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USC-Fresno State: What To Watch

Who will win the quarterback battle? Which defense will step up and get stops? We examine that and much more in our game preview of USC-Fresno State.

Stephen Dunn

1. Derek Carr vs. Cody Kessler

Both signal callers are from Bakersfield, Calif., but that's where the similarities end. The two have had completely different seasons for their respective teams. Carr led Fresno State to an 11-1 record and set Mountain West and school records for passing yards (4,866) and touchdown passes (48) this year (both marks led the nation, too). The two-time conference offensive player of the year had a 70.1 percentage completion rate and threw just seven interceptions, despite slinging the ball 605 times (50.4 attempts per game). Meanwhile, Kessler had his share of ups and downs during his first full season as a starter. In the first five games with coach Lane Kiffin on the sidelines, the redshirt sophomore averaged 166.4 yards through the air, and threw six touchdowns and four interceptions (in two of those games, he split duties with Max Wittek). In the second half of the season under coach Ed Orgeron, Kessler tossed 10 touchdown passes to just two picks, averaging 223.9 yards through the air. Which quarterback will execute better and take care of the ball to give his team a chance to win?

2. Stepping up on Defense

The Bulldogs' defense isn't particularly a strong point. They ranked 118th in the nation (out of 125 FBS teams), allowing an average of 278.2 passing yards per game. The Trojans boast a number of weapons at wide receiver, including Nelson Agholor (824 yards, four touchdowns) and Marqise Lee (673 yards, two touchdowns). On the other side, the Bulldogs have one of the nation's top receivers in redshirt sophomore Davante Adams (1645 yards, 23 touchdowns). As a team, Fresno State ranked third in total yards per game (570.6) and fifth in points per game (45.3). The Trojans, however, ranked 33rd in the nation in pass defense, allowing 214.5 yards through the air and 19th in the nation in interceptions (16). It all starts up front for USC, though, as their front seven has played an integral role in the team's success on the defensive side. The Trojans ranked 16th in sacks (34.0) and 20th in tackles for loss (88.0). Which squad will fare better in slowing down their opponent's offense?

3. Who will come out ready?

Fresno State had a chance at running the table before losing at San Jose State in late November. Had the Bulldogs won, they likely would have been in a BCS bowl game. USC, on the other hand, has undergone three coaching changes this season, with Clay Helton being the last coach and serving in the interim for the bowl game. Do the Trojans finish the season on a high note, or will there be a similar performance to that in the Sun Bowl just last season?

USC-Fresno State kicks off at 12:30pm PT and will be televised on ABC.