The historic Cotton Bowl Stadium plays host to this end-of-year rematch between teams standing within striking distance of long-term successes. Both Army and North Texas return to the bowl scene after agonizingly long absences in the minds of their fans (Army 2010, North Texas ‘13), which is precisely why Heart of Dallas Bowl executives anticipate a sold-out stadium and festive environment for the 2016 bowl season's only rematch.
While these two teams struggled to a collective 12-12 mark this season, it still marked a significant step forward for both programs.
This will be the fifth meeting between the teams, with the Black Knights holding a commanding 4-1 lead in the series. But the Mean Green came out on top back on Oct. 22, beating Army 35-18 up in West Point, New York.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: Army West Point vs. North Texas
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Cotton Bowl (Dallas)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Army -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The hot hands
Following a mid-season slump in which Army went 2-5 after starting 3-0, it will be more than revenge North Texas needs to be on the look out for. The Black Knights boast one of the nation’s top defenses (tied for fourth), from a statistical standpoint. Army enters with a modest two-game winning streak, including the big victory over Navy in Baltimore, in which it has outscored the opposition 81-20. For the season, the Black Knights average 29 points per game, while the Mean Green give up around 32. Will these trends stay true or does Army continue to light up the scoreboard?
2. Can Army once again ignite its high-powered option offense?
The Black Knights come into this game with an average of 404.0 yards of offense per game, which ranks them 71st in the nation. There’s no secret to Army’s game plan, which revolves around an option attack that is second in rushing with 327.8 yards per game. Stopping, or at least slowing down, the Black Knights on the ground is North Texas’ top priority on defense, and it could be a tall task. The Mean Green have given up 219.5 rushing yards per game, which places them near the bottom (105th) of all FBS teams. Even though North Texas knows what to expect when Army has the ball, the Mean Green still appear to be at a distinct disadvantage against the Black Knights.
3. Which North Texas team shows up?
After an adequate 4-3 start under first-year head coach Seth Littrell, the Mean Green limped down the stretch to a 1-4 finish. The main reason for the late fade was that the offense couldn’t score (20.2 ppg over last five games), while the defense couldn’t stop the other team (39.2 ppg allowed). Even so, the five wins are quite impressive considering the team went 1-11 last season, resulting in the departure of head coach Dan McCarney and the hiring of Littrell. So will the Mean Green be content with what they have already accomplished or will this team show up in the Cotton Bowl, which is less than an hour away from North Texas’ campus in Denton, with something to prove?
No doubt about this one folks, North Texas’ defense is simply not ready to match up against a healthy and confident Army ground game. It won't just be smash-mouth; it'll be a cruisin'-for-a-bruisin' sort of game with the Black Knights chewing up the Cotton Bowl turf with their option attack. They didn't fare so well against North Texas earlier this season, which is even more reason to expect Army to come out fired up and intent on putting forth a better effort.
Regardless of this outcome, the futures for both programs appear bright under the leadership of their young, capable head coaches. As for this game, it’s all Black Knights.
Prediction: Army 42, North Texas 17
— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network and a native Iowan currently based in Southern California. Boleyn attended both the University of Iowa and UCLA, and is a former contributing writer for The Daily Iowan and a die-hard Hawkeye. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.