Heart of Dallas Bowl breakdown: North Texas vs. UNLV
• Reason to watch: Forgive UNLV and North Texas for not acting like they've been here before. The Rebels are bowl eligible for the first time since 2000 and the fourth time in program history, while the Mean Green are bowl bound for the first time since '04. That they'll do battle in a New Year's Day bowl makes this all the more foreign territory for both teams. Not surprisingly, both had to claw their way into the postseason. The Rebels began the year with two losses by a combined 73 points before converting Caleb Herring from wide receiver to quarterback and winning their next four in a row. North Texas limped to a 2-3 start before closing the season with six wins in seven games.
• Keep an eye on: Brelan Chancellor is dangerous, no matter how he touches the ball. The North Texas senior wide receiver ranks 17th nationally in all-purpose yards (148.58 per game) and has scored via reception, kick return and punt return this year. Mean Green running back Brandin Byrd closed the season on a hot streak as well, topping 200 rushing yards in two of North Texas' final three contests. Herring has been the spark that turned UNLV's season around. He is efficient (64.3 completion percentage) and smart with the ball (22 touchdowns, four interceptions). Devante Davis (77 catches, 1,194 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns) is his clear target of choice. Tim Cornett is capable of picking up yards on the ground for the Rebels, averaging more than 100 yards per game with 15 scores. Also pay attention on special teams; North Texas is tied for the FBS lead with seven blocked kicks this season.
• Did you know: Though its bowl history is limited, UNLV has a perfect -- if tainted -- track record in postseason games. It won all three bowl games in school history (before accounting for forfeits). The Rebels upset Arkansas in the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl, bested Central Michigan in the '94 Las Vegas Bowl and topped Toledo in the '84 California Bowl. UNLV ultimately had to forfeit the victory over the Rockets due to its use of ineligible players throughout the season.
• Final analysis: Once UNLV put Herring under center, it racked up points with the best of them, averaging 34.2 over its final nine games. That scoring came in spite of a major weakness. The Rebels rank 102nd in red zone offense, generating points on just 76.9 percent of their red zone chances. North Texas puts the clamps on opposing attacks inside the 20-yard line, allowing foes to score on just 60.6 percent of red zone trips, tops in the nation. The Mean Green faithful also face a short trip down I-35 to the Cotton Bowl, making this a veritable home game for North Texas.
• The pick: North Texas 31, UNLV 20