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Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Heart of Dallas Bowl preview

By Sam Khan

Say hello to a couple of teams who haven't been bowling in a while.

North Texas and UNLV each haven't been to a bowl game in years, and both struggled in 2012, but both are back in the postseason and they'll meet today in the Heart of Dallas Bowl presented by PlainsCapital Bank (ESPNU, noon ET).

Here's a quick preview of the game:

Who to watch: UNLV senior quarterback Caleb Herring has thrown for 2,522 yards while posting a nice touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22-to-4. Rebels running back Tim Cornett possesses a lot of ability and has shown it by compiling 1,251 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Devante Davis has hauled in 77 passes for 1,194 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Rebels. On special teams, keep an eye on North Texas' Brelan Chancellor, who won the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year and is one of the top return specialists in the country.

What to watch: Don't leave your seat when the special teams are on the field. North Texas has scored five touchdowns on special teams, tied for the most in the FBS. Three of those have been the result of blocked punts. Offensively, the Mean Green have scored 378 points, second most in school history (they're averaging 31.5 points per game). UNLV has a quality offensive attack with Herring, Cornett and Davis leading the way and will be tested against a North Texas defense that allows only 355.5 yards per game (27th nationally). Meanwhile, the UNLV defense needs to play better, after allowing 31.5 points per game during the regular season.

Why to watch: Who knows when you'll see these teams in a bowl game again? It has been a long drought for both programs. The last time UNLV played in a bowl game was 2000. For North Texas, that drought goes back to 2004. Both are enjoying nice turnarounds, also. UNLV was 2-11 last season and has seen a five-game improvement to 7-5; while the Mean Green were 4-8 last year but have flipped that to 8-4. Both programs appear to be on the upswing under their respective coaches, Bobby Hauck at UNLV and Dan McCarney at North Texas.

Prediction: North Texas 30, UNLV 27. North Texas gets somewhat of a home-field edge based on location, with the game at the historic Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which isn't far from the Mean Green's home of Denton, Texas. They also have the better defense of the two squads, but the offensive skill players that UNLV offers will present the Mean Green a significant challenge. Still, I'll go with North Texas pulling out a close one.