Fresno State and Southern Cal will help kick off the college football bowl season in style at the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 21, at Sam Boyd Stadium in (you guessed it) Las Vegas.
The Bulldogs finished the season with a record of 11-1 and won the Mountain West Conference. Along with Northern Illinois and Central Florida, Fresno State was one of the few small schools making a regular appearance in the BCS standings throughout the second half of the season.
Senior quarterback Derek Carr leads a potent aerial attack for the Bulldogs that will test the secondary of the Trojans on a regular basis. Carr told Robert Kuwada of the Fresno Bee that his team is approaching its bowl date focused on the game rather than being in one of the nation's biggest party cities:
...we're going to Vegas and yeah maybe some guys will go out, but it won't be anything crazy. We want to win this game more than we want to hang out and so we know the challenge that's at hand. It is USC — you turn on the film and the first thing that stands out is how talented they are. But one thing that I do believe is we can go 1-0 this week.
USC's roster is undeniably loaded with talent, as evidenced by the Trojans' 9-4 record in the loaded Pac-12 this season. However, it will be interesting to see how the team performs under interim head coach Clay Helton after USC's previous interim head coach, Ed Orgeron, left in protest of being overlooked as a potential head coach for the school going forward.
Here's a look at when and where you can catch the action, along with injury reports for both teams and a closer examination of the biggest keys to victory.
When: Saturday, Dec. 21, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Live Stream: Watch ABC
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 62 points
- Spread: USC (-6.5)
Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)
|L.J. Jones||DB||Out indefinitely - Knee - 12/8/13|
|Dontel James||RB||Out for season - Toe - 10/18/13|
|Rodney Mathews||S||Out for season - Knee - 12/10/13|
|Sean Alston||DB||Out for season - Arm - 8/23/13|
|Anthony Brown||CB||Ques Sat - Knee - 12/15/13|
|Shane Sullivan||TE||Out for season - Knee - 12/10/13|
|Steven Mitchell||WR||Out for season - Knee - 12/10/13|
|Morgan Breslin||DE||Out indefinitely - Hip - 11/7/13|
|Gerald Bowman||S||Out for season - Shoulder - 10/24/13|
|Justin Davis||RB||Out for season - Ankle - 10/24/13|
|Lamar Dawson||LB||Out for season - Knee - 10/24/13|
|Taylor Ross||RB||Out Sat - Leg - 12/15/13|
|Jordan Simmons||T||Out for season - Knee - 10/23/13|
|Devian Shelton||CB||Out for season - Foot - 9/27/13|
|Zach Banner||T||Out for season - Hip - 9/27/13|
|Greg Townsend Jr.||DE||Out for season - Knee - 9/27/13|
|D.J. Morgan||RB||Out indefinitely - Knee - 12/8/13|
Will USC's Defense Be Able to Shut Down Derek Carr?
The Trojans weren't a high-scoring team during the regular season, averaging just 28.5 points for No. 69 in the nation. It stands to reason that USC's defense will need to play lights-out football against Carr and the Bulldogs.
Fresno State put up 45.3 points per game this season, and Carr led the nation's top-ranked passing offense, averaging 409.8 yards per game.
Carr is deadly accurate, and his decision-making has been stellar all season long. His stats are simply astounding, too, as shown by ESPN's College GameDay:
Derek Carr Leading the FBS This Season: Pass Yards (4,866) Completions (424) Touchdowns (48) 20 yard comp (73) #LasVegasBowl— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) December 18, 2013
USC has already faced a top pocket passer this year, however, and came away smelling like roses.
Oregon State's Sean Mannion, who engineers the nation's No. 3 passing attack, was held to just 277 yards with one touchdown and had three interceptions when his Beavers were taken down by the Trojans, 31-14, on Nov. 1.
Carr is a bit more polished and experienced than Mannion, however, and it'll require an even better effort by the Trojans to keep him in line. Safety Dion Bailey noted the challenge his team faces, per Rahshaun Haylock of FoxSportsWest.com:
"It's going to be a challenge. He's a guy that has an unbelievable arm (and) he throws the ball really well. (He's) impressive."
Impressive, indeed. There are some around the NFL draft community who view Carr as a potential top pick in next May's 2014 NFL draft. He'll come out firing in the Las Vegas Bowl, so the had Trojans better be prepared.
The only game that Fresno State lost this season was to San Jose State, and it wasn't for a lack of offense. The Bulldogs lost because David Fales was slightly hotter than Carr that game. It was as simple as that.
Who you got?
Southern Cal's Cody Kessler isn't the guy you want in a shootout with Carr. Kessler is a capable quarterback when running a balanced offense in which the passing game is set up by play-action, but he isn't going to light up the scoreboard.
The only way Fresno State loses this game is if Carr has a meltdown on the national stage. With his NFL draft stock on the line, that is certainly possible. However, given his experience in big games and his unflappable nature, it's highly unlikely.
The Bulldogs will make a big statement with a win in Las Vegas.
Final: Fresno State 45, USC 31
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