North Texas, Memphis open bowl season
Posted: Monday December 15, 2003 4:27PM; Updated: Monday December 15, 2003 4:27PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- North Texas learned the last two years how much bowl experience can matter. The Mean Green hope that will be an advantage for them in this season's first bowl game.
Sun Belt champion North Texas (9-3) makes its third straight New Orleans Bowl appearance Tuesday night against newcomer Memphis, opening the 28-bowl schedule.
North Texas ended a 42-year bowl drought in 2001, losing 45-20 to Colorado State. Last year, the Mean Green made it back to New Orleans and beat Cincinnati 24-19 for the first bowl victory in school history.
Memphis (8-4) is playing in its first bowl game in 32 years.
"They're going to have a hard time because you have to be focused and prepared to play," North Texas running back Patrick Cobbs said. "The first year our focus wasn't really on the game. It was more on coming down here and having a good time. Last year we were more focused on the game. This year were going to be ready to play."
The game will be played at the Superdome, the site of the final bowl game of the season, too: the Sugar Bowl, which is the Bowl Championship Series title game between No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Oklahoma.
This game will lack the attention of the Sugar Bowl, but it is still meaningful to the teams.
"I'm playing in my first bowl game, the first one any of us has played in and this is the first one we've been in in a long, long time," Memphis quarterback Danny Wimprine said. "Everybody's real excited about trying to win our first bowl game."
North Texas has seven offensive players and seven defensive players who have started for or been contributors to all three conference championships.
"It's a pretty special group of kids because they came to North Texas at a time when, football-wise, there really was no reason to come to North Texas," coach Darrell Dickey said.
The Mean Green led the Sun Belt in scoring (28.4 points per game), and Cobbs leads the nation with an average of 157 yards rushing per game. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the last eight games, all North Texas victories, its longest winning streak since 1959.
The defense ranks 17th in the country against the run (106.8 yards per game), led by tackle Brandon Kennedy, the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year the last two seasons.
Memphis reached the postseason thanks to a strong offense. The team's 366 points are the third-most in school history.
But Memphis will have to play without running back DeAngelo Williams, the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, who sprained his knee in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
Derron Parquet, a New Orleans native and transfer from LSU, replaced Williams and rushed for a career-high 164 yards on 26 carries in a 21-16 loss at South Florida in the regular season finale.
"They're not a one-dimensional offense," Dickey said. "They can hurt you running the ball, they can hurt you throwing the ball. They spread you all over the field. They can do either one from spreading you out."