Wide receiver Johnny Quinn returns for his junior season having added nearly 20 pounds to his 6-foot frame. The added weight has helped him develop into a devastating blocker, but he also ran track in the spring in an effort to maintain his speed.
The Mean Green return only three letterwinners on the offensive line. Anchoring the unit will be guard Dylan Lineberry, the '04 Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year. As a sophomore, Lineberry started every game at right guard.
There will be four new starters across the defensive front, led by end Eli Hutchinson, who appeared in every game and emerged as a starter in the spring. Chris Miller is the most experienced interior lineman, having played extensively the last two seasons.
Last year, North Texas had to replace a trio of all-conference linebackers. This year, all three starters return, making this the most stable unit on defense. Outside linebackers Brandon Monroe and Shawn Early, along with inside linebacker Derek Mendoza combined for 32 starts last year. Monroe is the team's top returning tackler. Early injured a knee during the spring but is expected to be back at full strength in August.
Cliff Higgs (strong) and Roderick Cotton (free) will replace all-conference safeties Jonas Buckles and Markeith Knowlton. Cornerback T.J. Covington is the secondary's vocal leader and only returning starter. After missing last season, Ja'Mel Branch returns and will start at the other corner. He was one of the Mean Green's leading receivers from '01-'03.
First team all-conference kicker Nick Bazaldua's role will expand to include punting duties in '05. For his career, he has connected on 70 percent of his field goal attempts and was perfect last season inside the 40.
Quinn earned first-team all-conference honors as an all-purpose player and will return punts this year.
Expect the Mean Green to absorb their usual pre-conference lumps before challenging for a fifth consecutive Sun Belt title. This year's running game could be among the nation's best, with Cobbs and Thomas on the ground.
There may be other contenders in the conference, but North Texas will remain the overwhelming favorite until another team proves otherwise.