DALLAS (AP) — When North Texas became bowl eligible for the first time since 2004 after their victory on Halloween night, coach Dan McCarney gathered his seniors and discussed possible postseason destinations.
What about Christmas in Hawaii? A trip to New Orleans or maybe New Year's Eve in Memphis?
Nope, the Mean Green seniors preferred staying close to home.
"I really was taken aback. Every one of them wanted to be in the Heart of Dallas Bowl," McCarney said. "It wasn't against anything else or anybody else. It was for family, for friends, for high school coaches, for all us to be together for their first and only bowl appearance for these seniors."
North Texas (8-4) got its wish and plays Wednesday against UNLV (7-5) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in the historic Cotton Bowl stadium only about 45 miles from the Denton campus.
"As enticing as Hawaii sounds, I don't think a lot of parents or family members could have made that trip," quarterback Derek Thompson said. "I wanted to stay home and play in front of our fans, right down the road in our backyard."
The Mean Green have won six of their last seven games and came within one victory of playing in the Conference USA championship game in their first season in the new league. Before McCarney arrived three years ago, they were 13-58 the previous six seasons.
UNLV won two games in each of coach Bobby Hauck's first three seasons before breaking through this season with their first bowl since 2000.
"When you go forward with the thought that who would have thought that UNLV would be playing in a New Year's Day football game, it's just really, really exciting," said Hauck, who went to three FCS championship games in seven seasons with Montana before going to UNLV. "We've had so many milestones we surpassed this year. UNLV had never had five Mountain West Conference wins before. First bowl game since 2000. We've had about three winning seasons before this one in the last 30 years, and now we're playing in a New Year's Day bowl game. "
Here are five things to know when UNLV and North Texas play for the first time since 2000, when the Rebels won 38-0.
BIG TURNAROUNDS: North Texas has already doubled its win total from 2012 to 2013, going from four to eight. Only twice in the 100 years of North Texas football have teams had better improvements. The best was the 1983 team that won eight games after a 2-9 record in 1982. UNLV's seven wins so far this season are one more than its combined total the past three seasons.