UNLV-North Texas Preview

Three straight seasons with only two victories. Not a single

bowl appearance while losing 104 games during the previous 12

years.

To say that UNLV is excited about playing in the storied Cotton

Bowl stadium on one of college football’s most celebrated days

would be an understatement.

The Runnin’ Rebels will make their first bowl appearance since

2000 and first outside of Las Vegas in nearly three decades when

they face North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s

Day.

UNLV (7-5) caught a break in gaining a postseason berth for the

first time since playing in the Las Vegas Bowl 13 years ago,

claiming the spot vacated by the Big Ten when it sent two teams to

the BCS: Michigan State (Rose Bowl) and Ohio State (Orange

Bowl).

The Rebels’ last two postseason games came at their own stadium

in the Las Vegas Bowl, which they also appeared in after the 1994

season, and they haven’t left the city for a bowl since Randall

Cunningham was under center for the 1984 California Bowl in

Fresno.

“Obviously our program is very excited to be playing in a bowl

game, particularly one on New Year’s Day,” said fourth-year UNLV

coach Bobby Hauck, who went 6-32 in his first three seasons at the

helm. “I’m very excited for our players, who have worked so hard to

have this experience.”

North Texas (8-4), celebrating its 100th year of football, is

also returning to the postseason after an extended absence.

The Mean Green earned their first bowl berth in nine years

following a strong turnaround from a 4-8 record in 2012. Their last

postseason game came when they concluded a four-year run in the New

Orleans Bowl with a 31-10 loss to Southern Miss in 2004.

“We do kind of mirror each other,” Hauck said. “Sort of like the

guys at North Texas, we’ve had to kind of believe in ourselves when

maybe there wasn’t a whole lot of others that could, or should.

It’s just tremendously rewarding to be where we are right now.”

With both TCU (4-8) and SMU (5-7) having down years, the Mean

Green, coming off their inaugural season in Conference USA, will be

the only team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to play in a bowl

game.

“We are tremendously excited to be involved in a New Year’s Day

bowl game at a venue with all the history of the Cotton Bowl

stadium,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said.

North Texas, however, has never won at the famed stadium, losing

all three of its previous games there – against BYU in 1971 and

twice in 1981 to Oklahoma State and Texas-Arlington. The Rebels

have played there once, losing 10-7 to SMU on Oct. 24, 1998.

UNLV, which won seven of 10 after an 0-2 start, took a balanced

approach on offense this season, averaging 242.4 yards through the

air and 181.4 on the ground.

Quarterback Caleb Herring passed for 2,522 yards and 22

touchdowns with four interceptions, while running back and fellow

senior Tim Cornett anchored the rushing attack with 1,251 yards and

15 scores.

Herring’s favorite target this season was junior Devante Davis,

who caught 77 passes for 1,194 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Defense is where the Rebels struggled, allowing more total

points than they scored (378-375) for an opposing average of

31.5.

The Mean Green’s season got off to a rocky 2-3 start, but they

bounced back with a five-game winning streak.

“This (bowl game) a validation for all the hard work put in by

this team and the leadership of this senior class,” McCarney

said.

Defense was the key for North Texas, which beat Idaho 40-6 in

its opener before allowing an average of 30.7 points over its next

four games. The Mean Green clamped down during the win streak,

however, giving up an average of 11.4.

Derek Thompson passed for 2,640 yards and 14 touchdowns, but

also threw 13 interceptions. He played only three games this season

without a pick.

He did manage to spread the ball around with three of his

receivers – Brelan Chancellor (718), Darnell Smith (716) and Carlos

Harris (519) – finishing with 500 or more receiving yards.

Brandin Byrd accounted for the majority of the Mean Green’s

carries this season, finishing with 1,023 rushing yards and 11

touchdowns.

UNLV has won all four previous contests between the schools,

including by a 64-3 margin in the last two. The Rebels beat the

Mean Green 38-0 in the most recent meeting on Sept. 16, 2000.