AP Sports Writer
DENTON, Texas (AP) -- North Texas made a big breakthrough last season winning nine games, including a bowl on New Year's Day.
Now comes a significant test for coach Dan McCarney and the Mean Green after their first winning record in nine seasons. They will be trying to do it again while replacing so many starters.
"It's fun, it's exciting, it's nerve-wracking when you have so many guys that you don't know who your best guy's going to be, don't know who your starters are going to be," McCarney said.
Four of the Mean Green's five returning offensive starters are linemen, three of them seniors with at least 34 career starts. That means all those new starters at the skill positions should be well-protected.
Linebacker Derek Akunne and three players in the secondary account for the four returning defensive starters.
"We've tried to build in our program, and embed it in the culture of this program, expect to win, believe you can win, regardless of who's back, who's not back, who started, who didn't start, who played, didn't play," McCarney said. "Regardless of all that stuff ... it's a culture of trust, it's a culture of leadership and it's a culture of expectations to win, and we have to build on that every day."
North Texas is 18-19 in three seasons under McCarney, a drastic improvement from the 13-58 record the six years before that.
Here are five things to watch this season for North Texas, which won seven of its last eight games in 2013, and capped its first Conference USA season winning the Heart of Dallas Bowl:
TAKING SNAPS: The leading candidates to replace graduated quarterback Derek Thompson are junior Andrew McNulty and sophomore Josh Greer, a junior college transfer. McCarney calls them "two of the smartest guys that I've been around in a long time. They're really smart, they grasp the offense, they understand what we have to do on offense."
PRESEASON PICK: Conference USA coaches are among those who have tabbed North Texas as the preseason favorite in the league's West Division. "When I heard that stuff, it was almost laughable to me," McCarney said. "If we had that team coming back with all those seniors, I'd say, yeah, you're right. This is one of the youngest teams I've had in my life." At the same time, McCarney said he'd rather the Mean Green be picked for success than people "saying they stink as usual, it's North Texas."
CHAMPIONS TOGETHER: North Texas will be the opponent for coach Charlie Strong's first game at Texas, the Aug. 30 season opener in Austin. McCarney, Strong and new Longhorns defensive coordinator Vance Bedford were on the Florida coaching staff together during the 2008 season when the Gators were national champions.
BIG EXPERIENCED MEN: Cyril Lemon, Mason Y'Barbo and Antonio Johnson, the fourth-year starters on the offensive line, all weigh in at about 300 pounds. Lemon and Y'Barbo have both started 37 games, the most for any current player, while Johnson has 34 starts. Sophomore Kaydon Kirby started all 13 games last season, and 365-pound senior and former junior college transfer Shawn McKinney could fill the other starting spot up front.
MAXIMUM EXPOSURE: For the first time in school history, the Mean Green anticipate all of their games will be on television. Conference USA has a new deal that ensures all the league games are televised. The only of the UNT's 12 games not already set for TV is its Oct. 4 game at Indiana, though McCarney expects that to change.
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