College Sports

December 12, 2013

North Texas, fans gearing up for first bowl game in 9 years

Students line up for two blocks around stadium to purchase tickets for the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

It’s a distinctive vigor that compels a college student to beat a rooster to the breakfast table, but it’s a new spirit that has consumed the campus of North Texas in the wake of news that its football team would compete in a bowl for the first time in nine years.

As proof, university officials presented persuasive anecdotal evidence.

Students came out in mass, building a line around the stadium, two blocks long at 5 a.m. Thursday on the first day tickets went on sale for this year’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

“That’s great for the Heart of Dallas Bowl and these two programs,” said Mean Green coach Dan McCarney, who joined UNLV coach Bobby Hauck at an introduction Thursday of the teams that will compete at 11 a.m. on Jan. 1 at the Cotton Bowl.

On behalf of their respective universities, McCarney and Hauck formally accepted an invitation from bowl officials to play in the fourth annual game at the historic venue. A reception followed.

“When you have two programs and two fan bases who are hungry, it really makes for a great matchup,” McCarney said.

The list is long, McCarney said, of coaches who aren’t in a bowl game this season.

Not even Santa Claus skipping the neighborhood is a worse feeling during the holidays for a football coach.

Both coaches — and fan bases — know the feeling of missing out.

North Texas hasn’t been to a bowl since 2004.

UNLV’s appearance in this season’s college football postseason is the Rebels’ first in 14 seasons.

Now both also know the experience of exceeding expectations. Neither was picked to finish in the top half of their divisions in Conference USA and the Mountain West.

“I believe in the tradition of college football,” said Hauck, who was 6-32 in three previous seasons. “For us to have the opportunity to play on New Year’s day is huge.”

New Year’s Day will be the culmination of a new day for football at UNT, said McCarney, whose team finished the regular season at 8-4.

Though he will lose a strong senior class, the coach said he believes the pieces are in place to maintain this level of competitiveness and even exceed it.

It’s about building the program off a sturdy foundation, he said, something that’s been done.

McCarney spent a little bit of time Thursday reminiscing about his first days on the job in Denton.

He recalled with some fondness accidentally bumping into an elderly lady after a 41-0 loss to Alabama in the third game of his first season.

“I said, ‘oh, excuse me, ma’am,’” McCarney said before delivering the punchline. “She said, ‘No, and no damn defense, either.’

“We’ve come a long way.”

History lesson

The Heart of Dallas Bowl marks McCarney’s 21st bowl game as a player, assistant or head coach.

This year’s game, however, is his first at the Cotton Bowl.

His coaching counterpart, meanwhile, was on the staff at Colorado when the Buffaloes met Oregon in the 1996 game.

Hauck said the bowl game was a must-see at the family home when he was growing up.

His first order of business upon learning of his team’s destination: Teach his players about the history.

“I can assure you, our players know the history of the Cotton Bowl,” Hauck said.

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