LAS VEGAS BOWL
#21 Fresno State (11-1) vs. Southern Cal (9-4)
at Las Vegas, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Five reasons to watch the most compelling matchup on the first day of bowl season:
FRESNO SHOWCASE: The Mountain West champions got to the brink of a BCS breakthrough, but a defensive meltdown in a 62-52 loss to San Jose State ruined it. Fresno State is eager to embrace this chance to show off in front of a national audience, but the Bulldogs also realize USC could cause similar problems for Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter's defense with the combined talents of receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, quarterback Cody Kessler and tailback Javorius Allen.
THE FABULOUS BAKERSFIELD BOYS: Kessler and Carr have more in common than their position. They're both from Bakersfield, Calif., and they've known each other for years. Carr is two years older than Kessler, who solidified his hold on the USC job with a midseason surge. Carr holds nearly every significant Fresno State record for his position at the school where Kiffin was a backup quarterback in the 1990s.
SARK IN THE WINGS: Sarkisian is in Vegas as an observer, waiting to take over the program after the game. Sarkisian, hired two days after the Trojans' regular season ended with a loss to UCLA, is allowing the remnants of Kiffin's coaching staff to run bowl preparations, but he'll be watching his returning players closely — and he might be scouting the Bulldogs, who will be his first opponent next season.
LONG TIME COMING: For all of its recent success under Pat Hill and DeRuyter, Fresno State hasn't won a bowl game since 2007, losing five of its last six bowl games overall. Carr is eager to go out with his first bowl victory, which would make him the first senior quarterback to win a bowl game at Fresno State since Jeff Tedford did it in 1982.
LEE'S BIG FINISH?: Almost everybody expects Lee to head to the NFL after his underwhelming junior season, but the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner should be healthier than he's been in many weeks when he faces Fresno State's suspect pass defense. Lee needs 12 catches to pass Robert Woods as USC's career receptions leader, and Helton might be wise to give him the opportunity.
NEW ORLEANS BOWL
Tulane (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayettee (8-4)
at New Orleans, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Here five things to know about the New Orleans Bowl in the Superdome:
DOME ADVANTAGE?: The New Orleans Bowl is played in the Superdome, which has also served as Tulane's home field for nearly four decades. This was the final season for the Green Wave in the dome before moving into a new on-campus stadium. But while Tulane gets one extra game on its current home field, the Ragin' Cajuns don't expect to find themselves in a road-game environment. ULL's campus is just more than a two-hour drive west, and Cajun fans have turned much of the dome into a sea of red for the last two New Orleans Bowls. The same is expected this year. Fans of both teams have combined to buy more than 50,000 tickets.
EXPERIENCE GAP: Accustomed as Tulane may be to playing in the Superdome, it's been more than a decade since the Green Wave has been to a bowl. Tulane's last postseason appearance was in the 2002 Hawaii Bowl, where the Wave beat Hawaii. Tulane then endured 10 straight losing campaigns before what is now Johnson's second season. "None of our kids know anything about a bowl, so this is an exciting time," Johnson said.
REVENGE FACTOR: These teams met last year during the regular season in Lafayette. The Cajuns won 41-13. "They did take us to the woodshed," Johnson said. "They are a good, good football team." Hudspeth dismissed last year's result as an indicator of how the teams match up this time. "It's a totally different Tulane team," Hudspeth said.
GROUND GAMES: Louisiana-Lafayette's ground game averages 207.6 yards, led by Alonzo Harris (883 yards, 13 TDs) and Elijah McGuire (823 yards, seven TDs). Tulane has averaged 128.1 yards per game, led by Orleans Darkwa (780 yards, nine TDs.)
DEFENSIVE WAVE: Tulane's dramatic improvement over its two-win 2012 campaign can be traced to its defense. The Green Wave allowed 119.2 yards rushing, which ranks 16th nationally. Tulane also has 17 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries. "We know we're really good on defense," said junior safety Sam Scofield, a Lafayette native who was recruited by the Cajuns.
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL
Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5)
at Bopise, Idaho, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Here are five things to know about Buffalo's matchup with San Diego State:
TURNOVERS: Buffalo has thrived on thievery all season and used those opportunities to put points on the board. On defense, the Bulls have 27 turnovers and the team is fourth in the nation in turnover margin at 1.3. Of those 27 turnovers, the offense has converted on 19 for 113 points. Linebacker Kahlil Mack and defensive backs Cortney Lester and Najja Johnson lead the team with three interceptions apiece. The odds don't favor the Aztecs, who have turned the ball over 28 times this season.
MACK ATTACK: A national television audience will get to watch one of the nation's best linebackers in San Diego State's Kahlil Mack. The senior is disruptive, has a knack for making big plays and is a tackling machine. He holds the FBS record for most forced fumbles (16) and shares the NCAA mark for most tackles for loss with 75. Mack was voted the conference defensive player of the year this season and he finished second in voting for the Butkus Award. He leads the team in tackles with 94 and has returned two of his picks this year for touchdowns, one against Ohio State and the other against Massachusetts.
FORGET THE FIELD GOAL: The Aztecs, hobbled by poor field goal kicking this season, have instead focused on going for it on fourth downs. On the season, the Aztecs have converted on 43 percent of their 35 fourth-down tries, the most attempts by any other team in the Mountain West this season. And Long says he's not shy about trying it any time in the game, anywhere on the field. "Any time you think you can make it on fourth down you go for it, no matter what the situation is in the game," he said. "We went for a lot more fourth downs this year than we normally would go for because our kickers have really struggled. So if there is any question ... we're going to go for it."
SNOW FACTOR: Snow, below-freezing temps and mild wind is projected, a forecast that would seem to favor a cold-weather team like Buffalo. But Long said he's not worried about the impact of the weather on the Aztecs, saying they're ready for anything the weather has to offer.
NEW MEXICO BOWL
Colorado State (7-5) vs. Washington State (6-5)
at Isleta Pueblo, N.M., 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Here are five things to know when Colorado State and Washington State play in the New Mexico Bowl:
DOUBLE ATTACK: The Rams are the only team in the nation to boast a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,500-yard runner. Running back Kapri Bibbs leads the nation with 28 rushing touchdowns, and quarterback Garrett Grayson ranks among the country's top 20 in yards passing (3,327). That one-two punch even impressed Leach, who said looking over footage of the pair led him to conclude the offense doesn't have a lot of weaknesses.
SPREAD OFFENSE: Leach's signature spread offense is led by junior quarterback Connor Halliday. He has tallied eight 300-yard games and four 4-touchdown games this season. He is passing up Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf in a number of categories, including career passing yards. He ranks fourth nationally in yards passing (4,189) and is tied for 13th with 28 touchdown passes.
KICKING IT: Cougars kicker Andrew Furney enters the New Mexico Bowl second in school history for career field goal percentage at .767. He kicked a 41-yard game winner against USC and his career total is 46 — third-most in school history. Leach said he will not have a problem asking Furney to kick a 50-yard-plus field goal if the game is on the line.
THE HANDS: Freshman Rams receiver Rashard Higgins has 64 receptions in his first 13 college games. That is the sixth-most in a single season in Colorado State history. He needs only six catches to become the third Rams player to have 70 or more receptions. He tied a school freshman record with 10 catches in a game against Boise State.
SNOW BOWL?: Parts of New Mexico are in for another round of winter weather this weekend and Albuquerque is facing a 20 percent chance of snow. Forecasters say the system could bring moderate snow to the southwest and south-central mountains overnight Friday and into Saturday. But snowstorms typically spare Albuquerque. Still, players may have to battle freezing temperatures and that may affect the high-flying offenses of both teams.
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 wide 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."