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Arizona-Nebraska Preview

For a team not given much of a chance, Nebraska was just one second away from pulling off a major upset and clinching a BCS bowl berth.

Arizona can certainly relate.

Led by stingy defenses, the 20th-ranked Cornhuskers and the 22nd-ranked Wildcats meet in San Diego's Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30 in a matchup featuring teams that just missed out on playing in BCS bowls.

Nebraska (9-4) earned a spot in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 5 against then-No. 3 Texas after winning the North Division for the first time since 2006. The heavily favored Longhorns were expected to roll to victory and earn a spot in the BCS title game, but the Huskers nearly spoiled those plans.

With Nebraska leading 12-10 in the final moments, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy scrambled and threw the ball out of bounds as time expired.

The Huskers stormed the field in celebration, but the officials reviewed the play and added one more second. Hunter Lawrence made a 46-yard field goal on the game's final play for a 13-12 Texas win, snapping Nebraska's five-game winning streak.

"From one of the best feelings I've ever had to one of the worst feelings I've ever had," Huskers quarterback Zac Lee said.

Arizona (8-4) endured similar heartbreak.

The Wildcats entered a home game against then-No. 11 Oregon on Nov. 21 with first place in the Pac-10 on the line, as well as the inside track to the Rose Bowl. Arizona was on the verge of pulling off the upset, leading 31-24 in the final minute, but the Ducks scored on an eight-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left and went on to win 44-41 in two overtimes.

"It's hard to know you could have won a game, or you were supposed to win a game, and then you end up losing," Arizona free safety Cam Nelson said.

The Wildcats bounced back with wins over rival Arizona State and then-No. 20 USC to finish tied for second in the Pac-10. Arizona, picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the conference, has won its most games since the 1998 team went 12-1, including a 23-20 victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

These teams haven't met since that game. The only other matchup was a 14-14 tie in 1961.

The Huskers arrive in San Diego boasting one of the best defenses in the nation.

Nebraska is second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in points allowed at 11.2 per game and ninth in total defense, giving up an average of 284.5 yards. The Huskers held Texas to 202 total yards even though it had been averaging 451.6 yards and 43.0 points.

One of the biggest reasons for Nebraska's success has been the play of Ndamukong Suh.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, took home four other prestigious awards and was a unanimous first-team All-American.

Suh, leading the Huskers with 82 tackles, 12 sacks and 23 tackles for loss, put on his best performance in the Big 12 title game. Facing a barrage of double-team blocks, Suh matched a career high with 12 tackles -- nine for zero or negative yards -- and had 4½ sacks.

"When you look at Suh, you see a player who can dominate a game," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "He's as good as any player in America. He is unbelievable. You don't expect that someone, so big and so fast, to be over 300 pounds and be as fast as he is, it is amazing."

Arizona's offensive line is now faced with the challenge of trying to contain Suh, and prevent him from causing too much havoc. The Wildcats' line has done a good job of protecting sophomore quarterback Nick Foles, allowing 11 sacks, tied for 10th-fewest in the FBS.

Foles took over as the starter in the Pac-10 opener and would finish as the conference's fourth-rated passer. He is joined in the backfield by running backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, who have combined for 1,100 yards and nine scores.

Like Nebraska, Arizona's strong defensive play is a big reason for its success. The Wildcats are 21st in the FBS in total defense (315.8 ypg), and have yielded two touchdowns or fewer in four of their last five games.

Arizona now focuses on frustrating a Nebraska team that often has struggled to move the ball.

The Huskers gained a season-low 106 yards against Texas and have been held below 270 in four of their last five games.

With Lee throwing 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, Nebraska's offense revolves around the ground game. Roy Helu has rushed for 1,139 yards, third-best in the Big 12, but was limited to 28 yards on 10 carries against Texas.