by Dave Miller
December 20, 02013
Subscribe to the "Against the Grain with Dave Miller" podcast in iTunes
The 2013-14 college football bowl season kicks off on Saturday with four games, including the Las Vegas Bowl between Fresno State and USC in Sin City.
Here are some things to keep an eye on when you're tuned into the contest between the Bulldogs and the Trojans.
Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4)
December 21, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
The Bulldogs finished off the regular season with a win over Utah State to claim the MWC title, but they're unquestionably disappointed by failing to grab a BCS spot following their loss to San Jose State. Still, I expect Tim DeRuyter's team to be focused because it will be playing a brand-name program in USC.
The Trojans, meanwhile, will be led by interim head coach/offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who is in charge of the program following the departure of Ed Orgeron, who took over for the fired Lane Kiffin. Helton will relinquish his duties after the game to Steve Sarkisian, who was hired from Washington. The Trojans were able to right the ship and win six of their final eight games following the dismissal of Kiffin, but will they be focused after the dismissal of Orgeron?
The Bulldogs' prolific offense: Quick-triggered quarterback Derek Carr leads the nation's top-ranked passing attack, as the future NFL first-round draft pick has thrown for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns against just seven interceptions this year. He has skilled playmakers around him, including receivers Davante Adams, Josh Harper and Isaiah Burse, so it's no wonder that the Bulldogs rank third in total offense and fifth in scoring. The Trojans' defense, however, ranks 16th in the country in total yards per game. USC's offense has been much better since Helton took over play-calling duties, but I don't think the Trojans can match up score for score with the Bulldogs if this game turns into a shootout.
Leonard Williams leads a much-improved Trojans defense.
A revived Trojans defense: USC's defense (allowing just 21.3 points per game) is the best in the Pac-12 outside of Stanford because of the strong play up front, led by Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard and Dion Bailey. New coordinator Clancy Pendergast may try to bring a lot of pressure on Carr because the Trojans are very good at getting to the quarterback, as they've recorded 35 sacks this year. However, Carr does get the ball out of his hands very quickly. And while the 'SC secondary is skilled, it can give up the big play. So it will be interesting to see how much Pendergast dials up the blitz.
Odds and ends: USC is favored by six points ... This will be the third meeting between the Bulldogs and the Trojans, with the teams splitting the first two contests ... Fresno State has converted 20 fourth downs this year, which is good for second in the nation ... USC receiver Nelson Agholor scored on two punt returns against Cal in early November, so keep an eye on the 'SC special teams in this one ... Fresno State is trying to notch its first bowl victory since 2007 ... Former Penn State running back Silas Redd will miss the game with a right knee injury, so he finishes the season with just 376 rushing yards due to injuries ... Fresno State linebacker Ejiro Ederaine has 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss ... USC receiver Marqise Lee needs just 12 catches to pass Robert Woods for the school's career receptions mark.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.