Halfway Through The Football Season, Let's Assign Some Midterm Grades To TCU, SMU and UNT.
At the halfway mark of the college football season, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University and the University of North Texas couldn't be in more different places.
TCU is back in the Top 25 and finally making a run for tops in the Big 12 after two so-so seasons in the new conference.
SMU, meanwhile, is on the opposite end of the spectrum: They've been obliterated in each of their first five games and are statistically one of the worst teams in the country.
North Texas, on the other hand, is somewhere right in the middle — and trending, unfortunately, toward SMU's side of things. The Mean Green is off to a worse-than-anticipated start, with the expectations that carried over from last season's improbable 9-4, bowl-winning season turning out to be a little unreasonable.
Here, let's take an in-depth look at all three of the region's Football Bowl Subdivision programs and see how their seasons are shaking out up to this point.
National Rank: 12 (Associated Press poll), 12 (Coaches Poll).
The Horned Frogs have made national headlines for two weeks in row now after facing two top-ten Big 12 schools. First, they upset Oklahoma (No. 4 at the time) in Fort Worth. Then they almost upset Baylor (No. 5 at the time) before blowing a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The spark for this season's turnaround following last season's 4-8 finish has been the Horned Frogs' new air-raid offense implemented by new co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. The new offense, along with the team's commitment to quarterback Trevone Boykin after bouncing him between wide receiver and quarterback last year, has put the team in a position to take some pressure off the defense, which has been the backbone of the program under head coach Gary Patterson's tenure.
That being said, the defense has been an obvious disappointment in those last two games against Oklahoma and Baylor. The Horned Frogs gave up 728 yards of offense to the Bears in particular as Heisman-hopeful Bryce Petty picked apart the Horned Frogs defense for 510 yards passing and six touchdowns. Worse, all six of his touchdowns came on plays of 25 yards or greater, and fully exposed TCU's corners in one-on-one situations. An apparent shift in TCU's identity also showed in that game: On a crucial fourth-and-3 play when the team opted to go for it, tied at 58, for a play that resulted in an incomplete pass from Boykin. After the game, Patterson said he wanted to give the offense a chance to convert the first down. It's clear, though: The coach has lost some confidence is his defense.
Overall, though, TCU is in a good place at 4-1. The defense also won't be facing any more Heisman contenders in its remaining games. Currently ranked 12th in the nation, the team will face another crucial Big 12 challenge from No. 15 Oklahoma State this week at home — a game this Horned Frogs team should win.
Midterm Grade: A-.
National Rank: N/A.
Heading into the season, North Texas knew it was going to have a hard time replacing the senior leadership it lost from last year — especially since the team had to replace its starting quarterback, running back, wide receiver, middle linebacker and safety.
Even so: After last year's improbable 9-4 run that ended with the program's first bowl victory in 10 years, head coach Dan McCarney had a lot of people convinced this program had turned a corner. This season, however, the reality that North Texas is still building the program has come into focus. McCarney's admitted that much himself, while also more recently acknowledging that the entire process has been tougher than he expected it would be.
At times, though, the Mean Green have still played the kind of smash-mouth, pound-the-football, punish-on-defense that McCarney's style of football demands — especially in blowout wins over SMU (43-6) and Nicholls (77-3).
In each of the team's four losses, though, North Texas has fallen behind at least 0-21 before scoring its first points. To remedy the slow starts, North Texas made a switch at quarterback in its fourth game, starting redshirt freshman Dajon Williams after the dual-threat quarterback provided some spark to the offense during garbage time in the team's opening games.
Williams is still raw, but shows flashes of becoming a true playmaker. In the season opener, he was third on the depth chart — and fully absent from the season opener against Texas due to the birth of his daughter — so he still has plenty of development to go through if North Texas sticks with him.
If North Texas can get that position in order, though, it will take a ton of pressure off their defense. The rest of the season favors North Texas, too, as the team squares off against its Conference USA opponents who are also struggling with records of .500 or worse. McCarney just needs to get his team in order fast: This week's game against Southern Miss is a must-win if the team hopes to retain any semblance bowl-eligibility.
Midterm Grade: C-
National Rank: LOL.
This is the best thing going for SMU right now: The first five games of the Mustangs' season represented arguably the toughest opening schedule facing any team in the country this year. They faced four Top 25 teams in Baylor, Texas A&M, TCU and ECU — as well as a North Texas squad that was looking to embarrass an area rival.
Over the course of that five-game stretch, head coach June Jones resigned, four different quarterbacks have started and the team's offense and defense have each been abysmal, ranking last in the country in both points scored and points allowed.
After rough losses to Texas A&M and TCU and heading into conference play, interim head coach Tom Mason somehow retained hope: “I still think we can win the conference and maybe get to a bowl game,” he said. “I know you guys all think I'm nuts.”
Yep, we do. But the Mustangs are starting to make some changes that could bring some much-needed spark to this team. Although he was a walk-on and fourth on the depth chart at the beginning of the season, quarterback Garrett Krstich has played with inspiring grit and confidence since becoming a starter. At a time when the offense was giving up eight sacks a game, Krstich put the blame on his shoulders and said he needed to get the ball out quicker and make better decisions — one of the first signs of leadership from the team.
Of course, most other positions on the field — aside, perhaps, from the wide receiving corps — are in shambles. This week, running back Kevin Pope will play on both sides of the ball at linebacker as he did at the end of last year. Pope was a starting linebacker last season, but a number of injuries at running back last year gave him an opportunity for double duty. This year, with the defense struggling and speedy running back K.C. Nlemchi performing OK, the Mustangs can afford to put Pope back on defense.
And, fortunately, all those Big 12 opponents are in the team's rear view.
Still, the whole season's basically blown at this point, and the team's main focus should be putting its best foot forward in hopes of helping the school lure its head coach of the future. And with names like former University of Texas head coach Mack Brown floating around, this team better do so fast.
Midterm grade: F