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North Texas headed back to New Orleans Bowl

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

North Texas is headed back to its familiar postseason haunt for the fifth time in program history.

UNT officially accepted a bid to the New Orleans Bowl on Sunday afternoon and will face Troy, one of its old rivals in the Sun Belt Conference, at the Superdome. The game will be played at noon on Dec. 16, the opening day of the bowl season.

"We're honored and excited to be continuing our season in a bowl game," UNT athletic director Wren Baker said in a statement. "Our coaches and student-athletes have worked very hard and our fan support this season has been tremendous."

UNT finished the regular season at 9-4 after falling to Florida Atlantic 41-17 in the Conference USA title game on Saturday and will look to rebound in a game that has special meaning for the program. Hall of Fame coach Darrell Dickey led UNT to the New Orleans Bowl in four straight seasons from 2001-04.

The Mean Green beat Cincinnati 24-19 in the 2002 edition of the game. After this year's game, half of UNT's 10 bowl appearances will have come in the New Orleans Bowl.

A UNT source said on Saturday before the C-USA title game that the school's first choice was to play a team from a Power Five conference. A trip to the New Orleans Bowl was the program's second choice.

The Mean Green had the second choice among C-USA bowls behind FAU. The Owls had the first pick of bowls based on their win over the Mean Green in C-USA title game.

When the opportunity to play a Power Five school didn't materialize, UNT quickly snapped up a bid to the New Orleans Bowl. 

UNT played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in each of their last two bowl appearances. The Mean Green beat UNLV at the Cotton Bowl after the 2013 season before falling to Army in overtime in last season's edition of the game.

UNT officials indicated that the team's preference was to go out of town for a bowl game this season to give their players more of a bowl experience after twice playing close to home. New Orleans was attractive not only because it is a tourist destination, but also because of the program's history there.

"I have heard so many stories about how great the New Orleans Bowl experience was from our fans, staff and former players who were there," UNT coach Seth Littrell said. "New Orleans is a great destination that is easy for our fans to travel to. I'm confident this experience will be memorable for everyone around the Mean Green football program."

Troy tied with Appalachian State for the Sun Belt title and has won six straight to get to 10-2 on the season behind quarterback Brandon Silvers and a stout defense. Silvers has thrown for 2,985 yards for the Trojans, who rank 11th nationally in scoring defense with an average of 17.5 points allowed per game.

The matchup between Troy's defense and UNT's high-powered offense will be intriguing. 

UNT ranks second in C-USA with an average of 35.9 points per game.

"The New Orleans Bowl is a great destination for our fans and players to celebrate an outstanding season," Troy coach Neal Brown said. "I know our players are excited about playing in this bowl game."

UNT and Troy have not played since 2012, the year before the Mean Green left the Sun Belt to join C-USA, but they have a long history. Troy leads the all-time series 8-2 that has been marked with significant games.

The Mean Green beat Troy 21-0 in 2003, when they went 9-4 and posted one of just seven seasons with at least nine wins in program history. Troy toppled UNT two years later 13-10 to snap the Mean Green's 26-game Sun Belt winning streak that stretched from 2001 all the way into the 2005 season.

UNT's players were looking forward to the opportunity to play in a bowl following their loss to FAU on Saturday, when they were still waiting to hear where they would play.

"We will get better," quarterback Mason Fine said. "One of our goals is to be bowl champions."

UNT will chase that goal, which would be another landmark in Littrell's tenure with the Mean Green, in New Orleans.

Littrell has led to UNT to back-to-back bowl berths, something UNT has not accomplished since its run of four straight bowls under Dickey ended in 2004. Littrell will now look to win his first bowl game with the Mean Green.

"I look forward to continuing the momentum of Mean Green football in New Orleans," Baker said. "We are grateful to Billy Ferrante and the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl for the opportunity. Troy is a tremendous team. This matchup will be fun for fans of both teams."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.