North Texas near home vs. UNLV in Heart of Dallas

When North Texas became bowl eligible for the first time since

2004 after their victory on Halloween night, coach Dan McCarney

gathered his seniors and discussed possible postseason

destinations.

What about Christmas in Hawaii? A trip to New Orleans or maybe

New Year’s Eve in Memphis?

Nope, the Mean Green seniors preferred staying close to

home.

”I really was taken aback. Every one of them wanted to be in

the Heart of Dallas Bowl,” McCarney said. ”It wasn’t against

anything else or anybody else. It was for family, for friends, for

high school coaches, for all us to be together for their first and

only bowl appearance for these seniors.”

North Texas (8-4) got its wish and plays Wednesday against UNLV

(7-5) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in the historic Cotton Bowl

stadium only about 45 miles from the Denton campus.

”As enticing as Hawaii sounds, I don’t think a lot of parents

or family members could have made that trip,” quarterback Derek

Thompson said. ”I wanted to stay home and play in front of our

fans, right down the road in our backyard.”

The Mean Green have won six of their last seven games and came

within one victory of playing in the Conference USA championship

game in their first season in the new league. Before McCarney

arrived three years ago, they were 13-58 the previous six

seasons.

UNLV won two games in each of coach Bobby Hauck’s first three

seasons before breaking through this season with their first bowl

since 2000.

”When you go forward with the thought that who would have

thought that UNLV would be playing in a New Year’s Day football

game, it’s just really, really exciting,” said Hauck, who went to

three FCS championship games in seven seasons with Montana before

going to UNLV. ”We’ve had so many milestones we surpassed this

year. UNLV had never had five Mountain West Conference wins before.

First bowl game since 2000. We’ve had about three winning seasons

before this one in the last 30 years, and now we’re playing in a

New Year’s Day bowl game. `’

Here are five things to know when UNLV and North Texas play for

the first time since 2000, when the Rebels won 38-0.

BIG TURNAROUNDS: North Texas has already doubled its win total

from 2012 to 2013, going from four to eight. Only twice in the 100

years of North Texas football have teams had better improvements.

The best was the 1983 team that won eight games after a 2-9 record

in 1982. UNLV’s seven wins so far this season are one more than its

combined total the past three seasons.

TD-SCORING REBELS: Tim Cornett is UNLV’s career rushing leader

already with 3,700 yards, and is in reach of a couple of other

40-year-old school records – his 35 rushing TDs and 38 overall TDs

are two short of in both categories. Junior receiver Devante Davis

has a set a school-record this season with 14 receiving TDs. Davis’

1,194 receiving yards this season are third-most at UNLV, and he

could have the school record with a 153-yard game Wednesday.

SMALL RETURNS: North Texas and UNLV have two of the most

productive kick returners in the nation, and both are only

5-foot-9. Mean Green returner Brelan Chancellor is averaging 28.1

yards per return, which is ninth nationally. UNLV’s Marcus Sullivan

is average 28.8 yards per return, though since he didn’t play in

four games doesn’t qualify to top Chancellor in the NCAA

statistics.

INITIAL COTTON: North Texas coach Dan McCarney has been coaching

since 1977, with stops at places like Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa State

and Florida. But he had never stepped foot in the Cotton Bowl

stadium until a few weeks ago after the Mean Green got their Heart

of Dallas Bowl bid. ”I had flown over It, driven by it, but had

never been in there,” he said. ”You just feel it. When I grew up,

it was the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl and the Cotton

Bowl. … It’s pretty special to stop and think of all the coaches

and players that have come down through that same tunnel, been on

that same field.”

GREEN REBEL: Texas native Neal Smatresk has been UNLV’s

president since 2009. In November, it was announced that Smatresk

is leaving UNLV to become president of North Texas, a position he

will assume Feb. 3. Smatresk said he made the move to be closer to

family, including two of his children and a newborn

granddaughter.