NCF Nation: vegas bowl 2013

The USC Trojans defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs 45-20 in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

It was over when: Buck Allen crossed the goal line on a 1-yard run with 4:44 left to put USC up 45-20. The Trojans had taken a 35-6 lead at halftime before Fresno State made a brief run to close the gap, but Allen provided the finishing touch with his second touchdown of the day.

Game ball: Cody Kessler. The USC quarterback set a career high, and a Las Vegas Bowl record, with four touchdown passes, and he had those in the first half alone. Kessler ended the day by completing 22 of 31 passes for 344 yards, along with one interception that was returned for a touchdown. Kessler also earned hometown bragging rights with longtime friend and fellow Bakersfield native Derek Carr from Fresno State.

Key stat: Marqise Lee with seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Those are the type of numbers that were routine for Lee in his 2012 Biletnikoff Award-winning year, but a pair of injuries in 2013 curtailed his performance. If that was his final game in a USC uniform, as it is widely expected he will declare for the NFL draft, it was a fitting ending for one of the best playmakers in school history.

Key stat 2: Fresno State came in averaging a nation-leading 409 passing yards per game. USC held the Bulldogs to 217.

Unsung hero: Dion Bailey. The Trojans' slot defender in their nickel package was all over the field posing problems for Carr. He had a pair of key tackles for loss and got in passing lanes to help thwart the short passing game of the Bulldogs.

What it means for Fresno State: It means the Bulldogs won’t reach their goal of a program-record 12 wins but that doesn’t take away from what was accomplished this year. Not only did they tie the record for most wins, but also they captured the first-ever MWC title game and had one of the top passing offenses in the country, led by a likely first-round draft choice in Carr. And, to top it off, they won’t have to wait long to get a shot at revenge, as they face the Trojans in the 2014 season opener.

What it means for USC: The goal for these players and coaches was to reach 10 wins in what was a season of adversity and change. It also was a resounding performance from those who wondered about the sense of motivation for the team, especially after last year’s effort in the Sun Bowl. Clay Helton hands off the Trojans on a good note, and now the Steve Sarkisian era begins.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, click here.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl preview

December, 21, 2013

The Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) features No. 20 Fresno State (11-1) against No. 25 USC (9-4). It’s one of just two pre-New Year’s Day bowls to feature a matchup of two ranked teams.

Who to watch: The Bulldogs feature the top-ranked passing offense in the country (409.8 yards per game) and a quarterback -- Derek Carr -- who is the national leader in passing yards (4,866) and touchdowns (48). Carr’s favorite target, wide receiver Davante Adams, leads the FBS in catches (122) and touchdowns (23). The Trojans led the Pac-12 with the fewest passing yards allowed per game (214.5) and will look to pressure Carr with a strong front that is led by outside linebacker Devon Kennard (9 sacks, 13 TFL) and defensive end Leonard Williams (6 sacks, 13.5 TFL).

What to watch: The USC offensive line will play with new starters at center and right guard after injuries to the regular starters against UCLA. That line will look to protect quarterback Cody Kessler and give him time to throw to a pair of dangerous receivers in Marqise Lee -- who is as healthy as he’s been all year -- and Nelson Agholor. Fresno State counters with a defense, led by linebacker Ejiro Ederaine, that tied for the national lead in sacks (3.25 per game), but it can be vulnerable in the secondary -- the Bulldogs rank No. 116 in the FBS by allowing 277.4 passing yards per game.

Why to watch: Both teams have something to prove. Fresno State came close to earning a BCS berth and a shot at an undefeated season before a shocking 62-52 loss to San Jose State in the regular-season finale. The Bulldogs would love to finish with a 12th win -- which would set a school record -- especially one that comes against a big-name opponent such as USC. The Trojans, on the other hand, have fought through a tumultuous season that has them playing under their third head coach. The rallying cry in the weeks leading up to the bowl game was the chance to reach 10 wins, an accomplishment that would mean a lot after all this team has gone through. And, as an aside, this game also will offer something of a preview for next year as these two teams will meet to open the 2014 season.

USC 42, Fresno State 40

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

December, 8, 2013

USC Trojans (9-4) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (11-1)

Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET, Las Vegas (ABC)

It's fair to say that probably no team in the nation dealt with more drama than USC this year. How many teams can say they've had four head coaches since August?

[+] EnlargeClay Helton
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsOffensive coordinator Clay Helton will step in as head coach for the Trojans in their bowl game.
Lane Kiffin started the season on one of the nation's hottest seats, and that seat melted at Arizona State during a 62-41 defeat that dropped the Trojans to 3-2 on the year and 0-2 in the Pac-12. Kiffin was fired at LAX by athletic director Pat Haden, and Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach. He beat Arizona in his debut, lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, then rolled off five consecutive victories.

At that point, many saw Orgeron as a serious candidate to take over the job full time. But his chances were doused when the Trojans were whipped 35-14 at home against archrival UCLA. When Haden told Orgeron he wouldn't get the job, he promptly resigned, and offensive coordinator Clay Helton will lead the Trojans in their bowl game.

On Dec. 2, news broke that Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant under Pete Carroll, would be the Trojans’ next coach.

This was a far better team after Kiffin's termination, in large part because the offense got better with Helton calling plays instead of Kiffin. A unit that managed just seven points in a home loss to Washington State with Kiffin calling plays averaged 30 points per game during its 6-2 stretch under Orgeron.

The biggest win was a 20-17 takedown of then-No. 4 Stanford. But the Trojans’ biggest strength is defense. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast's unit ranked among the nation's top 25 in scoring, total and rushing defense.


[+] EnlargeDerek Carr
Marco Garcia/USA TODAY SportsDerek Carr has 48 TD passes and just seven interceptions in 2013.
Fresno State was just a couple of plays from an undefeated season and a BCS bowl berth, but a 62-52 loss at San Jose State -- the college football season's ultimate offensive barn burner -- ended those hopes. The Bulldogs therefore had to settle for a Mountain West Conference title and a Las Vegas Bowl berth opposite USC.

The story with the Bulldogs was offense, and the leader of that offense was one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Derek Carr, who led the nation with 405.5 yards passing per game, 39 yards more than anyone else. Carr threw for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.

The Bulldogs still have something to prove in their bowl game because their pillow-soft scheduled was ridiculed most of the year. It featured an overtime win over Rutgers to open the season and victories over Boise State and Utah State that secured the conference crown. In terms of quality foes, that was about it.