HONOLULU Central Florida made one long trip to get to the Hawaii Bowl, and it had nothing to do with the 11-hour flight.
The Golden Knights (8-4) this season ended what was the nation's longest Division I-A losing streak at 17 games. They played in the inaugural Conference-USA championship game and are making their first postseason appearance tonight when they face Nevada.
"Between the championship game and the Hawaii Bowl, I don't think I need a Christmas," said defensive end Paul Carrington, who leads UCF with nine sacks.
A victory will tie the 1940 Stanford team for the second-biggest, one-season turnaround in NCAA football history. UCF went 0-11 last year, going 700 days without a win before defeating Marshall, 23-13, in the third game of the year.
"As I continually told them, each and every day, 'As long as you keep practicing well, good things will happen,' and it did," coach George O'Leary said.
O'Leary was ousted as coach of Notre Dame in 2001 after admitting to falsifying his academic and athletic credentials on his resume. He is in his second year at UCF and was the C-USA coach of the year.
"I've been to many bowls in my career," he said. "If you're not going to play in the national championship, this is the place to be."
The Wolf Pack (8-3) are making their sixth bowl appearance and the first since the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl. They shared the Western Athletic Conference title with Boise State after upsetting then No. 16 Fresno State 38-35 in the regular-
season finale. It was Nevada's first WAC title.
Nevada features an explosive attack that's ranked 23rd in the nation in total offense (433.5 yards a game) and 24th in scoring (32.8 points). The Wolf Pack are led by B.J. Mitchell, the WAC offensive player of the year who has rushed for 1,221 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He is 16th in the nation with 111 rushing yards a game.
"I just want do what I've been doing all year and a little more because it is my last hurrah," said Mitchell, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in six games, including the last three.
The Wolf Pack will be without starting cornerback and co-captain Kevin Stanley, who was declared academically ineligible and sent back to Reno on Thursday.
Mitchell said his team is well aware of Central Florida's turnaround.
"I'm happy for them because I know what it's like to come from a losing record to a winning record," he said. "But we still got to do what we've got to do. We're competitors."
Nevada's ground attack usually sets up the passing game for Jeff Rowe, who has thrown for 2,671 yards and 20 TDs. Caleb Spencer is Rowe's favorite target. Spencer has 56 catches for 770 yards and seven TDs.