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Bowl Bites: Getting to know UNLV’s Heart of Dallas opponent, North Texas

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Head coach Dan McCarney talks to his players during the North Texas practice for the Heart of Dallas Bowl Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 at Highland Park High School in Dallas.

Heart of Dallas Bowl: North Texas Practice

Quarterback Derek Thompson throws during the North Texas practice for the Heart of Dallas Bowl Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 at Highland Park High School in Dallas. Launch slideshow »

UNLV isn’t the only success story playing at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Wednesday in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. North Texas (8-4) has had a better 15-year run than the Rebels but recently their situations have been very similar, with the Mean Green winning only 22 games from 2005-12..

Under third-year coach Dan McCarney, who led Iowa State from 1995-2006, the Mean Green have broken out of their rut to play in a bowl game located less than an hour’s drive from campus. North Texas has done it with a top-10 defense that should pose significant challenges for UNLV’s potent offense.

To get to know UNT a little better, the Sun reached out to Brett Vito, who covers the Mean Green for the Denton Record-Chronicle:

North Texas went to four bowl games in the early 2000s and then drastically fell off. Do you attribute that fall to one coach — Todd Dodge — or is it larger than that?

You have brought up what is a great debate among UNT fans. The reality of it is, UNT had a tough 2005 season under Darrell Dickey, the coach who guided the Mean Green to all four of those bowl games, and then had a tough start the next year. UNT fired Dickey in the middle of the season and hired Todd Dodge, the worst coach in the history of the school’s athletic program – program, not just football – any way one looks at it. Dodge dug UNT a hole it has taken McCarney a long time to pull the program out of.

What was the initial reaction to Dan McCarney’s hire?

It was mixed. You have to remember that at the time Mike Leach was available. There were a lot of people who would have liked to see Leach come to Denton. That was never going to happen, but it was talked about. McCarney was viewed as a solid hire, but he wasn’t the splashy name some hoped for.

In the end, McCarney was the right hire.

Does this year feel like a fluke or the start of something for McCarney in Denton?

That is the million-dollar question. Everything lined up perfectly for UNT this year. The roster is loaded with experienced players, the team stayed remarkably healthy all year, the schedule was favorable and a whole lot of breaks went UNT’s way. What will be interesting to see next year is if the performance is one UNT can build on.

I have a lot of faith in McCarney. I think he has the program built for the long haul, but that is going to be up for debate until he puts a few winning seasons together. UNT will be replacing a whole lot of key players next year.

What is fan support like for the program? And considering how close the bowl game is to campus, what kind of a crowd are you expecting?

That’s another hot button topic for UNT fans. The program is somewhat buried as far as the DFW sports scene. It’s a pro sports town and the Big 12 rules the college scene, even though there is not a team in town. UNT’s attendance and support have improved, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

What’s the scouting report on this team?

UNT is a really good defensive team with a lot of key great players on that side of the ball, including middle linebacker Zach Orr, the team’s best player. Safety Marcus Trice, an Oklahoma transfer, is also a good player.

On offense, wide receiver Brelan Chancellor is a dynamic weapon UNT uses all over the field. UNT will run the ball and try to hit teams with the play-action pass. The Mean Green’s offensive line might be its best unit.

Which nickname came first: Mean Green or Mean Joe Greene?

Mean Green started out as a nickname for UNT’s defense as a whole. When Greene went to Pittsburgh people started calling him “Mean” Joe Greene.

I’ve asked, and Greene says the nickname just kind of stuck with him. He quit correcting people and the rest is history.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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