Las Vegas • Although Fresno State fell one win short of a BCS berth, the Bulldogs still got a high-stakes trip to Vegas for the final game of quarterback Derek Carr's career.
The 21st-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) landed in the Las Vegas Bowl against Southern California (9-4) on Saturday, kicking off bowl season with a compelling California matchup in the shadow of the Strip.
USC is on its third head coach of a tumultuous season, but the talent-rich Trojans are still one of the nation's highest-profile programs.
With a victory over USC to clinch the first 12-win season in school history, the Bulldogs would stake a compelling claim as the best team ever to suit up in the Central Valley.
"The team is pretty fired up about being here," Fresno State receiver Davante Adams said. "They've got a great program, world-renowned, so it's going to be a lot of fun going against these guys."
Adams and Carr are excited about the challenge they'll face when the Bulldogs have the ball at Sam Boyd Stadium. While the nation's best passing offense decimated nearly every defense it faced, USC's undermanned defense still put together an impressive season against the Pac-12's high-scoring teams, ranking 14th in the nation in scoring defense.
"I don't like to give anybody too much credit until we go out and face them," said USC safety Dion Bailey, who might head to the NFL after the game. "They've got a talented offense, but I don't think there's any defense in the country that's like ours."
After every dip and peak in a season that puts the New York-New York casino's roller coaster to shame, the Trojans say they're only focused on completing a 10-win season. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton is running the team after Ed Orgeron resigned earlier this month, angry about losing the permanent job to Steve Sarkisian despite going 6-2 as Lane Kiffin's interim replacement.
The Trojans all seem to admire Helton, who joined the program along with Kiffin in early 2010, but several players made their Vegas motivations clear this week.
"Everybody in that locker room wants to win for Coach O," USC cornerback Josh Shaw said. "Even Coach Helton has talked about it. We still go through the same routines now that he isn't here, and we're going to do it again. The only thing different is Coach O won't be the one talking to us."
Las Vegas Bowl
O No. 21 Fresno State vs. USC
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4