Heart of Dallas Bowl: More proof anyone can play in Jan. 1 bowl game

UNLV Rebels (7-5) vs. North Texas Mean Green (8-4)
Wednesday, Jan. 1, 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPNU
Line: North Texas by 7.0

How UNLV got here: After opening the season 0-2, it looked like it was going to be a typical season for the Rebels. It also looked like the Bobby Hauck era would end. But then UNLV beat Central Michigan 31-21 and started a four-game winning streak. Probably the most impressive win came in the final week of the regular season when UNLV routed San Diego State 45-19.

How North Texas got here: North Texas faced six bowl teams this year and went 3-3. The Mean Green opened the season 2-3 and then reeled off five straight wins, including a 34-7 thumping of Middle Tennessee State. North Texas enters the bowl game coming off a 42-10 whipping of Tulsa on the road.

For UNLV to win: Just when you start to doubt the Rebels they will surprise you. It looks like UNLV’s decision to stick with Hauck as coach has paid off. UNLV’s offense has enough balance to score some points, but it will come down to the defense if the Rebels expect to win.

For North Texas to win: Rely on the defense to play physical and win the field position battle. The Mean Green allow just 18.1 points a game — ninth best in the nation. LB Zach Orr makes tackles all over the field and leads North Texas with 113 tackles. DB Marcus Trice is also a solid cover man who has five interceptions this season.

Key Player (UNLV): Caleb Herring, QB. Herring showed how special he can be as he threw five touchdown passes and ran for another in the win over San Diego State. He enters this game with 2,522 passing yards with 22 touchdowns. He also rushed for five scores.

Key Player (North Texas): Brandin Byrd, RB. He rushed for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns this year and he could have a huge game against UNLV’s porous run defense, which ranks 110th in the nation. He enters the bowl game on a roll with 505 rushing yards and five touchdowns in his final three games.

Key Stat: First. This is the first time either team has ever played in a New Year’s Day bowl game.