On the surface, North Texas and UNLV seem like they would have little in common.
The schools are separated by more than a thousand miles and have seldom crossed paths, playing just four times, the last time in 2000.
UNT coach Dan McCarney and UNLV coach Bobby Hauck looked past those differences and a quickly fading history earlier this week when the teams were matched up in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Once they did, both coaches saw similarities that bond them together, none bigger than the paths they traveled to end long bowl droughts.
Both programs have struggled over the last few years and will enter uncharted territory — at least when it comes to current players and coaches — when they meet at the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day. McCarney and Hauck said the opportunity before them is a monumental one that will give the game meaning it might not otherwise possess.
“I’ve dreamed of this since I took the job, and I’m sure Bobby feels the same,” McCarney said. “I don’t have a single player who has ever been in a bowl game or a player who has been a part of a winning season in college. You talk about being appreciative, excited and jacked up? It’s all here now. That’s what it’s all about.”
UNT (8-4) entered the season tied with UAB for the sixth-longest bowl drought in the nation, one that stretched back to the 2004 New Orleans Bowl.
UNLV had an even longer drought. The Rebels last played in a bowl in 2000, when UNLV beat Arkansas in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Rebels (7-5) had the nation’s third-longest bowl drought.
“We do kind of mirror each other,” Hauck said. “We had to believe in ourselves when there weren’t a whole lot of others who could have or should have. It’s just tremendously rewarding to be where we are right now.”
A bowl appearance will be all the more meaningful for both teams, considering where they were just a year ago.
UNT took a step back in 2012 after what was widely considered to be a solid first season under McCarney. The Mean Green finished 4-8 a year ago. That was just one fewer win than UNT managed in McCarney’s debut season, but the Mean Green crashed down the stretch, losing its last two games.
A season-ending loss to Western Kentucky was particularly bitter for UNT, which blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in a 25-24 decision.
“We came out of last year with a lot of disappointment,” McCarney said. “We were 4-8 and felt like we should have been 6-6 and bowl-eligible.”
UNT wasn’t expected to fare well in its first season in C-USA but was in the hunt for the West Division title until late in the season and finished 6-2 in league play.
UNLV had even further to go heading into the season to reach the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Rebels finished 2-11 in 2012.
UNLV rebounded to finish 5-3 in conference play this year, winning as many league games this season as in its last three combined.
“It’s humbling and exciting,” Hauck said. “I’m just fired up for our football team. The kids are excited.”
In that way, UNT and UNLV are not all that different heading into the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Chancellor named C-USA special teams player of year
UNT wide receiver Brelan Chancellor was named Conference USA’s Special Teams Player of the Year on Wednesday.
The senior was named to the All-C-USA first team on Tuesday as both a kickoff and punt returner in addition to being a second-team all-conference pick at wide receiver.
Chancellor led C-USA in kickoff return average (28.1) and punt return average (16.8). He ranks fifth nationally in punt return average and ninth in kickoff return average.
School announces reduced student ticket rate
UNT announced a discounted ticket rate for students for the Mean Green’s game against UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl.
Students can purchase a ticket for $25 that also will provide free admission to a pregame indoor tailgate party at Fair Park, two breakfast tacos and drinks. UNT has two sections reserved for students.
Face value of the tickets for the student section is $75. Donations from UNT boosters allowed the school’s athletic department to offer the tickets at a discounted rate.
Tickets for the student section will remain on sale at the UNT ticket office until they are sold out.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.