When its comes to the two most unlikeliest teams to be playing in a New Year's Day bowl game, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the Heart of Dallas Bowl matchup between UNLV and North Texas. Both teams combined to win a total of just six games a year ago and the Rebels entered the season following back-to-back-to-back two-win campaign. But both teams overcame slow starts -- UNLV began 0-2 while North Texas started 2-3 -- to end long bowl droughts and wind up playing at the Cotton Bowl on one of college football's most sacred days.
The Mean Green play a short drive north up I-35 in Denton, Texas and is making its first bowl appearance since 2004 when it lost the last of four consecutive New Orleans Bowls to Southern Mississippi, 31-10. UNLV is playing in its first bowl game since 2000 when it upset Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl, 31-14. The Rebels lead the all-time series with the Mean Green, 4-0, and won the last meeting in 2000 in Las Vegas, 38-0.
TV: Noon ET, ESPNU. LINE: North Texas -7
ABOUT UNLV (7-5): Senior quarterback Caleb Herring, moved to wide receiver for his junior season after a disappointing sophomore campaign, has been the MVP of this team. He took over for sophomore Nick Sherry midway through the UNLV's third game with Central Michigan and rallied the Rebels from a 21-0 deficit to a 31-21 victory, the start of the team's first four-game regular-season win streak since 1984 when Randall Cunningham was the quarterback. Herring has passed for 2,522 yards and 22 touchdowns and been intercepted just four times.
ABOUT NORTH TEXAS (8-4): The Mean Green rank ninth nationally in scoring defense (18.1) and have been particularly tough in the red zone, allowing teams to score touchdowns just 45.5 percent of the time which, ranks sixth nationally. Senior running back Brandin Byrd leads the offense with 1,023 yards rushing, including 251 yards and three touchdowns in a season-ending 42-10 win at Tulsa. Derek Thompson, who passed for 2,640 yards this season, ranks second in school history in career passing yards with 7,191.
1. RB Tim Cornett (1,251 yards, 15 TDs) and WR Devante Davis (77 catches, 1,194 yards, 14 TDs) became UNLV's first duo to top 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
2. North Texas has blocked eight kicks this season.
3. North Texas senior Brelan Chancellor led Conference USA in both kickoff (28.14) and punt returns (16.82).
PREDICTION: UNLV 31, North Texas 21