Yes, indeed, Wildcat fans, we are now less than one week away from the season-opening game against the North Texas Mean Green. It's been four years since K-State matched up with UNT, so I doubt many of you have followed the Mean Green much lately.
Enter Brett Vito. Brett is the beat reporter and blogger for UNT at the Denton Record-Chronicle. Check in at the links above throughout the week for thorough coverage of UNT as they prepare to travel to Manhattan to face our beloved Wildcats. I want to thank Brett for taking the time to answer my questions, and for providing well-thought-out responses.
BOTC: North Texas went from 117th in total offense in 2006 to 47th in 2007. How on earth did first-year coach Todd Dodge get a previously run-based offense to actually complete a lot of passes?
Brett Vito: There is little doubt that North Texas head coach Todd Dodge is one of the top minds in the country when it comes to the spread offense. He was successful at UNT as the passing game coordinator in the early 1990s and built one of the top high school programs in the country at Southlake Carroll largely with his spread offense.
Dodge also had a couple of breaks go his way his first season.
First, he convinced Giovanni Vizza of San Antonio Alamo Heights to back out of his commitment to Nevada and play for UNT. Dodge has said that if he had to pick a quarterback in Texas in the Class of 2007 to run his offense, Vizza would have been it. That might just be coach-speak, but it's hard to argue with after Vizza threw for 2,388 yards, the top total for a freshman nationally, last season.
Dodge also discovered Casey Fitzgerald shortly after he arrived at UNT. Fitzgerald was a multi-sport standout in high school who passed on some small-school basketball scholarships to walk on at UNT. No one thought Fitzgerald was big enough to succeed as a college wide receiver, even though he was a solid player both as a wide receiver and defensive back at Red Oak. Fitzgerald was a bit player in UNT's run-based offense, but exploded when Dodge arrived and finished among the top 10 receivers in the country in catches (third, 111), receiving yards (sixth, 1,322) and touchdown catches (tied for 10th, 12) last season. Dodge has described his offense as basketball on grass. Fitzgerald was a perfect fit.
Those two players helped make UNT's transition to the spread possible.
BOTC: I hear Giovanni Vizza (great name, by the way) has been named the starting quarterback, but will we see any of Riley Dodge in Manhattan? For my readers who don't know, the theory of relativity applies between Todd and Riley Dodge.
Brett Vito: I don't think Riley is going to play this year unless something unforeseen happens. UNT already has an all-conference quarterback in Giovanni Vizza, who is a sophomore. My guess is Riley watches for a year as a redshirt. You talk about the theory of relativity. UNT gave up 39 sacks last season, and that doesn't even begin to describe the way Vizza was pounded throughout the year. Troy sacked Vizza nine times in a game. Riley is a small guy at 168 pounds and UNT didn't do a whole lot to immediately improve its line. I don't think the two junior college linemen UNT recruited in its last class will start, leaving the Mean Green with tackles that weight 285 and 260 pounds. My theory of relativity would indicate that there is no way Todd Dodge subjects Riley to the type of punishment UNT's quarterback will take this season. Would you do that to your kid?
BOTC: Will K-State quarterback Josh Freeman have his way with the UNT defense, or does the Mean Green have something up its sleeve to stop K-State? Further, does UNT have any defenders who are as big as Freeman, who is 6'6" 245 lbs.?
Brett Vito: Freeman should have a big game against UNT, but the Mean Green will be better than they were last year when it finished last nationally with an average of 45.1 points allowed per game. UNT ditched defensive coordinator Ron Mendoza, one of the high school coaches Dodge brought with him from Southlake Carroll, and brought back Gary DeLoach, who was on the streets after the staff at UCLA was fired. DeLoach was UNT's defensive coordinator when the Mean Green ranked third nationally in scoring defense in 2002 with an average of 14.8 points allowed per game. DeLoach knows what he is doing, so yes, UNT will have something up its sleeve. The problem UNT will have is it lost its top five tacklers from last season and two junior college recruits it was counting on defensively did not qualify. I don't think DeLoach has the players to put together the type of defense UNT will need to beat midlevel Sun Belt teams, let alone hang with Kansas State.
As far as your question about UNT having defensive players as big as Freeman, lets be realistic here. This isn't a high school team in Kansas we are talking about. UNT is a Division I football team, even if it was a bad one last season. The Mean Green's starting defensive tackles -- Joseph Miller and Isaac Thomas -- are 275 and 307 pounds, respectively. Middle linebacker Tobe Nwigwe is 252 pounds. [Ed's. Note: I intended my comment about Freeman's size as a joke. No offense intended toward the Mean Green defenders.]
BOTC: Your prediction: Can UNT pull the upset in Manhattan?
Brett Vito: When it comes down to it, even with UNT's improvement offensively, Kansas State should win handily. As of right now, I would pick the Wildcats to win, 45-20.
BOTC: Thanks again to Brett, and good luck to the Mean Green in every game except the one in Manhattan.