No. 21 Fresno State faces USC in Las Vegas Bowl
Although Fresno State fell one win short of a BCS berth, the
Bulldogs still got a high-stakes trip to Vegas for the final game
of quarterback Derek Carr’s career.
The 21st-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) landed in the Las Vegas Bowl
against Southern California (9-4) on Saturday, kicking off bowl
season with a compelling California matchup in the shadow of the
USC is on its third head coach of a tumultuous season, but the
talent-rich Trojans are still one of the nation’s highest-profile
With a victory over USC to clinch the first 12-win season in
school history, the Bulldogs would stake a compelling claim as the
best team ever to suit up in the Central Valley.
”The team is pretty fired up about being here,” Fresno State
receiver Davante Adams said. ”They’ve got a great program,
world-renowned, so it’s going to be a lot of fun going against
Adams and Carr are excited about the challenge they’ll face when
the Bulldogs have the ball at Sam Boyd Stadium. While the nation’s
best passing offense decimated nearly every defense it faced, USC’s
undermanned defense still put together an impressive season against
the Pac-12’s high-scoring teams, ranking 14th in the nation in
”I don’t like to give anybody too much credit until we go out
and face them,” said USC safety Dion Bailey, who might head to the
NFL after the game. ”They’ve got a talented offense, but I don’t
think there’s any defense in the country that’s like ours.”
After every dip and peak in a season that puts the New York-New
York casino’s roller coaster to shame, the Trojans say they’re only
focused on completing a 10-win season. Offensive coordinator Clay
Helton is running the team after Ed Orgeron resigned earlier this
month, angry about losing the permanent job to Steve Sarkisian
despite going 6-2 as Lane Kiffin’s interim replacement.
The Trojans all seem to admire Helton, who joined the program
along with Kiffin in early 2010, but several players made their
Vegas motivations clear this week.
”Everybody in that locker room wants to win for Coach O,” USC
cornerback Josh Shaw said. ”Even Coach Helton has talked about it.
We still go through the same routines now that he isn’t here, and
we’re going to do it again. The only thing different is Coach O
won’t be the one talking to us.”
Five reasons to watch the most compelling matchup on the first
day of bowl season:
FRESNO SHOWCASE: The Mountain West champions got to the brink of
a BCS breakthrough, but a defensive meltdown in a 62-52 loss to San
Jose State ruined it. Fresno State is eager to embrace this chance
to show off in front of a national audience, but the Bulldogs also
realize USC could cause similar problems for Fresno State coach Tim
DeRuyter’s defense with the combined talents of receivers Marqise
Lee and Nelson Agholor, quarterback Cody Kessler and tailback
THE FABULOUS BAKERSFIELD BOYS: Kessler and Carr have more in
common than their position. They’re both from Bakersfield, Calif.,
and they’ve known each other for years. Carr is two years older
than Kessler, who solidified his hold on the USC job with a
midseason surge. Carr holds nearly every significant Fresno State
record for his position at the school where Kiffin was a backup
quarterback in the 1990s.
SARK IN THE WINGS: Sarkisian is in Vegas as an observer, waiting
to take over the program after the game. Sarkisian, hired two days
after the Trojans’ regular season ended with a loss to UCLA, is
allowing the remnants of Kiffin’s coaching staff to run bowl
preparations, but he’ll be watching his returning players closely –
and he might be scouting the Bulldogs, who will be his first
opponent next season.
LONG TIME COMING: For all of its recent success under Pat Hill
and DeRuyter, Fresno State hasn’t won a bowl game since 2007,
losing five of its last six bowl games overall. Carr is eager to go
out with his first bowl victory, which would make him the first
senior quarterback to win a bowl game at Fresno State since Jeff
Tedford did it in 1982.
LEE’S BIG FINISH?: Almost everybody expects Lee to head to the
NFL after his underwhelming junior season, but the 2012 Biletnikoff
Award winner should be healthier than he’s been in many weeks when
he faces Fresno State’s suspect pass defense. Lee needs 12 catches
to pass Robert Woods as USC’s career receptions leader, and Helton
might be wise to give him the opportunity.