Posted: 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014
Why is this a January 1 bowl game? Beats me.
Heart of Dallas Bowl presented by PlainsCapital Bank, Wednesday, 12:00 pm ET, ESPNU
Suggested slogan: We should have thought through our choice of time slot some more, given our tie-ins.
How UNLV got here: UNLV didn't have that impressive a season, but given that this is only the program's fourth bowl ever, I think we can let that slide. The team suffered a couple of ghastly blowouts early, one to Minnesota and one to Arizona, but it suffered only three more losses the rest of the way, all to the Mountain West's upper crust. It even beat one of the league's better teams in San Diego State. Its other four conference wins came against the league's four worst teams, but again, fourth bowl ever. The team has a balanced offense, inasmuch as it's middle of the pack in the conference in both rushing and passing. It strength is in its pass defense, which allowed opponents a mere 116.86 passing efficiency.
How North Texas got here: UNT had its best season in a decade, basically. It had a nice three-year bowl run from 2002-04, but this year is the team's first postseason appearance since then. The Mean Green picked up a nice non-conference win over eventual 10-2 Ball State, and the team gave Georgia trouble for about two and a half quarters. In league play, it went 2-1 against other bowl teams and only lost to teams that were above .500. Given the recent history of the program, that's pretty good. Look for the team to feed its 1,000-yard rusher Brandin Byrd to keep from putting the defense in bad position. That defense, the specialty of head coach Dan McCarney, only allowed 18.1 points per game this year. Object to the schedule all you want -- and you won't hear me contradict you -- but this is North Texas. No raining on the parade is happening here.
College football fans care because: These are two sad sack programs finally getting to the postseason after long droughts. You got to love to see that.
SEC fans care because: McCarney is a former Florida assistant, and, well, your team will probably face one of these two in a September matchup in the not-too-distant future.
Watch this game if...: The feel-good vibes somehow outweigh wanting to see the Gator, Outback, and Capital One Bowls, all of which will be on at the same time as this one.
Bottom line: Neither of these teams is really all that good, so I can't give you even a sneaky, backdoor, too-clever-by-half rationale for tuning in. If I have to give an edge, it's to North Texas because of its defense. McCarney has at least gone through the bowl process at Iowa State as a head coach, while UNLV's Bobby Hauck, whose only prior head coaching experience came at I-AA Montana, hasn't yet. UNLV played in the better league, so go with them if you subscribe to the theory that you go with the more battle tested team, but UNT is probably (maybe?) the better team here.
Brandon's pick: North Texas 20, UNLV 17
Line: North Texas by 6.5