USC Football: 4 Things We Need to See in Las Vegas Bowl

Rick McMahan@@RickMcMahanSenior Writer IDecember 10, 2013

USC Football: 4 Things We Need to See in Las Vegas Bowl

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    On Saturday, USC was rewarded for surviving one of the most difficult seasons in their history when it was announced that they will meet the Fresno State Bulldogs Saturday, Dec. 21 in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

    After going 9-4—primarily under Lane Kiffin and then with interim head coach Ed Orgeron at the helm—the Trojans' 2014 season was a study in perseverance for a team that has had to surmount a roller coaster of emotions as well as a ton of injuries to an NCAA sanction-depleted roster.

    Now they will meet the 11-1 Bulldogs, a very good team with something to prove.

    Following 2012 when an uninspired USC was spanked by Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, the question now is whether or not the Trojans can muster a focused effort against FSU in 2013.

    Will USC rise once again in 2013, as they have so many times already this year?

    This slideshow will take a look at what Trojan fans should expect from their team against the Bulldogs.

    Can USC win one more for the old coaching staff before it leaves for good?

    Let's find out.

USC Needs Injured Players to Return

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Trojans have been bitten by the injury bug all year, and some players—Morgan Breslin, Marcus Martin and Aundrey Walker—won't been seen until 2014, and in Breslin's case, not at all since he has now used up his eligibility.

    But other players, such as Marqise Lee, have been playing hurt all year long, and the question is, will those players be healed enough to make serious contributions against Fresno State?

    With a roster depleted by NCAA sanctions, USC needs as many healthy bodies as possible for the bowl game if it hopes to be successful against the Bulldogs.

    Regardless of who returns for the Las Vegas Bowl, the Trojans will still be undermanned for this game, but a return of a few players to good health can only help USC.

Respect Your Opponent

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    Derek Carr
    Derek CarrBrian Bahr/Getty Images

    Last year, USC took a disappointing 7-6 record into the Sun Bowl to meet a 6-7 Georgia Tech team that most people—including the Trojans themselves—thought would simply roll over for the men of Troy.

    Boy, were they wrong.

    After a 21-7 loss to the Yellow jackets reminded USC that it can't just roll the ball out on the field and expect to win on press clippings alone, that lesson needs to be reinforced as the Trojans prepare for a very good 11-1 Fresno State team that, quite frankly, could care less about USC's vaunted reputation.

    The Bulldogs are a solid team whose record reflects the quality of the players USC will see December 21.

    Led by quarterback Derek Carr, the Bulldogs will waste no time making the Trojans look bad if they take the same attitude into the Las Vegas Bowl as they did last year yo the Sun Bowl.

    For that reason alone, USC needs to respect the Bulldogs if they want to win this game.

Play Smart

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    During the Trojans' winning streak this year, the absence of turnovers and penalties was a defining reason for that success.

    If USC wants to win the Las Vegas Bowl, that attention to detail will have to continue against a Fresno State team that ranked tied for 54th in turnover margin.

    Fortunately for the Trojans, they were tied for 34th in the nation in turnover margin, but that stat is offset by their ranking an abysmal 95th in the nation in penalties.

    USC must play error-free football—or close to it—if it wants to win this game, so that is one thing fans of the program should keep an eye on.



Play with Passion

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    In the Sun Bowl last year, the Trojans just seemed to go through the motions, and we all know what happened when they did.

    However, 21-7 losses to inferior opponents aside, USC simply can't afford a repeat of that uninspired performance if it hopes to beat Fresno State this year in the Las Vegas Bowl.

    The Bulldogs were a team knocking on the BCS-buster door all year until a late-November loss removed them from that consideration, and you know they would like nothing more than to put a feather in their cap with a win over the Trojans.

    Meanwhile, USC has its own obligations, and one of those is to see this lame-duck staff off with a victory to show its appreciation for what the coaches—Ed Orgeron included—did for the team in 2013.

    If the Trojans play with passion and purpose, they can win this game and, in doing so, pay tribute to those coaches that they claim to love.


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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    There will be an interested observer at the game on December 21, and that individual will be none other than Steve Sarkisian, USC's head coach-in-waiting for the 2014 season.

    Sark will be taking notes to see not only what talent he will have available in 2014 but also to see what kind of "fire in the belly" his new players have for the game.

    What Sark witnesses in one game this year will help define what kind of team he inherits for 2014 and beyond.

    An inspired effort from the Trojans should go a long way toward his crafting a game plan for USC as it moves forward in the Sarkisian era.

    But if the Trojans fall flat on their face again like they did last year, it could signal the beginning of massive changes in how Sark runs his program.

    And USC's players will have no one to blame but themselves.