Here are five things to watch for the USC Trojans (9-4) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl matchup against Fresno State (11-1) on Saturday (12:30 p.m. PT, ABC):
1. 10 wins: The talking point that USC players and coaches used a lot over the past two weeks was the desire to get to 10 wins for the season. And the more you think about it, with all this team has gone through, it really would be a notable accomplishment. It’s not often a team has three coaches in one season, and the results usually aren’t good. If the Trojans can come away with a victory in this game against a quality opponent in Fresno State, it would be a satisfying way for this group to go out.
2. Stop that Carr: There’s a reason the Bulldogs have won 11 games, and it starts with the passing attack. Fresno State is ranked at the top of the national rankings in passing offense, their quarterback Derek Carr leads the nation in passing yards and touchdowns, and his top receiver Davante Adams tops the rankings in catches and receiving touchdowns. The Trojans – despite early season concerns in the secondary – ended up leading the Pac-12 in passing defense and a big key in this game will be the ability to get pressure up front with Devon Kennard and Leonard Williams.
3. O-line openings: The Trojans will be filling two open spots on the offensive line in this game after Marcus Martin (center) and Aundrey Walker (right guard) went out with injuries against UCLA. Fortunately, the replacements – Abe Markowitz and John Martinez – are experienced veterans, but they will have a strong test with a Fresno State defense that is tied for the national lead in sacks. It will be critical to give Cody Kessler time to throw to Marqise Lee – who is finally healthy – and Nelson Agholor to take advantage of a secondary that is ranked No. 116 in the nation against the pass.
4. You’re not in El Paso anymore: There has been a lot of talk leading into the game about the motivation factor for the Trojans. Last season, the team appeared to be less than enthused about a Sun Bowl appearance, and it showed in the performance. Fresno State is an opponent that is more than capable of beating the Trojans if there is a repeat of El Paso, but USC players and coaches say that there will be no such lack of enthusiasm for this game. In fact, several players cited a desire to play well for departed interim coach Ed Orgeron as a key factor.
5. Sark Watch: New USC coach Steve Sarkisian will be in attendance at the game, though he won’t be coaching. Regardless, it will be the first opportunity for the returning USC players to show well in front of their new coach, and you never know what can happen when a fresh set of eyes is doing the evaluations. Just ask Buck Allen – he was limited to 14 carries in the first five games under Lane Kiffin but played a larger role once Orgeron took over and became the team MVP.