This season was already considered a success for North Texas. They finished with a 5-7 record, which at first doesn’t seem that impressive on paper. But remember, the Mean Green went 1-11 the year before and started from scratch going into this season with a new coaching staff, a new athletic director and some “swag.”
And guess what, that 5-7 record was good enough for the Mean Green to go bowling during the holiday season.
Usually the benchmark for a college football team to be eligible for a bowl game is six wins. But thanks to a reform effort in Division 1, North Texas was eligible due to APR, which stands for Academic Progress Rate. APR involves academic progress through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term. North Texas was 10th in APR and second among teams that did not qualify for a bowl game.
So, the Heart of Dallas Bowl sent out the invite, which North Texas accepted. And now they will play at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on December 27.
“We are extremely excited to stay at home and be at the Heart of Dallas,” said first-year head coach Seth Littrell. “I know it will be an unbelievable matchup. And we will be really excited about it.”
This will be the first trip to a bowl game for North Texas under Littrell and athletic director Wren Baker.
“I think it's much bigger for the program and the momentum that I felt like we've been building all along the way,” said Baker. “When you win games, when you build excitement, when you have momentum, when you can see progress, it makes it easier to sell tickets and raise money and to continue to build this program, which we're all dedicated to doing.”
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Their opponent will be a familiar one in Army, who will play in its first bowl game in six years. Back in October, North Texas beat the Black Knights 35-18 on a rainy day in West Point, New York. Defensive back Eric Jenkins had two interceptions and a fumble recovery as the Mean Green defense was able to slow down Army’s triple-option offense. North Texas running back Jeffrey Wilson had 160 yards rushing, 153 of those in the second half.
Wilson, a big part of the Mean Green offense, was slowed down towards the end of the season due to a knee injury. The goal is for Wilson to be ready for the bowl game.
“The thing with Jeffery, he's extremely tough,” said Littrell. “He wants to be out there. He wants to be playing. He's been the reason offensively, if you look at the entire year, he's been our most explosive weapon. So really the biggest thing we had to do is make sure he's 100 percent.”
This will be the ninth bowl game in Mean Green history and their first since they beat UNLV in the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl. North Texas is expecting a good crowd to show up at the Cotton Bowl and support the Mean Green, much like they did that year.
“We have 38-thousand students, and we have over a quarter million alums in the metro area,” said Baker. “We need to fill up the Cotton Bowl. This is a special time. Every one of these is special.”
Mean Green Quick Hits:
* Kickoff for the Heart of Dallas Bowl is 11 a.m. at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
* Rookie head coach Seth Littrell becomes only the second head coach to take North Texas to a bowl game in his first year. Odus Mitchell guided North Texas to it’s first-ever bowl game in 1946.
* The Mean Green is scheduled to host Army at Apogee Stadium in Denton in 2017.