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New Year's Read

UNLV returned to the Cotton Bowl Stadium for the first time since playing SMU there in 1998.

Dec. 31, 2013

DALLAS ( - By Drew Harris for the Heart of Dallas Bowl

An improbable year for both North Texas and UNLV will come to a close on Wednesday, when the two schools with similar stories go head-to-head at the Heart of Dallas Bowl in historic Cotton Bowl Stadium.

The fact that Dan McCarney's Mean Green and Bobby Hauck's Rebels will set the tone on the most traditional bowl day in college football by virtue of an early kickoff time (11 a.m. CT) is fitting, as the two programs appear to have set the stage for their own futures with impressive 2013 campaigns.

"These teams have turned the corner with their programs," Heart of Dallas Bowl Executive Director Brant Ringler said. "No one picked them to be in a bowl game, and they've proven everyone wrong."

It's true. Back in July, very little was expected of either squad. In the leagues' official media polls prior to the season, North Texas was picked to place fifth among the seven teams in Conference USA's West Division, while UNLV was predicted to finish fifth out of six squads in the West Division of the Mountain West.

"If they (prognosticators) were talking about bowl games or successful seasons or winning seasons, they sure as heck weren't talking about Bobby's team or mine," McCarney said. "It's fun defying the odds."

But fast forward five months and the Mean Green (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) and Rebels (7-5, 5-3 MW) have proven that games aren't won on paper, and certainly not before practices begin.

Both teams started out of the gates slowly, UNLV was 0-2 and North Texas 2-3, prior to finding their strides. Sitting at 5-5, the Rebels then dominated their final two games to solidify their bowl positioning, while the Mean Green won six of their last seven contests to earn a trip to Dallas.

"I think the styles are very similar in terms of attitude and approach to the game," Hauck said. "(And) we both played our best football down the stretch."



Both teams have lived the Bowl Week to the fullest. And why not? North Texas (eighth appearance all time) hadn't been to a bowl game since 2004, while UNLV (fourth appearance) most recently played one in 2000.

However, while both teams are thrilled with their seasons to this point, they are looking to springboard into next season with a victory in the final game.

"Certainly, when you look at the body of work as a whole and what our team accomplished compared to what had gone on the previous 13 years at UNLV, for us to be playing on New Year's Day against a terrific opponent, it's a successful season," Hauck said. "It would be more successful, certainly, with a win."

North Texas senior linebacker Zach Orr was part of the 2010 recruiting class that made getting the Mean Green back to the postseason a mission.

"Our goal was never just to get to a bowl game," he said. "It was to be a bowl champion. This is something we've been looking forward to. It's important to finish off this great year and upstart for next year, and to leave our mark for this university."

The similarities of the programs, from their humble histories to their surprising seasons to their dynamic coaches, have this game looking like a fun one to watch.

"We just have two programs that are so proud and so honored and so excited to be here," McCarney said. "Nobody's looking down their nose at anything. Neither of these teams or coaching staffs or head coaches would rather be anywhere in the country than where we are right now. And that usually makes for a heck of a football game."

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