RENO, Nev. - With a spot in the New Mexico Bowl already sewn up and a shot at the league championship out of reach, Nevada might have been inclined to look past its last regular season game if not for the fact No. 25 Boise-State is back in town for the first time since one of the Wolf Pack's biggest upset victories ever.
Instead, coach Chris Ault said his team couldn't be more excited about its chance Saturday to keep the Broncos (9-2, 6-1) from earning a share of the Mountain West title with Fresno State and San Diego State before they bolt next year for the Big East Conference.
"The bowl game is the last thing on our mind," said Ault, whose Wolf Pack (7-4, 4-3) started the year 6-1 before sliding into a three-game losing streak.
Ault is the winningest coach in Nevada history (206-96-1) but his 8-17 career mark against Boise-State is his worst against any opponent.
'They are a great football team, arguably the best football team in the conference," he said. "The bottom line is they are running the ball and they are keeping the ball. They take care of business and eat up a lot of the clock."
D.J. Harper leads the Broncos rushing attack, averaging 85 yards per game. Quarterback Joe Southwick has completed 66 percent of his passes for an average of 206 yards per game.
But much of the credit for Boise-State's success goes to a defense that ranks fifth in the nation in points allowed per game (14.4), fourth in yards allowed (160), fourth in turnover margin (plus 1.55) and that has allowed an NCAA-low three TD passes.
Nevada counters with an offensive attack averaging 38 points per game. Running back Stefphon Jefferson is the nation's second-leading rusher, averaging 142 yards per game.
Cody Fajardo, only the sixth sophomore in the Mountain West to total 3,000 yards of offense in a single season, has completed 66.5 percent of his passes for an average of 232 yards per game and 17 TDs. He's also run for 900 yards, averaging 5.9 per carry.
"It looks like a Nevada team to me," said Boise-State coach Chris Petersen, who calls the matchup his defense's "biggest test of the year."
"They run the heck out of the ball in that pistol offense. They play hard on defense. Their record is very close to being much different with a turnover here, a turnover there," he said. "It is one of those games where you say none of that matters. We don't even pay attention to the records."
There's good reason to take that approach.
Nevada's 34-31 overtime victory over the then third-ranked Broncos in 2010 was the best of a series of thrillers the two have played in recent years.
In 2007, current 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made his first start for Nevada, racking up 420 yards total offense and five scores en route to a 69-67 loss in four overtimes in Boise.
Nevada will meet a Pac-12 opponent in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 15 and Boise-State is assured its 10th straight bowl berth. But both teams had bigger plans entering the year and Ault had hoped the season finale would be for the league title.
Boise-State, which also is coming off a bye week, dropped its opener at Michigan State but won its next seven before falling to San Diego State 21-19 in Boise. The Aztecs also won in overtime at Nevada, which followed that with losses to Air Force and Fresno State after having opened the season with a victory at Cal.
"I can't sit here and say it's been glorious," Ault said Thursday on his weekly radio show. "It's been a tale of two cities.
"We are not a terribly talented team. We were not terribly talented to begin with. To win games we knew we had to play hard... But they are locked in, especially playing a team like Boise. They understand it's a wonderful opportunity."
Nevada offensive lineman Chris Barker agreed. He plans to celebrate senior day by starting his 52nd consecutive game, the longest active streak in the nation.
"There's been a lot of ups and downs," Barker said. "We kind of had a midseason crisis.... We just want to end it on a good note."
Expectations began especially high in Boise, where the Broncos are gunning for their seventh straight 10-win season but won't make it to 12 for the first time since 2007.
"You go into the season thinking we've got to appreciate every win and all those things," Petersen said. "Boy, that's hard to do."