Boston College's top-ranked run defense was perhaps the biggest reason the Eagles finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak to reach a bowl for the 12th consecutive year.
Their reward? A chance to slow down one of the nation's most prolific -- and unique -- offenses.
Nevada will try to cap the careers of senior stars Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua in style as the 13th-ranked Wolf Pack face BC in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park on Sunday night.
If not for a 27-21 loss at Hawaii on Oct. 16, Nevada (12-1) may instead have a case for a BCS bowl bid.
It has still been a banner season for the Wolf Pack, who earned the program's first AP ranking since 1948 and its best regular-season record as an FBS school. Nevada also captured a share of the Western Athletic Conference title, thanks largely to a 34-31 overtime win over then-No. 3 Boise State on Nov. 26.
They couldn't have done it without Kaepernick, who threw for 20 touchdowns and ran for 20 more at the helm of coach Chris Ault's pistol offense.
"He is the leader of our team; there is no question about it," Ault said of Kaepernick after a 35-17 win over Louisiana Tech on Dec. 4.
"He makes plays. That's what his legs do for us. He has done that throughout his career here. He is a pretty special guy."
Nevada ranks third nationally in overall (535.5 yards per game) and rushing offense (305.9), and Kaepernick has put up rare numbers for a quarterback throughout his career.
His three rushing TDs against Louisiana Tech left him tied at 59 with Nebraska's Eric Crouch for the most by an FBS quarterback. He's the third QB to rush for at least 4,000 yards, joining West Virginia's Pat White and Missouri's Brad Smith.
"Coming out of high school I had only one scholarship offer and I just wanted to come in here and work hard," Kaepernick said. "When I came in originally, I was not even a running quarterback, so a lot of the rushing stuff actually came as a surprise to me."
Taua has long been a reliable companion in the backfield, topping 100 rushing yards 26 times in his career. He has scored 22 TDs this season -- tied with Oregon's LaMichael James for the most in FBS -- while ranking sixth nationally with 1,534 yards on the ground.
Kaepernick and Taua may be challenged by BC's defense -- the nation's best against the run at 80.2 yards allowed per game. The Eagles have given up an average of 11.8 points and 75.4 rushing yards while forcing 12 turnovers during their winning streak.
"It's satisfying because we're getting better every week," coach Frank Spaziani said after a 16-7 win over Syracuse on Nov. 27. "This is what we're striving to do."
BC (7-5) boasts its own dynamic duo on defense in linebackers Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly.
While Kuechly was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy after leading the nation with 171 tackles, Herzlich completed an inspirational comeback from Ewing's sarcoma by contributing 60 tackles and four interceptions.
Herzlich, the ACC defensive player of the year in 2008, missed the 2009 season while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"Mark's story is truly amazing," Spaziani told BC's official website. "To fight cancer and win, then to come back and play the way he has is one of the most remarkable accomplishments I've ever witnessed."
With shaky quarterback play resulting in freshman Chase Rettig taking over the starting job, the Eagles have relied heavily on running back Montel Harris, who hopes to be ready after missing the Syracuse game with a knee injury.
BC's ground game didn't miss a beat, as freshman Andre Williams ran for 185 yards and a touchdown on a school-record 42 carries.
"At least now (Spaziani) knows he has one more established running back," Williams said. "He'll be more comfortable giving Montel a rest."
Spaziani received a two-year contract extension through 2015 in December, while Ault was recommended for his own two-year extension.
The Eagles, who haven't missed a bowl since 1998, will be playing at AT&T Park for the second straight season. They lost to Southern California 24-13 in the 2009 Emerald Bowl, their second consecutive postseason defeat after an eight-bowl winning streak.
Nevada, which is appearing in a bowl for the sixth consecutive season, has dropped its last four postseason games, falling 45-10 to SMU in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl. Taua missed that game because he was academically ineligible, and Kaepernick was held to 23 rushing yards.
This will be the first meeting between these programs.
Boston College and its rugged defense led by linebacker Luke Kuechly will try to shut down Colin Kaepernick and No. 17 Nevada's potent pistol offense. The Eagles bounced back from a five-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak. Nevada roared onto the national scene by ending Boise State's dreams of a national title. Can the Wolf Pack now take down an ACC team? -- Ted Miller