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December 9, 2013

Bulldogs are going to Vegas

After claiming their first outright championship since 'Baby Got Back' was on the Billboard Hot 100 list, Fresno State is headed to the Las Vegas Bowl and their opponent will be none other than next year's first opponent, the USC Trojans.

While some fans might be put off by the fact that these two teams will play back-to-back games in different seasons, we contend that they're not looking at the upside of this year's contest. In fact, it's actually a blessing that these two teams will meet in Vegas before Los Angeles. The 2013 edition of Fresno State vs. USC will be better than the 2014 edition in every conceivable way.

This year's edition features a story that practically writes itself. Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler share more than just the ability to throw the ball down the field. Both young men come from Bakersfield, California and place a very strong emphasis on faith and spirituality. Both young men have been compared to David Carr in some way or another, Derek more so because they are brothers. Both young men are incredible competitors who have experienced enormous amounts of coaching turmoil in their young lives and come out the other end of it better than ever.

Perhaps more important to the actual game, both young men have a bevy of talented receivers to whom they can throw the ball up and trust that their guy will win the battle. Carr has talent like Davante Adams, Josh Harper, and Isaiah Burse obliterating defensive backs and safeties while Kessler enjoys throwings to the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, Marqise Lee. Kessler also has NFL caliber talents like Nelson Agholor and Randall Telfer as other options.

Both guys also have fantastic defenses that won't be there next year. One of the most interesting things to watch in Vegas will be how USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast moves around his men to account for a Bulldog offensive line that very rarely surrenders a sack. Austin Wentworth has to love the idea of elevating his draft-stock because he had a fantastic game against Troy's Leonard Williams. Bulldog offensive line coach Cam Norcross has to be excited and terrified at the thought of accounting for how USC will use Williams.

These are the types of storylines that nobody talks about when discussing their 2014 meeting. Bulldog defensive end Andy Jennings won't be around next year to see if Chad Wheeler and Max Tuerk are up to the challenge of stopping his ability to penetrate the backfield. Isaiah Burse won't be around to see if the Trojans' inconsistent special teams play opened a chance for him to put on a show against one of college football's blue-bloods on national television.

Bulldog tight end Marcel Jensen has a great opportunity to raise his draft profile with a fine performance blocking up-front and also catching the ball opposite USC's talent at tight end, widely believed to be NFL-ready even now. There are also a number of draft-eligible juniors and underclassmen that might not take the field when these two teams meet to open their respective seasons. One has to imagine that the press box will be filled with NFL executives and scouts for this game.

The truth of the matter is that these teams are better suited to play each other in 2013 than they will be next year. Next season brings with it a number of unknowns that many people are taking for granted with the announced match-up. Fresno State still hasn't ironed out an extension with head coach Tim DeRuyter, much to the chagrin of fans on the field after the Mountain West Championship.

One hates to put fans through a worst-case scenario, but there's a possibility that DeRuyter won't even be on the sidelines when these two meet next year. USC hasn't even decided who is staying on the current staff and who is being shown the door. The Trojans are also installing a brand-new offense under head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Bulldogs would be the very first time the Trojans try it out in-game. There's no guarantees that goes over smoothly. There's also no guarantee that Fresno's offense looks anything like it did under Carr. He won't be there in 2014. That alone should really give people pause before scoffing at the fact that this is just a precursor.

Nothing about this game is a precursor to next season's contest. These two teams couldn't even tell you who will be on staff in six months, let alone what their offenses are going to look like when they line up next year. The Bulldogs have talent with Brian Burrell and Zack Greenlee, but the truth is that fans have no idea how it will look or work out when they are in charge. The idea that this is somehow a letdown is ludicrous, at best.

The 2013 Las Vegas Bowl is a better version of next year's regular-season contest. You don't have to like it, but it's the truth and people should probably realize that by now. The mutual respect and admiration that the two quarterbacks share for one another is more than enough reason for them to motivate their teams. Neither guy is going to walk into practice and tell their squad that they're going to have an easy win. The respect they have for one another should translate well to the field.

What happens in Vegas will be broadcast over the entire nation on December 21. These two teams have only met twice, despite their close proximity to one another. Both times have gone down as one of the most memorable moments of their respective seasons. It's a safe bet that the tales from this legend won't be staying in Vegas.

It's like we said: This year's edition is better.

Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the 2013 Fresno State Bulldog season.

Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.


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