The Mean Green under second year head coach Dan McCarney head into the new season with high hopes of making their first bowl since the 2004 season. They capped that season with a trip to the New Orleans Bowl. That was their last winning season. They finished their 2011 campaign with a 5-7 record and just missed qualifying for a bowl bid. With several returning players on both sides of the ball there is a sense of optimism that the team will return to its winning ways. Other than the season opener at LSU and a road game at Kansas State the rest of the games are very winnable.
The offense returns eight starters and several experienced reserves and look to improve on their 96th place national ranking. This starts with quarterback Derek Thompson who will have another year under OC Mike Canales’ system. That continuity will help Thompson immensely. Replacing Lance Dunbar will be no easy task for junior running back Brandin Byrd. Last season Byrd had a total of 20 carries and one touchdown. The receiving corps returns three of the top four from last year. Look for Brelan Chancellor and Chris Bynes to be the main targets for Thompson. The young offensive line will improve by returning four of five starters. Protecting Thompson and creating running lanes will determine the fate of the offense.
The defense has lost some key contributors from last season which was ranked 97th nationally. McCarney’s forte is defense and this season he has newly acquired DC John Skladany. Junior LB Zach Orr will be the anchor and was second in tackles for the Mean Green last season. The secondary was burned often last season but with the addition of S Marcus Trice (Oklahoma transfer) there will be improvement.
Special teams is one of the bright spots carrying over from last season. Kicking duties will be handled by junior Zach Olen and Will Atterberry is back at punter. 2011 was good for Atterberry who was the top punter in the Sun Belt and averaged 43.5 yards per attempt. Brelan Chancellor will return kickoffs. The speedster is a difference maker.