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December 13, 2013

Matchup Creates Familiar Scene for Las Vegas Bowl




It may not be the BCS game everyone was hoping for, but for the Fresno State Bulldogs, the 2013 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl is their reward for a near perfect season and a hard fought duel against the Utah State Aggies for the inaugural 2013 Mountain West Championship.

This game won't have the allure of the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl, but the stakes will be big, the bragging rights bigger and the outcome possibly gargantuan.

That's because the Bulldogs' opponent will be the USC Trojans, and if their previous matchups are any indication, the Las Vegas Bowl has a chance to bankrupt many of the bookies on the Strip.

The last time these teams locked horns was 2005. Then, USC was the top ranked team in the country and Fresno State came in to the game as the proverbial David looking to beat Goliath. It almost happened.

The Bulldogs put a scare in the Trojans, but when it was all said and done, eventual Heisman winner Reggie Bush would gain a Pac-10 record 513 all-purpose yards en route to leading the Trojans to a wild 50-42 finish.

Thirteen years earlier, Fresno State created one of the most unlikely bowl victories in recent memory by shocking the Trojans 24-7 in the 1992 Freedom Bowl in USC's backyard, at the former Anaheim Stadium. That Bulldogs' team was led by Trent Dilfer and, going into the game, USC quarterback Rob Johnson famously quipped that the Bulldogs didn't have a chance against the mighty Trojans.

The result of that game was a Bulldogs' defense, ranked 98th out of 107 Division 1-A teams, forcing three turnovers and holding the Trojans to 183 yards of total offense. Out of the 50,745 fans that witnessed the game, roughly 25,000 of them were from the Red Wave.

But that was then. This is now.

Despite entering the game as 7.5 point favorites, the Trojans had to endure a tumultuous season that included the firing of former head coach Lane Kiffin and a 9-4 overall record. However, interim head coach Ed Orgeron picked up the pieces and led the Trojans to a 6-1 record in the Pac-12, including a headlining win against then-No.4 Stanford. Orgeron was replaced with former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, but he won't be leading the Trojans through the tunnel in Sam Boyd Stadium on the 21st. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton takes over as the new interim coach for the Trojans.

As for the Bulldogs (11-1, 10-1 MWC), they enter the game as conference champions with one of the most prolific offenses in the FBS this year. Quarterback Derek Carr and wide receivers Davante Adams, Josh Harper and Isaiah Burse spearheaded an attack that averaged 570.6 yards this season.

Regardless of the records and the stats, the players and the histories, a lot will be at stake for the Bulldogs and Trojans when they take the field.

Aside from pride and history, Fresno State and USC will also square off against each other to open the 2014 season, so this game could be a precursor to who carries bragging rights into their matchup next year and beyond.

The Bulldogs would love to send Derek Carr out as a winner in a historic, record setting season. The Trojans would love to return to previous glory by getting their 10th win of the season.

Whatever happens, Fresno State and USC figure to make the Las Vegas Bowl one game that nobody should be against.


Jason Smithberg is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @dodgerjason.


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