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Heart Of Dallas Bowl Primer: North Texas vs. UNLV

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North Texas defensive back Marcus Trice, shown in action last season against LSU, had five interceptions and three blocked kicks for a defense which ranks first in Conference USA and ninth in the FBS with an average of 18.1 points allowed per game. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
North Texas defensive back Marcus Trice, shown in action last season against LSU, had five interceptions and three blocked kicks for a defense which ranks first in Conference USA and ninth in the FBS with an average of 18.1 points allowed per game. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

How’s this for a New Year’s Day bowl matchup: Two programs entering the season with a combined 20 straight losing campaigns and posting a combined 6-19 mark a year ago? Nonetheless, the reversals of fortunes for the Conference USA Mean Green and the Mountain West Conference Rebels have been nothing short of dramatic, and their reward is a Jan. 1 matchup in the Cotton Bowl (not the game; the stadium).

North Texas

Motivation: With its Denton campus less than an hour away, North Texas will be out to impress the pro-UNT crowd. Besides, the Mean Green haven’t played in a bowl since 2004 and are making their first New Year’s Day postseason appearance since the 1948 Salad Bowl.

If You’ve Never Seen Them: Senior receiver Brelan Chancellor and senior tailback Brandin Byrd are potent offensive weapons, but North Texas’ calling card is a defense which led Conference USA and ranks ninth nationally with a miserly average of 18.1 points allowed per game. First-team all-C-USA defensive back Marcus Trice, a transfer from Oklahoma, is a big part of that, with five interceptions and three of the Mean Green’s FBS-leading eight blocked kicks.

Weakness: With UNT, there’s no real glaring deficiency, but its passing game shouldn’t scare UNLV. Led by senior QB Derek Thompson (14 TDs, 13 INTs), the Mean Green ranked fourth in C-USA with 227.6 yards per game, but that only would’ve ranked 11th in the MWC, ahead of option-oriented New Mexico and Air Force.

UNLV

Motivation: This isn’t going to be a problem for the Rebels, which are making their first Jan. 1 bowl appearance, playing in only their fourth bowl game overall and playing in their first bowl, period, since 2000. It’s earned coach Bobby Hauck, 6-32 in his first three seasons, a three-year contract extension. Enough said.

If You’ve Never Seen Them: UNLV owns the MWC’s best pass defense (an impressive 214.5 yards allowed per game), but the Rebels’ offensive “triplets," senior quarterback Caleb Herring (22-to-4 TD-to-interception ratio), senior running back Tim Cornett (104.2 ypg) and junior wideout Devante Davis (1,194 yards, 14 TDs), are three shades of trouble for any opposing defense.

Weakness: Maybe the Rebs’ passing D was so good because opponents were too busy gashing them on the ground to the tune of 221.8 yards per game, a figure which ranked ninth in the MWC and 110th nationally.

Las Vegas Hilton Line: North Texas -6.5.