The Trojans, who will be guided by interim head coach Clay Helton in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, are 9-4 overall and tied for second place in the Pac-12 South Division. USC is looking to win its 10th game of the season against Tim DeRuyter's Fresno State Bulldogs, who finished the season 11-1 overall, winning the inaugural Mountain West championship game.
"We are extremely excited to have been invited to participate in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl," said Helton. "It is a tremendous honor and a great reward to our team and what they have been able to accomplish in the 2013 season."
The Trojans are among the nation's premier bowl teams, with an overall postseason record of 31-16 and USC has lost just twice in its past nine bowl games. Troy has appeared in 13 different bowls, including 33 Rose Bowl appearances. This will be the Trojans second time in the Las Vegas Bowl, falling to Utah, 10-6, in their only appearance back in 2001.
USC has one of the nation's top defenses in 2013, ranked in the Top 25 in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, sacks, interceptions, red zone defense, third down conversion defense and fourth down conversion defense.
Some of the players to watch this week will be Bednarik Award semifinalist Leonard Williams, Lott Trophy finalist Devon Kennard and Freshman All-American Su'a Cravens.
Following the action, Dion Bailey (11 career interceptions) says he will make his official announcement on whether to stay or go to the NFL while 2013 team tackle leader Hayes Pullard and cornerback Josh Shaw could also declare but neither have made their timetables clear.
USC's balanced offense is led by quarterback Cody Kessler, tailback Buck Allen who finished the season with 12 rushing TD's along with emerging special teams ace and versatile wide receiver Nelson Agholor to complement Marqise Lee.
Fresno State, which also lost to Utah in its only Las Vegas Bowl appearance (17-16 in 1999), sports a 12-12 overall postseason mark. The Bulldogs have appeared in 20 different bowls.
Fresno State won its first 10 games of 2013 before falling in the regular season finale at San Jose State. It features one of game's top offenses and is sure to challenge USC's under-manned defense.
The Bulldogs rank first in the nation in passing offense (409.8), are third in total offense (570.6) and are fifth in scoring offense (45.3) thanks to the performance of quarterback Derek Carr, the nation's passing (405.5) and total offense (415.3) leader, and wide receiver Davante Adams, who ranks tops nationally in receptions (10.2) and receiving touchdowns (23), while also second in receiving yards (137.1).
This will be the third meeting between USC and Fresno State. The Bulldogs beat USC 24-7 in the 1992 Freedom Bowl, but the Trojans returned the favor in the teams most recent meeting 50-42, at home in 2005.
During that romp at the Coliseum, current USC special teams coach John Baxter worked for Fresno State during his long tenure on staff from 1997-2008 before heading down to Southern California.