WHO: 7-5 UNLV (Mountain West) vs. 8-4 North Texas (Conference USA)
WHAT: Heart of Dallas Bowl (4th year)
WHERE: Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
WHEN: Jan. 1 at noon ET
WHY: Somewhere in Denton, our beloved Ben Kercheval will, despite a hangover for the ages, be smiling heartily at his Mean Green being back in the postseason.
For the first time since the 2004 New Orleans Bowl, UNT will take the field for a bowl game, and one on New Year’s Day no less. The opponent, though, has endured an even longer stretch of bowl-less seasons, with the Rebels last appearance coming in the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl. In fact, this will mark UNLV’s first bowl game outside of Las Vegas since the 1984 California Bowl.
The Mean Green enter the Texas-based bowl game on a roll, having won six of its last seven games after beginning 2013 at 2-3. Neither team does anything exceptionally well offensively, with neither team ranking higher than 48th or lower than 67th in rushing, passing and scoring offense.
Where the game could turn, though, is on the defensive side of the ball in general and in the front seven specifically. UNT has the 19th-ranked run defense entering the game, while UNLV is an abysmal 110th against the run. Thanks in large part to that run defense, the Mean Green is ninth in the country in scoring defense at 18.1 points per game. Conversely, the Rebels give up an average of 31.5 points per game, a number that’s good for 92nd in the FBS.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl will serve as the fourth-ever meeting between the two football programs and the first since September of 2000. For what it’s worth, the Rebels are 3-0 all-time against the Mean Green.
PREDICTION: North Texas 34, UNLV 17