What: Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Who: Fresno State (11-1, 7-1 Mountain West) vs. USC (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12)
When: Saturday, Dec. 21, 3:30 pm ET (ABC)
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium (40,000), Las Vegas, Nev.
Opening Line: USC -6 1/2
What matters: With Steve Sarkisian named the new coach and interim head man Ed Orgeron having exited stage left after that announcement, this will be offensive coordinator's Clay Helton's chance to call the shots as interim head man. Sarkisian will be on hand only an observer, which effectively means he'll be watching an audition for jobs on the 2014 roster and staff. After two years of probation and a loss in last season's Sun Bowl, USC -- astonishingly -- has not won a bowl game since Pete Carroll led the Trojans to a win in the 2009 Emerald Bowl. After going 11-1 including a win over Mountain West in the Pac-12 title game, Fresno State can post its first 12-win season in school history. The Bulldogs are also trying to snap a four-game bowl losing streak, having last won a postseason game in the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl over Georgia Tech.
Who matters: USC rarely plays a bowl game where it doesn't feature the game's biggest star, but this time the biggest spotlight will be on Fresno State QB Derek Carr. Carr leads the nation in touchdown passes (48) and passing yards (4,866) and has also helped wideout Davante Adams (122 receptions, 1645 yards, 23 TD) to a monster year. USC's Cody Kessler (2623 passing yards, 16 TD, 6 INT) has also had some nice moments, and wideout Marquise Lee (50 receptions, 673 yards, 2 TD) has been an effective weapon when healthy.
Matchup question: Will USC be able to deal with Carr-to-Adams? There's reason to believe the answer to that is yes. The Trojans were No. 1 in the pass-happy Pac-12 in aerial yards allowed (214.5 per game) and their No. 3 national ranking in red-zone defense is another positive indication. Cornerback Josh Shaw, an NFL prospect who has thrived after moving over from strong safety, will likely be in charge of limiting Adams. Trojans pass rusher Devon Kennard (9.5 sacks) will try to introduce himself to Carr a time or two as well.
Prediction: Fresno has had a terrific season, and has the advantage of stability when juxtaposed with USC's current, fluid coaching situation. But the Trojans have more talent, and will be focused on winning this one to impress the onlooking Sarkisian. USC 31, Fresno State 27.