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2019 College Football Rankings: No. 75 North Texas pushes to C-USA title

Quarterback Mason Fine returns for North Texas as coach Seth Littrell and the Mean Green try to get back to the Conference USA Championship Game after failing to win the West Division last season.

Orlando Sentinel insider Matt Murschel ranked all 130 FBS teams entering the 2019 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 130 to our projected No. 1 team.

Today at No. 75: North Texas

Coach: Seth Littrell (23-17, entering fourth season, 23-17 overall)

2018 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 Conference USA, second in West Division

Look back: North Texas won its first four games in 2018, including a 44-17 rout of Arkansas, before stumbling against Louisiana Tech in its Conference USA opener. The Mean Green lost three C-USA games by a combined margin of 13 points before losing to Utah State 52-13 in the New Mexico Bowl.

Offensive starters returning: 9

Offensive starters lost: 2

Defensive starters returning: 6

Defensive starters lost: 7

Key losses: WR Jalen Guyton, LB E.J. Ejiya, LB Brandon Garner, DB Kemon Hall, DB Nate Brooks, K Cole Hedlund

Top returnees: QB Mason Fine, RB DeAndre Torrey, WR Rico Bussey Jr., WR Jaelon Darden, TE Kelvin Smith, OL Elex Woodworth, DL LaDarius Hamilton, LB Jaime King, S Khari Muhammad

Strengths: Once again, Fine leads one of the most prolific offenses in the country. Fine has started 36 career games and holds the school record for passing yards (9,417), passing efficiency (139.74), completions (782), attempts (1,241) and most 300-yard passing games (13).

His 64 passing touchdowns rank second all-time in school history.

Fine continued his stellar career last season, throwing for 3,793 yards and 27 touchdowns as he was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year.

North Texas was 20th in the country last season in total offense, averaging 460.5 yards per game. Wide receiver Rico Bussey Jr. returns after posting 1,017 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

Running back DeAndre Torrey rushed for 977 yards and 15 touchdowns last season in his first season at North Texas.

Defensive lineman LaDarius Hamilton returns after recording 7.5 sacks last year and safety Khari Muhammad should help alleviate concerns in the secondary.

Weaknesses: The Mean Green have to replace a number of key contributors on defense. Linebackers E.J. Ejiya and Brandon Garner have graduated as well as defensive backs Nate Brooks and Kemon Hall, giving North Texas holes to fill in the second level.

The defense made significant strides last year, moving up from No. 96 in total defense to No. 48, allowing 374.6 yards per game. Replacing kicker Cole Hedlund, who made 19-of-22 field goal attempts, is also a key.

Outlook: With nine starters returning on offense, including Fine, North Texas should once again be among the top offenses in the country. The defense has gaps to fill, and the 2019 schedule has the Mean Green with two crucial conference road games against Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech.

Should North Texas navigate those two contests, as well as plug the holes on defense, then Littrell and the Mean Green have a shot to win the West Division this season.

2019 Schedule:

Aug. 31 Abilene Christian

Sept. 7 at SMU

Sept. 14 at California

Sept. 21 UTSA

Sept. 28 Houston

Oct. 12 at Southern Miss

Oct. 19 Middle Tennessee

Oct. 26 at Charlotte

Nov. 2 UTEP

Nov. 9 at Louisiana Tech

Nov. 23 at Rice

Nov. 30 UAB

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