USC Faces No. 21 Fresno State In Las Vegas Bowl
Dec. 15, 2013
USC, one of the nation's premier bowl teams, helps open up the 2013 post-season calendar when it travels to the Las Vegas Bowl to face No. 21 Fresno State, a dangerous one-loss team that features the nation's top aerial attack. The Trojans have won nearly two-thirds of their 50 bowl appearances, including 7 of the past 9. This is only the 11th time that USC is unranked in a bowl. The Trojans lost in their only other Las Vegas Bowl trip, in 2001 (that was the only other time they have played in Nevada). USC, going after its 25th 10-win season, concludes its first-ever 14-game season against, ironically, the team that it will open up against at home in 2014 (the last time that occurred for Troy was 1916). This is the third Mountain West Conference opponent for USC in 2013. USC has a near spotless record against current MWC foes, as its only loss was to Fresno State in the 1992 Freedom Bowl. Besides that game, the Trojans and Bulldogs have met only one other time, in the classic 2005 Coliseum shootout won by Troy. USC will be guided in the Las Vegas Bowl by interim head coach Clay Helton, its third head coach of 2013. Recently-announced new Trojan head coach Steve Sarkisian, who brought his 2012 Washington team to the Las Vegas Bowl, is waiting in the wings to take over after the game (he'll be at the game observing). USC has persevered through adversity in 2013, winning 5 of its past 6 games, although it is coming off a loss to crosstown foe UCLA. The Trojans will have less than 50 recruited scholarship players available for the Las Vegas Bowl, due to NCAA scholarship restrictions and injuries. USC's offense, among the national leaders in red zone scoring, is balanced, while its defense continues to rank high in almost all NCAA statistical categories, including total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, sacks, interceptions, red zone defense, third down conversion defense and fourth down conversion defense. Steady QB Cody Kessler, already inching his way up USC's career passing chart, has hit 70% of his passes with no picks in the past 5 games. Trojan team MVP TB Javorius Allen has been on fire the second half of the season, with 11 TDs in the last 5 games and a quartet of 100-yard rushing outings. WRs Nelson Agholor (he is the national leader in punt returns) and 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee are Troy's main pass targets. Top Trojan defenders include Sophomore All-American and All-Pac-12 first team DE Leonard Williams (13.5 tackles for loss), Lott Trophy finalist OLB Devon Kennard (9 sacks), S Dion Bailey (11 career interceptions), team tackle-leading LB Hayes Pullard and lockdown CB Josh Shaw. The Trojan special teams have blocked 5 kicks this year (FB Soma Vainuku owns 3 knockdowns and earned All-Pac-12 first team for his play) and scored on 3 punt returns. Head coach Tim DeRuyter's Fresno State squad, which won its first 10 games this year, has a school record 11 victories, most recently in the inaugural MWC championship game. The Bulldogs have one of the game's top offenses, piling up more than 570 yards and 45 points per outing. They rank first in the nation in passing offense, third in total offense, fifth in scoring offense and 11th in passing efficiency. Record-setting QB Derek Carr is the NCAA's passing, TD passes and total offense leader, while WR Davante Adams is tops nationally in receptions and receiving touchdowns, plus he's second in receiving yards and third in scoring. WRs Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper join Adams in the national Top 15 in receptions (Burse is also one of the country's top punt returners). FSU's offensive line gives up less than a sack a game, while the Bulldog defense is the nation's leader in sacks and is fourth in tackles for loss. ILB Karl Mickelsen is the team's top tackler, while OLB Ejiro Ederaine and S Derron Smith rank high nationally in sacks and interceptions, respectively. The game, in 36,800-seat Sam Boyd Stadium, will be shown live throughout the country on ABC-TV. USC is celebrating its 125th anniversary of athletics (dating to the first football game in 1888).