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UNT earns return trip to Heart of Dallas Bowl, will play Army for second time this season

Profile image for By Brett Vito
By Brett Vito

North Texas is headed back to the site of one of the more memorable moments in program history.

UNT accepted a bid to the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Sunday. The Mean Green will face Army at 11 a.m. Dec. 27 at the Cotton Bowl.

UNT has played in only eight bowls in program history, the last coming in the Heart of Dallas Bowl the end of the 2013 season. UNT beat UNLV 36-14 in front of a crowd of 38,380.

That turnout was a big selling point in UNT being invited back to face the Black Knights in a rematch of a game UNT won 35-18 on Oct. 22 at West Point.

“We saw what North Texas brought last time,” Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Heart of Dallas Bowl, said. “We felt like they have a great opportunity to do something like that again.”

The chance to take on Army again, this time in a bowl game, is significant for UNT and first-year coach Seth Littrell.

Littrell took over after the 2015 season following the departure of Dan McCarney, who led UNT to its first appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. UNT finished 1-11 last year.

“The transition is always a challenge with a new coaching staff,” Littrell said. “I am extremely proud and excited for those guys to have a chance to stay home and represent Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

UNT is 5-7, but received a bowl bid because of its score on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate report.

UNT ranks 26th among teams competing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level on the report that measures a school’s performance in terms of keeping its athletes in school and eligible.

Teams that finished with five wins were awarded bowl berths based on their APR scores. UNT was at the front of the line following a turnaround season under Littrell.

“It’s a huge credit to all of our players for turning around a team that won one game last year and winning five games,” UNT athletic director Wren Baker said. “It’s also a credit our current and former players, to Dan McCarney and [former UNT athletic director] Rick Villarreal for our academic success. I am especially proud that is the reason we were selected. We are excited to be in our backyard in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.”

Baker vowed to look for ways to help UNT capitalize on the opportunity the bowl game presents. The school will roll out a series of promotions and ticket offers in the next few days.

“A big reason we were invited to this game is because we showed up so well last time,” Baker said. “We had by most estimates more than 30,000 fans there.

“We have 38,000 students and a quarter million alums in the metro area. We need to fill up the Cotton Bowl. This is a special time.”

Littrell could sense his players were excited about the opportunity to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl once UNT’s destination was finalized.

A few of UNT’s other players, including wide receiver Kenny Buyers, played in the Mean Green’s last bowl game. Those players are the exception to the rule after consecutive losing seasons that ended without a bowl appearance.

UNT’s players were thrilled to be headed to a bowl again and were particularly excited to be playing in Dallas.

“When we told those players where we were going, there were a lot of smiles, a lot energy and a lot of of excitement,” Littrell said. “They will be able to stay home and have a chance to have their families see them play. Then you put it together with playing an unbelievable opponent like Army.”

The formula is one UNT is hoping will add up to another memorable day for a program that posted a landmark win the last time it played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

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