The game matched the Houston Cougars against the NC State Wolfpack of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The game was the first bowl game featuring the Cougars and the Wolfpack, and was their third overall meeting. The two teams had met twice before, with each team winning one against the other, and the teams' previous meeting was in 1969, when the Cougars defeated the Wolfpack 34–13.
The NC State Wolfpack of the ACC entered the game ranked 13 in the AP Poll. During the regular season, they had compiled a 9–2 record, including a 4–2 record against conference opponents; they placed second in their conference standings. The game represented the Wolfpack's first appearance in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
The conference-independent Cougars entered the game unranked in the AP Poll. Their regular-season record was 8–3. The game represented the Cougars' fourth appearance in the Bluebonnet Bowl; their previous appearance was in the 1973 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl, in which they defeated the Tulane Green Wave 47–7.