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A brief history of North Texas bowl games

In addition to the newest, could this year also be the best?

Heart of Dallas Bowl - UNLV v North Texas Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

This month, the Mean Green will play in just their 9th bowl of all time, and first in back-to-back seasons since 2003-04.

In two weeks, North Texas will meet Troy in the New Orleans Bowl, UNT’s 5th appearance in this bowl. As many modern North Texas fans may not recall their brief but glorious bowl history (an incoming UNT freshman in 2017 was five years old the last time the Green won a conference title), it’s time to recap our past.

January 1, 1948 - Salad Bowl

Montgomery Stadium, Phoenix, AZ

Bowl history! The Salad Bowl was played in Phoenix annually from 1948 to 1955, making this the first of two inaugural bowl games North Texas has played in. Though North Texas State Teachers College enjoyed their first ever 10-win season, they unfortunately fell to Nevada, 13-6. North Texas would win 10 games again in 1977, and have another shot at it this year against Troy.

December 31, 1959 - Sun Bowl

Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX

Finally making it back to a bowl game after 11 years away, North Texas State would fall to New Mexico State, 28-8. While it would be a few years before the Eagles (as they were then known) would return to a bowl game, NMSU followed it up with another bowl the following year. The Aggies sadly lost that game, and would not make another bowl until 2017.

December 18, 2001 - New Orleans Bowl

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA

This one will always have a special place in my heart, because this was the same weekend I graduated from UNT. After watching the team struggle helplessly for my four years there, as they had every season since 1959, the North Texas Mean Green started winning in the latter half of the season, and never stopped. Despite a 5-6 record overall, they won the conference with a 5-1 record, thanks to the tiebreaker over Middle Tennessee. And so the Mean Green headed SW to play in the inaugural New Orleans Bowl, created specifically for the Sun Belt champion.

Initially unsure who the opponent would be, the Sun Belt signed a contract to select a Mountain West team that first year. Despite some great talent on both sides of the ball, UNT fell to Colorado State, 45-20.

December 17, 2002 - New Orleans Bowl

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans LA

For the second year in a row, Darrell Dickey brought the team another conference championship, this time all alone in first place. Under the leadership of the late North Texas QB Andrew Smith, UNT defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 24-19, thanks to rushing touchdowns from Patrick Cobbs and Kevin Galbreath. Cornerback Jeremy Pearl had an interception for a touchdown, as North Texas won its first bowl game in program history, in front of a crowd of 19,024, most of them on UNT’s side of the field.

December 16, 2003 - New Orleans Bowl

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans LA

In the second year of the bowl’s contract with C-USA, North Texas drew Memphis this time around, and fans were surprised and delighted to see Memphis throw their own parade down Bourbon Street the night before the game. In the early years of the league, UNT swag was tough to find outside the campus bookstore, but the Tigers had swag to spare both on the streets and on the field. Despite a good fight, head coach Tommy West and QB Danny Wimprine defeated North Texas, 27-17, even as North Texas still finished with the better season record, 9-3, to Memphis’ 8-4. UNT would not get to nine wins again until the 2017 season.

December 14, 2004 - New Orleans Bowl

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans LA

What else can we say about the sheer fun that is the New Orleans Bowl? All the atmosphere of the Sugar Bowl, none of the pressure. Roughly eight hours from Denton, Mean Green fans again showed off their colors in the French Quarter leading up to the fourth-consecutive Tuesday-night game (thanks, ESPN). The culmination of an astonishing run for this team in the Sun Belt, the Mean Green finished 7-0 in conference play for the second year in a row.

Sadly, the Green would once again come away with the loss, 31-10, against a feisty Southern Miss team. With a more local team for the game, the crowd of 27,253 would be the highest attendance for any New Orleans Bowl until 2008, when Southern Miss defeated Troy in front of 30,197. After an attendance dip the next year, the New Orleans Bowl has drawn over 30,000 ever since.

January 1, 2014 - Heart of Dallas Bowl

Cotton Bowl, Dallas TX

After such a great run, North Texas suffered two down years, then suffered through two underwhelming coaches. In 2014, Dan McCarney certainly peaked, just missing a conference title (thanks to a close loss to UTSA), but still finished 7-4. That year they would face off against a Mountain West team again, this time defeating UNLV, 36-14, in front of 38,080. UNT had over 100 more yards of offense than the Runnin’ Rebels, and certainly looked like they could take on anyone.

An exciting return to form, it proved to be only temporary as the Mean Green took a nose dive in the 2014 season, then somehow got worse in 2015, resulting in McCarney’s firing. Ironically, UNLV’s fortunes haven’t been much better since then, either.

December 27, 2016 - Heart of Dallas Bowl

Cotton Bowl, Dallas TX

New coach Seth Littrell had a heckuva rebuilding project in front of him, after the previous years’ team finished 1-11. Surpassing all expectations, UNT finished the regular season 5-7 but was still selected for a bowl thanks to high APR scores.

Despite a regular season victory over opponent Army, North Texas went into the game down a few players (some injured, others dismissed), and fell to the Black Knights, 38-31 in front of 39,117.

December 16, 2017 - New Orleans Bowl

Mecedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans LA

Rising again to great heights, North Texas won the C-USA West for the first time before falling in the title game, a rematch against regular-season opponent FAU. While it may seem unusual to see the Mean Green in a bowl after so many down years, they are more than up to the task. UNT will face one of the most impressive Troy teams of all-time, a team celebrating its second 10-win season in a row.

Competitive? That goes without saying. Playing without star RB Jeffrey Wilson, this years edition of the N’awlins Bowl will showcase 2018 talent for the Green, as freshman running back Nic Smith steps up in Wilson’s place. Receiver Jaelon Guyton will try to add to his already high-flying numbers, as record-setting QB Mason Fine has a national audience to show what he can do. But Troy head coach Neal Brown will not make it easy.

After all this time though, it’s nice to see the Mean Green as regular bowl attendees once again.