Motivation is certainly an issue for both teams as USC did not enter the 2013-2014 football campaign with aspirations to play in the Las Vegas Bowl. Similarly, Fresno State found itself undefeated late in the season before suffering a 62-52 loss at San Jose State, which effectively ended any hopes of a BCS bowl for the Bulldogs. However, USC is dealing with even more turmoil now that their beloved interim head coach, Ed Orgeron, was essentially forced out after being passed over for the permanent head coaching job. Former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian was hired to lead the Trojans next year, which means that today’s coaching duties have been left to first-year offensive coordinator Clay Helton.
Fresno State takes the field with an explosive attack that is averaging 45.3 points per game at 4.7 yards per rush play, 7.9 yards per pass attempt and 6.7 yards per play. The Bulldogs’ offense is led by quarterback Derek Carr, who is averaging an impressive 7.9 yards per pass play against teams that combine to allow just 6.7 yards per pass play to a mediocre quarterback. Overall, Fresno State is 0.7 yards per play better than average offensively, whereas the Trojans are 0.7 yards per play better than average defensively. Meanwhile, USC’s offense is 0.4 yards per play better than average (6.0 yards per play against teams that combine to allow 5.6 yards per play), while the Bulldogs’ stop unit is 0.1 yards per play better than average (5.6 yards per play to teams that combine to average 5.7 yards per play).
I also like the fact that Fresno State has an outstanding offensive line that has only allowed 11 sacks this season (1.8%), which is second best in college football. What makes that feat even more impressive is the fact that the Bulldogs throw the ball 63% of the time. The reason for not making Fresno State a higher-rated selection is twofold: (1) unranked college football bowl teams are 31-19 ATS versus opponents ranked between 11-25 in the AP Top 25; and (2) motivation is a major question mark for both teams, and I am not willing to gamble on which team shows up to play at the lowly Las Vegas Bowl. The technical analysis also favors USC: the Trojans are 4-0 SU and ATS .750 or better opposition this season and 6-1 ATS versus bowl squads with a win percentage of .900 or higher.