No. 13 Nevada (12-1) vs. Boston College (7-5)Jan. 9, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: The nation's top rushing defense meets the nation's No. 3 rushing offense when Boston College faces off against Nevada at San Francisco's AT&T Park. The Eagles didn't generate many headlines as a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, but they closed the regular season with a five-game win streak to become bowl eligible for the 12th straight year. Those five wins came on the strength of a defense that allowed 80.2 rush yards per game on the year and 75.4 rush yards and 11.8 points per game during the streak. The Wolf Pack, meanwhile, generated plenty of headlines with a 12-win campaign that included a program-propelling upset of then No. 3 Boise State on Nov. 26. Nevada averaged 535.5 total yards and 305.9 rush yards per contest behind the record-setting duo of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua, who will be playing their last college game.
Keep and eye on: Boston College sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly. College football fans are more familiar with senior linebacker Mark Herzlich, the former ACC defensive player of the year who returned to the gridiron this season after missing 2009 while battling bone cancer. But Kuechly was the anchor of BC's defense this season, recording a jaw-dropping 171 tackles, the most in the nation this year and the second most in ACC history. Kuechly has recorded double-digit tackles in 20 straight games and will be the key to slowing Nevada's ground attack and limiting the damage Nevada can do off play-action.
Did you know: It was a record-breaking season for Nevada and Kaepernick. The Pack, whose only loss came by one score to Hawaii, recorded their most wins as an FBS program and earned their first AP ranking since 1948. Their quarterback passed for 20 touchdowns and rushed for 20 more as the triggerman of the pistol attack, in the process tying Nebraska's Eric Crouch for the most rushing scores by a quarterback in FBS history, with 59. After beating WAC rival Boise, Nevada coach Chris Ault called this Wolf Pack squad "a team of destiny."
Final analysis: The Eagles have been stout defensively, but limited by an anemic offense. Stud tailback Montel Harris is healthy after tearing his meniscus against Virginia, but BC hasn't been able to develop much of a passing attack behind freshman quarterback Chase Rettig. With Nevada's Dontay Moch (8.5 sacks, 22 tackles for loss) hunting Rettig in the backfield, that shouldn't change. Nevada's offensive success shouldn't change either, though recent history indicates that might not be the case. The Wolf Pack have dropped their past four bowl games, and Kaepernick managed just 23 rushing yards in last year's Hawaii Bowl loss to SMU. But pistol partner Taua was ineligible for that game; the senior is in good standing for this one and will look to add to his total of 22 rushing scores, tied for tops in the FBS. BC has allowed just one 100-yard rusher the past two seasons and just seven rushing scores this year, but Nevada is one of the few teams capable of outdating those figures. If the Pack play like it, they'll make good on Ault's prognostication.
The pick: Nevada 24, BC 17
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
Boston College: T Anthony Castonzo -- NFL scouts rated Castonzo as the top senior tackle entering the season. He turned in a solid senior campaign but did not elevate his draft stock this year and has been surpassed by other upperclassmen at the position. Castonzo is a solid athlete with nice length and growth potential and is the type of prospect who will get better as he physically matures. Grade: First-round prospect.
Nevada: DE-OLB Dontay Moch -- Moch is a tremendous athlete who wowed scouts last spring by running a 4.25-second 40-yard-dash. He's a solid college defensive end who is expected to make the move to linebacker in the NFL. His ability to make plays moving in reverse rather than simply exploding up field off the snap will dictate his success in the professional ranks. Grade: Second- to third-round prospect.
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