NCF Nation: UNLV Rebels

Marcus Mariota's Oregon career has included decidedly few interceptions and decidedly little drama. The Ducks' quarterback has been machine-like in his efficiency, providing superb stats but not much suspense.

Suspense should be in short supply Saturday night in New York during the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Mariota and fellow Heisman finalists Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Amari Cooper of Alabama will sit nervously next to each other as the winner is announced. But deep down, all three know it will be Mariota, who picked up two more honors -- the Maxwell Award and the Davey O'Brien Award -- Thursday at the Home Depot College Football Awards at Disney World.

As a Heisman voter, I'm not allowed to reveal my vote until after the ceremony. But I can make predictions about the voting: it'll be Mariota in a landslide.

The Heisman was a legitimate two-man race entering championship weekend, as Mariota and Gordon both had strong cases. Then Mariota had his typical performance in the Pac-12 championship (313 pass yards, five total touchdowns), while Gordon was bottled up in the Big Ten title game (76 rush yards, no touchdowns).


In a matchup between two programs that haven't been bowling in a while, North Texas came away with an impressive 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Wednesday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl. Let's take a look at how it all went down:

It was over when: North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson dropped a dime over the head of UNLV defensive back Kenneth Penny and safely into the hands of receiver Darnell Smith for a picturesque 34-yard touchdown pass to give the Mean Green a 28-7 lead with 6:59 left in the game. The Rebels scored another touchdown, but the way the Mean Green were playing on D, they weren't going to relinquish that kind of lead.

Game ball goes to: The Mean Green defense. It constantly pressured UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring, sacking him six times. The Mean Green shut down the Rebels' running game, holding it to just 66 yards. After a 9-yard touchdown pass from Herring to Marcus Sullivan in the first quarter, the Rebels were quiet on offense the rest of the way.

Stat of the game: North Texas held UNLV to a minuscule 2.4 yards per carry rushing. Any time a defense does that, it helps keep the opposing offense in difficult down-and-distance situations and aids the defense's overall strong effort. The Mean Green were able to pin their ears back and relentlessly rush Herring with the running game not being much of a factor.

Unsung hero of the game: Not really unsung, but definitely game-ball worthy is North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson. The senior played through a knee injury and finished 21-of-30 for 256 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Mean Green offense. It was a gutsy performance by the veteran quarterback.

What it means: This is a huge win for North Texas. It marks the Mean Green's third bowl win in school history and first since 2002. It had been a while since they've even been to a bowl game (2004 was their last trip) but Dan McCarney and Co. appear to be headed in the right direction. After finishing 4-8 a year ago, finishing 9-4 this season is a nice turnaround for the Mean Green.

To watch the trophy presentation, click here.

Heart of Dallas Bowl preview

January, 1, 2014
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.