The USC and Fresno State Football teams have only met twice in their long histories. They will meet two more times in the next few months. They open against each other at the Coliseum for the 2014 season—but before that they will face each other in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
The Bulldogs are fresh off of an 11-1 regular season and Mountain West Championship. They had been eyeing a BCS bowl bid until their 10 point loss to San Jose State late in the season.
Their quarterback, Derek Carr, has never thrown less than two touchdown passes a game and averages four per game. He even tops Matt Barkley’s single game total of six, throwing for seven touchdowns against New Mexico. His 4866 passing yards almost matches the entire USC team’s 5100 yards of total offense.
You might be thinking that is some sort of typo or that their offense is heavily skewed towards passing like Oregon State’s or Washington State’s. Well, it is skewed towards passing. That does not stop them from being number three in total offense in the nation— right behind Baylor and Oregon. Uh oh.
Now that they have been sufficiently built up, it is time for some perspective.
USC and Fresno State had two similar opponents: Utah State and Hawaii.
USC beat Hawaii 30-13— back when Lane Kiffin was coach and the quarterbacks were being cycled. Hawaii’s only touchdown happened with 30 seconds left and USC’s second team defense was in. Fresno State blew a 42-3 lead, ending the game at 42-37. Hawaii came back with a vengeance, scoring 34 unanswered points in under 21 minutes of game time. With six seconds left on the clock, the game was still very much in question. It took a Fresno State interception near the goal line to seal it.
As for Utah State, USC beat them 17-14 when the Aggies were still at full strength. Fresno State needed another late fourth quarter interception deep in their own territory to finish off their 24-17 win— against a Utah State team playing with its third-string quarterback on top of struggling with other key injuries.
On top of that, USC finished 9-4 in the Pac-12, a major conference, while Fresno State finished 11-1 the Mountain West, a mid-major conference. One of those wins was against a 6-6 FCS team and two came in overtime. None of their 12 opponents were ranked and only four currently have winning records. The Bulldogs’ two toughest opponents, by record, had only eight wins.
On the flipside, USC has never, in its 125 year history, played an FCS team and played seven opponents with winning records. They also beat rank #4 Stanford, which was their toughest opponent with an 11-2 record.
That still does not mean they should be taken lightly. Just like the Aggies team was determined to take down the Bulldogs, Fresno State will give USC their best shot. Despite being rank #20, five spots above USC’s #25 spot, they probably see themselves as underdogs. Even Vegas believes USC is favored to win.
As conference champions, their reward is the Las Vegas Bowl, so they are extremely excited to be able to take on a national brand like USC. The Bulldogs’ previous coach, Pat Hill had the motto “Anyone, anytime, anywhere,” which was evident even against USC back in 2005. Fresno State did not fear the then-top ranked Trojans in the Coliseum. They fought until the very last minute. USC needed an interception inside the end zone to cement the final score of 50-42.
In the previous match Fresno State did what it could not in 2005. They had beaten the Trojans in 1992 Freedom Bowl, which ultimately led to head coach Larry Smith being fired— back when most current college seniors had just been born. USC had lost to UCLA and Notre Dame that season and they were not too hyped to be at the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim (interestingly enough, Clancy Pendergast was a graduate assistant at USC during that season). The result was a 24-7 beatdown.
USC has had its share of excuses in the past season, with Lane Kiffin being fired, then Ed Orgeron leaving along with Pete Jenkins. The sanctions still loom over and the injuries to starters have piled up. Just like the 1992 season, they lost to both their rivals. All the excuses can be made—but don’t the Trojans have something to prove too?
The Las Vegas Bowl will be televised on ABC for the first time since 2001, which was also the last time USC played in that bowl. Whether or not any Trojan thinks so, this game is big to some people.
And ten wins looks a lot better than nine.
The #20 USC Trojans (9-4) will face the #20 Fresno State Bulldogs (11-1) at Sam Boyd Stadium this Saturday. Kick-off is set at 12:30pm PT and will be televised on ABC.