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Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Southern Cal Trojans Pick-Odds-Prediction 12/21/13

Southern Cal Trojans (9-4) at Fresno State Bulldogs (11-1)

College Football: Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm (Sam Boyd Stadium)

The Line: Fresno State Bulldogs +6 -- Over/Under: 62 See the Latest Odds


Storyline: 25th-ranked USC tries to pick up the pieces after a tumultuous 2013 campaign when they butt heads with #20 Fresno State, who came within inches of a BCS bid, in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Saturday.

The Breakdown: The Trojans have had a season rife with scandal, from the unceremonious dismissal of Lane Kiffin at an airport terminal following USC’s week five loss at Arizona State, to the abrupt resignation of interim coach Ed Orgeron Dec. 2--who appeared to be the leading permanent candidate after guiding the Trojans to five straight wins and 6 of 8 overall--when Steve Sarkisian got the job. USC now heads into the Las Vegas Bowl under its third head coach of the season, offensive coordinator Clay Helton. Despite the off the field circus, the Trojans finished strong, upsetting then #4 Stanford and winning handily over Utah, Oregon State, Cal and Colorado before ending the season with a 35-14 loss against rival UCLA.  

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Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Southern Cal Trojans Pick-Odds-Prediction 12/21/13

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC comes in with one of the nation’s best defenses, ranking 16th in total defense, 20th in rushing defense and 21st in scoring defense. The Trojans also boast First Team All-American Leonard Williams as their best player. The sophomore DT finished the regular season with 73 tackles (13.5 for a loss), six sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception. On the offensive side, the ground game will be the focal point for SC and with senior RB Silas Redd sidelined with an injury, the onus will be on sophomores Tre Madden (703 YDs, 3 TDs) and Javorius Allen (699 YDs, 12 TDs) to provide a steady diet of power football. Sophomore QB Cody Kessler didn’t put up flashy number this season, completing 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,623 yards for 16 TDs and 6 INTs, but he’ll have two next-level gamebreakers to throw to in junior Marqise Lee (50 REC, 673 YDs, 2 TDs) and sophomore Nelson Agholor (51 REC, 824 YDs, 4 TDs), who also doubles as one of college football’s most dangerous kick returners.

Meanwhile, Fresno State might be playing on the other side of January if not for a defensive collapse against San Jose State that saw the Bulldogs get flattened for 736 total yards and 62 points in their only loss of the season. A season-opening overtime thriller over Rutgers kicked off their 2013 and come from behind shootout wins over Boise State, Hawaii and San Diego State, proved, if anything, the Bulldogs might not be able to stop anybody but they can score points in a hurry. The 11-1 finish is their first since 2001 and one more here will be the first 12 win season in school history.

Fresno State was an offensive juggernaut this season, finishing tops in the country in passing offense at 409.8 yards per outing and 5th in scoring offense at 45.3 points per game. And QB Derek Carr, a Heisman hopeful at the start of the season, was every bit the standout. The senior finished with 4,866 yards, 48 TDs to 7 INTs and a stellar 70.1 completion percentage. Carr made good use of sizable targets junior Josh Harper (79 REC, 1,011 YDs, 13 TDs) and sophomore Devante Adams (122 REC, 1,645 YDs, 23 TDs), who both posted big-time numbers this season, with the latter going over the century mark seven times and eclipsing 200 yards receiving in three different games.  The Bulldogs aren’t much for running the ball, coming in with the FBS’s 71st-ranked ground game, but have a pair of capable backs when they do in junior Josh Quezada (787 YDs, 6 TDs) and sophomore Marteze Waller (629 YDs, 7 TDs). On the defensive side, Fresno State brings a not so fantastic 81st national ranking in scoring defense, which will put a whole lotta pressure on Carr and the passing game, but what’s new? The Bulldogs have lived and died by the pass this season and that’s not likely to change here.

Rick’s Pick: The line in this one currently favors USC by 6 points in what should be the marquee matchup of the bowl season’s first round. This is strength against strength with an unrelenting SC pass defense pitted against one of the nation’s most prolific passing games. A couple noteworthy tidbits: Tre Madden is questionable with a lingering hamstring injury, leaving Allen to carry the load at running back and probably leaving Kessler to put the ball up more than SC would like. The Trojans are a pro-style offense predicated on the running game so this could be an issue if Kessler has to throw the ball upwards of 30 times. On the flipside, there won’t be a plan B for Fresno State.  The points look like the play.

Follow me on Twitter @ SCPRick

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