After rallying from two losses in their first five games of the year and the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin, the USC Trojans can earn their first bowl game victory in four years when they face No. 21 Fresno State on Saturday, Dec. 21, in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium.
USC began the year with a 3-2 record, only to go 6-2 under former interim head coach Ed Orgeron, including a 20-17 upset of then-No. 4 Stanford. USC ended the regular season with a 35-14 letdown to UCLA and finished third in the Pac-12 South standings.
Trojans sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler improved under Orgeron, completing 60 percent or more of his passes in the final six games of the year for eight touchdowns and one interception.
Fresno State won the inaugural Mountain West Conference title game with a 24-17 victory over Utah State, but their BCS bowl hopes were dashed after an epic 62-52 loss at San Jose State over Thanksgiving weekend. Should the 11-1 Bulldogs top USC, they will set a new school record for victories in a single season.
The Bulldogs will trot out the country’s best passer in Derek Carr, the younger brother of former No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick David Carr. The senior quarterback led the nation with 4,866 passing yards and 48 touchdowns to seven interceptions, and Fresno State was fifth in the nation with 45.3 points scored per game.
Sophomore Bulldogs receiver Davante Adams was second in the nation with 1,645 yards and 23 touchdowns, and junior Josh Harper contributed 79 catches for 1,011 yards and 13 scores.
New USC head coach Steve Sarkisian won’t be on the sidelines, as fourth-year quarterbacks coach and current offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be at the helm. USC fell to Georgia Tech 21-7 in last year’s Sun Bowl, and last claimed a bowl victory in 2009 after defeating Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. It was the final game under the prosperous era of former head coach Pete Carroll.
Fresno State has dropped their last four bowl appearances, counting last year’s Hawaii Bowl loss to SMU. The Bulldogs are 12-12 all-time in bowl games, and their last victory came in 2007’s Humanitarian Bowl over Georgia Tech.
The two schools met back in the 1992 Freedom Bowl, with Fresno State pulling off a 24-7 blowout. USC got some revenge when they last met during the 2005 regular season, earning a slim 50-42 win en route to a trip to the national championship.
The Trojans' offense did sputter at times throughout the 2013 season, but they meet a Bulldog defense ranked No. 81 in the country allowing 29.1 points per game. They also gave up 42 points in the first half of the San Jose State loss.
Fresno State did hold opponents to 3.7 yards per carry this season, but haven’t faced a running back like Trojans sophomore Buck Allen. In four of the last five games, Allen has rushed for a minimum 123 yards and scored 10 times.
Betting Odds: USC favored by 6 points
Over/Under: 62.5 points
Time: Saturday Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Prediction: USC 34, Fresno State 24