NCF Nation: Dallas bowl 2013

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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
1/01/14
8:30
AM ET
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.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
10:35
PM ET

UNLV Rebels (7-5) vs. North Texas Mean Green (8-4)

Jan. 1, noon ET, Dallas (ESPNU)


[+] EnlargeCaleb Herring
AP Photo/David BeckerSenior QB Caleb Herring is coming off a career game -- 336 total yards and six touchdowns in a rout of bowl-bound San Diego State.
UNLV REBELS BREAKDOWN
Getting bowl eligible earned Bobby Hauck a three-year contract extension through the 2016 season.

A 7-5 finish now has UNLV playing in the postseason for the first time in 13 years. The Runnin' Rebels will ring in the new year against North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl. There they will try to extend the program's postseason unbeaten streak to four.

They can do that thanks to a five-win improvement from last year's 2-11 squad, which has done a good job of containing some of the Mountain West Conference's potent aerial attacks. UNLV ranks first in the MWC in pass defense and fifth in scoring defense, as they finished tied for third in the West Division with a 5-3 record in conference play. -- Matt Fortuna

vs.

NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN BREAKDOWN
[+] EnlargeDan McCarney
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDan McCarney's Mean Green defense is ninth in the nation in points allowed (18.1 ppg).
Coach Dan McCarney has led the Mean Green to their best season since taking over the program three years ago. North Texas’ eight-win season is a four-game improvement over 2012.

The Mean Green are one of the better defensive teams in the country, allowing only 18.1 points per game, which ranks No. 9 nationally.

They're also No. 6 nationally in preventing touchdowns once teams enter the red zone, allowing them on just 45.5 percent of opponent's red zone trips.

Special teams is also an area of strength for North Texas.

The Mean Green have blocked eight kicks in 2013, and they have one of the country's best return men in Brelan Chancellor. The senior has a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown and ranks 11th in yards per kick return (28.14) and fifth in yards per punt return (16.82).
-- Sam Khan Jr.

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