We are going to have a lot of content on the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the match up between the Washington Huskies and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the weeks ahead. To whet your appetite, I pulled together this little summary of "just the facts" that you need to know as you start wrapping your Husky minds around this relatively unfamiliar post-season destination.
First, the details:
The Heart of Dallas Bowl
Location: Dallas, TX | The Cotton Bowl
Opponent: Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Date: December 26th, 2015
Time: 2:20 pm ET / 11:20 am PT
Payout: $1.1 M
Broadcast: ESPN (TV), Sirius XM (Radio), TuneIn Radio (Streaming)
The Heart of Dallas Bowl traditionally matches up a team from the Big 12 or Big Ten (alternating) with a participant from Conference USA. The lack of enough bowl-eligible teams in the Big 12 created an at-large spot that ultimately went to the 6-6 Washington Huskies.
The bowl was founded in 2011 and originally known as the TicketCity Bowl. It became the Heart of Dallas bowl in 2013. It is owned by ESPN Events and its purpose is to highlight and promote philanthropy, particularly in the Dallas Metro area.
In its short history, no team has played twice in this bowl and no PAC 12 team has ever participated. The winner of the inaugural game was (ironically) a Mike Leach-coached Texas Tech team who won 45-38 over Northwestern in a close shootout. Other winners include Houston (over Penn State), Oklahoma State (over Purdue), North Texas (over UNLV) and Louisiana Tech (over Illinois)
Southern Miss - How they Got There
There was a time when Southern Miss was known as the most consistent of all the mid-major football programs in the country. Between 1994 and 2011, the Golden Eagles achieved bowl eligibility every single season, the last few under the leadership of head coach Larry Fedora. But then Fedora left to take the head coaching job at North Carolina and Southern Miss slipped down a steep hill. They went a combined 4-32 in the seasons following Fedora's departure.
Then 2015 happened.
The Golden Eagles, now in coach Todd Monken's third year, had a monster comeback in 2015 that led to them playing, albeit losing to, Western Kentucky in last week's C-USA Championship Game. Despite an opening loss to Mississippi State, Southern Miss was able to pull off nine wins in their next eleven games, including a 58-24 shellacking of Louisiana Tech, before falling in the championship game. The Golden Eagles, however, failed to beat a Power 5 team, having lost to both Miss State and Nebraska during their regular season. Their other loss was at Marshall midway through the season.
Washington - How they Got There
2015 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies. Lost from the 2014 team were four defensive stars drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, six of the starting defensive front seven, their starting QB, and 4/5 of their starting offensive line. In addition, UW opened the season with true or redshirt freshmen occupying critical positions such as QB, LT, RT, RB, and rotational roles at LB and DL.
Both the youth and talent showed for the Huskies over the course of the season. As it turned out, the defense took a big step forward from the previous year thanks in part to better distributed talent across each of the three levels, as well as a deeper rotation of players that allowed UW to play aggressive and stave off the late-game fatigue that often plagued them a year ago. The defense would finish as the top statistical defense in the PAC 12 and, per FEI, as the top overall defense in the nation.
Offensively, UW could not match the success of the young defense and kept the Huskies from winning otherwise close games early in the season. Games against Boise State, Cal, and Oregon were all games that were there for the taking thanks to stellar defensive efforts, but the Huskies could not capitalize. Poor play at wide receiver and the offensive line complicated things for true freshman QB Jake Browning who, despite his obvious talents, was prone to turnovers. But the Husky offense improved as the season went on, thanks in large part to the emergence of 1,000-yard rusher Myles Gaskin and improved play by Browning. The Huskies offense would help, in fact, make UW the #2 team in the conference in overall point differential (just behind champion Stanford).
About the Sponsor
For those of you coming out of the Northwest, Zaxby's might be an unfamiliar brand. The Atlanta-based fast food chain specializes in chicken menu items - particularly chicken wings and chicken fingers. The concept was developed by two college friends who loved sports and wanted to address a perceived need for good chicken at a price that college kids could afford. Since opened in 1990, Zaxby's has been tremendously successful, now with over 600 franchises.
Associating with college sports is a major part of the Zaxby's brand. In addition to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Zaxby's has business agreements in place with 29 colleges in conferences including the SEC, the Big 12, and Conference USA. For Husky fans looking to try some Zaxby's wings, you might have to travel some ways. The nearest restaurant to Seattle is in Ogden, Utah.