The Heart of Dallas and Hawaii bowls have emerged as likely destinations for North Texas, which is expected to play in a bowl game for the first time since 2004, multiple bowl officials said Wednesday.
The Mean Green’s destination will hinge on the outcome of the Conference USA title game between Marshall and Rice on Saturday.
UNT (8-4) should find out where it is headed sometime after the game. The Heart of Dallas Bowl announced Wednesday that it will have a teleconference on Sunday with the head coaches and athletic directors from the two schools selected to play in the game.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl will be played at 11 a.m. on New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl with a C-USA representative facing a team from the Big Ten. The Hawaii Bowl is slated for 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve at Aloha Stadium and pits a C-USA team against a Mountain West represntative.
“The bowl system has changed,” UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said. “There is a lot of shuffling. This time last year a lot more of these games were set. It’s a waiting game. We are prepared to take our team somewhere and have a great experience.”
Officials from both the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Hawaii Bowl said Wednesday that UNT is a team they are considering.
“With the proximity of North Texas to Dallas, that makes sense,” Hawaii media relations director Derek Inouchi said of UNT playing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. “We believe Rice or UNT will be headed to Dallas. The other will be headed to Hawaii.”
Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Heart of Dallas Bowl, agreed that UNT playing in Dallas is a likely scenario, but also said the outcome of the C-USA title game will have an impact.
The Liberty Bowl will have the first selection of C-USA teams and seems likely to take the winner of the league’s title game between Rice and Marshall.
“It really does depend on that game down at Rice,” Ringler said. “If Rice loses, what do they want? They could say that they want to stay home or go to Hawaii.”
Inouchi said the Hawaii Bowl is interested in both UNT and Rice, the two Texas teams in C-USA that are bowl eligible.
“We want to get a team with a fan base that will travel,” Inouchi said. “We have not made any definite decision. We like several Texas schools.”
Ringler said there is also a possibility that a C-USA team could end up playing in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth. Both are run by ESPN Regional Television, which opens up the possibility of the bowls trading teams.
A team from the Mountain West is slated to play in the Armed Forces Bowl at 10:45 a.m. on Dec. 30 against Navy, which is already bowl-eligible at 7-4.
While a Big Ten team is slated to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, that could change, depending on how many teams from the league are selected for a Bowl Championship Series game.
The Big Ten has eight bowl-eligible teams and seven bowl slots outside the BCS games. Ohio State is unbeaten at 12-0, while Michigan State is 11-1 heading into the league’s title game. The Big Ten could send multiple teams to the BCS and not have enough teams to fill all seven of its bowl slots.
“We are also waiting on the Big Ten,” Ringler said of the Heart of Dallas Bowl’s plans. “If Michigan State wins that could open up some scenarios.”
UNT became bowl-eligible with six wins when the Mean Green toppled Rice on Oct. 31 and pushed its record to 8-4 by knocking off Tulsa in its regular-season finale on Saturday.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter @brettvito.