UNT will face UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day.
So, what’s the story with the Rebels.
I thought we would address that question as we wait for the Heart of Dallas Bowl press conference later tonight.
UNLV is best known for its basketball program and will be breaking a long bowl drought in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, just like UNT. The Mean Green made its last bowl appearance in 2004, while UNLV last played in the postseason in 2000.
The Rebels turnaround can be attributed largely to Bobby Hauck, who built Montana into a national power in the Football Championship Subdivision ranks, taking the Grizzlies to three national title games.
Hauck is in his fourth season at UNLV and has the Rebels rolling in football.
The interesting aspect about UNLV’s team is that it is led by a pair of Galena Park North Shore standouts. Running back Tim Cornett has rushed for 1,251 yards and 15 touchdowns, while wide receiver Devante Davis has 77 catches for 1,194 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Quarterback Caleb Herring is also a good player, who has thrown for 2,522 yards.
One area where UNLV really jumps out in terms of its performance this season is in pass defense. The Rebels lead the Mountain West in passing defense with an average of 214.5 yards allowed a game, more than 10 yards less allowed a game than any other team in the league. The Rebels’ opponents are completing just 51.7 percent of their passes.
UNLV is also plus-6 in turnover margin and also ranks second in the Mountain West in penalty yards at 386 on the season.
Kenneth Penny, a junior from Lancaster, ranks second in the Mountain West in passes defended with an average of 1.33 per game.
In a lot of ways, UNLV sounds a lot like UNT.
And the Rebels are loaded with Texas players.
I am scrambling here for an early deadline, but UNT will face UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
There will be a press teleconference tonight at 8:15 p.m.
Officials from both the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the UNT athletic department confirmed just after noon that the Mean Green will play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The invitation to UNT was extended at about noon and was quickly accepted by the Mean Green. The game will be played at 11 a.m. on New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl.
UNT’s players were informed by coaches a short time later.
There is no official word on an opponent. but UNT quarterback Derek Thompson posted on his Twitter account that UNT will play UNLV:
Opponent is UNLV!!! Let's go baby!
— Derek Thompson (@DerekThompson_7) December 8, 2013
The game will mark UNT’s first appearance in a bowl since the 2004 New Orleans bowl and snap one of the nation’s longest bowl droughts.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl has a $1.1 million payout per team.
UNT earned a spot in the bowl by winning six of its last seven regular season games, including a five-game winning streak that included a win over eventual Conference USA champion Rice.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl has planned a press conference that will take place with the coaches and and athletic directors from bowl teams later this afternoon.
Check back for more later.,
UNT officials were nearly certain that the Mean Green will receive an invitation to the Heart of Dallas Bowl as of late Sunday morning.
A UNT official said that no bid had been extended to UNT just before noon. The Heart of Dallas Bowl was still working on finalizing its matchup that will depend largely on the BCS and how many Big Ten teams receive bids.
The Big Ten is slated to place a team in the Heart of Dallas bowl. Michigan State’s upset win over Ohio State in the Big Ten title game was another twist in the process.
The Big Ten might not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of its bowl slots following Michigan State’s win, one that opened up the possibility that the league will place two teams in the BCS.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl will have to look for another team to face UNT if the Big Ten does not have enough eligible teams. That process appears to be well under way.
A second source said that UNT officials have been saying since late in the week that the Mean Green is headed to the Heart of Dallas bowl.
It seems like a formality at this point that UNT will receive a bid to the Dallas-based bowl.
Won't know our two teams for sure until tomorrow. Have to wait for these late games to shake out.
— Heart of Dallas Bowl (@HODBowl) December 8, 2013
More and more, it sounds like the matchup for the Heart of Dallas Bowl looks something like this:
North Texas vs. TBD
That is just my gut feeling.
Just to reiterate suspicions. With Rice off to the Liberty Bowl, UNT goes to the Heart of Dallas.
The Big Ten has seven bowl slots and seven bowl-eligible teams. If Ohio State wins the Big Ten title game and heads to a BCS game, that could open a spot for a bowl-eligible from another league to slide into the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Penn State has seven wins, but is not bowl-eligible. If Michigan State wins, that could mean that two teams from the Big Ten end up in the BCS, leaving two spots in Big Ten bowls for other teams.
That is why some projections have teams like Syracuse.
Just a quick Saturday afternoon update.
UNT still appears to be headed to the Heart of Dallas or Armed Forces Bowl in the wake of Rice’s win over Marshall in the Conference USA title game.
Rice has accepted a bid to the Liberty Bowl:
Congratulations to the Rice Owls on capturing the 2013 C-USA Championship! Rice will play in the 55th AutoZone Liberty Bowl on 12/31.
— AutoZoneLibertyBowl (@AZOLibertyBowl) December 7, 2013
An official with knowledge of the situation said that UNT will end up in either the Heart of Dallas Bowl — a Conference USA bowl — or the Armed Forces Bowl in a trade situation.
