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Las Vegas Bowl Primer: Fresno State vs. USC

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Fresno State senior quarterback Derek Carr, who leads the FBS with 4,866 passing yards and 48 touchdown passes, encounters a USC defense ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 against the pass. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.
Fresno State senior quarterback Derek Carr, who leads the FBS with 4,866 passing yards and 48 touchdown passes, encounters a USC defense ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 against the pass. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

This same matchup could’ve — and probably should’ve — played out on a bigger bowl stage, but the Mountain West champion Bulldogs and the Pac-12 South Division third-place-finishing Trojans will have to settle for Sin City and Sam Boyd Stadium on the opening day of the bowl season.

Fresno State

Motivation: With a late-season loss to San Jose State, the Bulldogs fell short of a shot at a BCS bid, but they bounced back to beat Utah State in the MWC championship game and they’ll be pumped for a crack at the in-state, blue-blood Trojans from the AQ Pac-12. Plus, you don’t think FSU isn’t going to be fired up for the final game for one of the program’s finest players (senior QB Derek Carr), do you?

If You’ve Never Seen Them: You’re in for an aerial treat as Fresno features the top passing offense (409.8 yards per game) in the FBS ranks, led by the pitch-and-catch duo of Carr (MWC-record 4,866 yards, 48 TDs) and sophomore wideout Devante Adams (13.5 receptions per contest, MWC-record 23 TD catches).

Weakness: Defense — specifically stopping the pass — as the ’Dogs own the 116th-ranked passing defense (277.4 yards per game) in the FBS. Fresno State also has allowed 28 points or more in half of its games.

USC

Motivation: That’s in serious question here as the Trojans will be playing for their third head coach this season: former offensive coordinator Clay Helton. After the firing of Lane Kiffin, USC named Ed Orgeron the interim field boss. Orgeron quickly won over the majority of the players, who actively campaigned for him to get the full-time gig. However, the Trojans passed over Orgeron in favor of Washington’s Steve Sarkisian, and he subsequently resigned.

If You’ve Never Seen Them: USC has a big-play wideout of its own in junior Marqise Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, but he was limited to only two TD receptions in 10 games due to injuries. Instead, the Trojans’ hallmark has been defense, and they’re bringing the Pac-12’s top-ranked passing D (214.5 ypg) and second-ranked scoring defense (21.3 ppg) to the desert.

Weakness: Otherwise known as the Trojans’ not-so-special teams as USC ranks 113th in the nation in punting average (34.4 yards per kick) and 121st in kickoff returns (15.4). That could spell trouble against Fresno’s talented return men.

Las Vegas Hilton Line: USC -6

Related: Scouting The Las Vegas Bowl