That is a scenario we mentioned earlier in the week.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl is also tied in with the Big Ten. A source with knowledge of the situation said that the bowl will wait until after the Big Ten championship game between Ohio State and Michigan State tonight to settle on its matchup. The outcome of the game could determine the number of Big Ten teams that play in BCS bowls.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl will wait to see what its possibilities are in terms of teams before announcing its matchup.
There are a lot of moving parts.
We mentioned earlier today that there was a chance that Notre Dame would end up in Hawaii.
Well, it looks like that won’t be the case:
Notre Dame is headed to the Pinstripe Bowl, per source. Irish informed appropriate parties
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) December 6, 2013
That leaves Hawaii open for a C-USA team, maybe UNT.
It still comes down to what happens tomorrow in the C-USA title game with Marshall and Rice.
I still suspect that Rice will end up in the Liberty Bowl, if it wins tomorrow. That would leave the Heart of Dallas Bowl open for UNT.
We are headed into the last weekend of the regular season and the last few days before UNT finds out where it is headed as far as the bowl season goes.
The bottom line is this — UNT is likely headed to Dallas (dream destination) for the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Fort Worth for the Armed Forces Bowl (dream destination II) in a bowl swap or the Hawaii Bowl (the worst case scenario).
Yes, that sounds weird, but it’s true.
UNT will get a big recruiting bump and come out better financially if it lands in a Dallas area bowl. UNT has a hard time getting people to come to Apogee Stadium. The traveling party for Hawaii would sound a little like a large dinner reservation. “North Texas, party of 12?”
And I could probably name all 12 right now.
Since things are really up in the air as far as the bowl season, there are a host of guys from other papers chasing the same information. Here’s a general rundown of what has come up in the last couple of days:
Notre Dame to Hawaii seems like a long shot and would involve a whole lot of back room swapping, but it could happen. Hawaii is another ESPN bowl like the Heart of Dallas and Armed Forces bowls.
Adam Sparks over at the DNJ in Murfreesboro is reporting that Middle Tennessee is likely headed for the Armed Forces Bowl (another swap scenario) or the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. There is also a swap scenario out there that the Blue Raiders end up in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The most likely scenario for UNT remains playing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
A lot of what happens will hinge on the outcome of the Rice-Marshall C-USA title game.
This is just my gut feeling, but if Rice wins, it will end up in the Liberty Bowl, which has the first selection of C-USA teams. Where everyone ends up depends a lot on where schools want to go, which teams the bowls want and what makes sense geographically.
That would leave UNT in Dallas.
And everyone wins.
It might seem weird, but a Rice win might do UNT a lot of good.
And in some other good news, Brandin Byrd was named the national player of the week for his performance in UNT’s win over Tulsa.
UNT has entered into contract extension talks with Dan McCarney, something we reported in today’s DRC.
Contract extensions are a high-risk, high-reward proposition in college athletics. They typically involve the commitment of millions, even at a Conference USA-level school like UNT.
In this case, it would be well worth the investment for UNT for two reasons:
– The impact McCarney has made at UNT, both in terms of the football program and in terms of community relations.
– The school’s history of what happens when a successful coach leaves town.
We can debate all day just how bad things were when McCarney took over at UNT all day, but the bottom line is this: He has taken a program that had not won more than three games in any of the previous six seasons before his arrival to an 8-4 season in his third year. UNT is headed to a bowl game. UNT has only been to a bowl game seven times in program history. Even if one counts the stay in I-AA, that is a pretty dismal number.
UNT will have to rebuild after this season with so many key seniors leaving, including Zach Orr, Derek Thompson and Brelan Chancellor, among others, but there are signs the Mean Green is starting to recruit better than it has in the past. UNT looks like it will be ready to reload and remain competitive for the foreseeable future.
McCarney has been just as valuable in terms of building enthusiasm for UNT’s program. He speaks to students and is a guy people see around town. Some argue that he doesn’t connect with longtime fans and boosters enough, but I just don’t see it. He puts in the time off the field as well as on it.
Plus McCarney is just a likable guy.
If you don’t like Dan McCarney, there is probably something functionally wrong with you as a human being.
And if there is anything history has taught us it is that UNT ought to hang on for dear life when it has a successful head coach. UNT crashed from 9-2 to 5-6 after Hayden Fry left after the 1978 season, dropped to I-AA five years later and didn’t regain its footing as a Division I program until Darrell Dickey saved the day in 2001 and took UNT to four straight bowl games.
UNT had a run going in men’s basketball under Johnny Jones with six straight seasons with at least 18 wins, five with at least 20 and two NCAA bids. It’s too early to see how it will turn out, but UNT finished 12-20 in an injury-plagued first season under Tony Benford, who appears as if he might have things headed back the right way with a 5-4 start.
UNT just hasn’t been that easy of a place to win over the last 30 or so years in the major sports.
The point is, McCarney has won 17 games in three seasons with the Mean Green. By UNT standards, that makes him wildly successful.
UNT looks like it is going to try to latch on to McCarney for at least a few more years.
That’s the smart thing to do.