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Las Vegas Bowl
The early bowl game matchups don't get much better than the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. An 11-1 Fresno State team takes on USC in the bowl formerly sponsored by Maaco. The 9-4 Trojans are -6.5 point favorites at betonline, up from an opener of -4.5 at some books.
The betting trends at sportsbook.com show 63% of the wagers here have come in on the Trojans while 95% are backing the over.
Fresno State went from BCS bowl potential to playing on the first day of bowl games. The Bulldogs picked up their only loss in the last game of the regular season at San Jose State right before the MWC Championship game. While Derek Carr did what he normally does in that game, the FSU defense just could not keep up en route to a 62-52 loss.
The Bulldogs have had a number of close calls through the season, including at the very start of the year with a one-point overtime win over Rutgers and a 41-40 win over Boise State. They handled much of the MWC, beating San Diego State in OT on the road and most recently defeating Utah State 24-17 in the conference title game.
While Fresno can score against anyone, it's going to be a tough task defeating USC. This is a team that looked lost early in the year losing to Washington State and then giving up 62 points at Arizona State. Since then, Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach, leading USC back up the ranks, including a win over Stanford. However, Steve Sarkisian (from Washington) was hired after their final loss to UCLA and Orgeron left the team. Now it will be Clay Helton, their 2nd interim head coach of the season leading the Trojans in the Bowl game.
Fresno State is led by its passing game with Derek Carr at the helm, who had 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns, both tops in the nation. His receiving corps was dominant as well with Davante Adams leading the charts with 1,645 yards and 23 touchdowns. Josh Harper (1,011 yards, 13 TDs) and Isaiah Burse (987 yards, five TDs) were also solid commodities. The Bulldogs were mediocre on the ground led by Josh Quezada with 787 yards and six TDs. Quezada was also a decent receiver out of the backfield with 48 receptions.
USC's defense is coming off a 35-14 loss, but before that and after Kiffin's departure, the unit contained just about every opponent. They held Oregon State and Notre Dame to 14 points along with Stanford to 17 points. It'll be interesting to see what they can do against Carr, a quarterback fighting for a top draft spot.
On the other end, the Trojans have the advantage even though they aren't exactly an offensive powerhouse. Fresno State has been brutal for most of the season on the defensive end, especially against out-of-conference opponents.
Quarterback Cody Kessler isn't going to be slinging it on every play, but with wide outs like Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, the Bulldogs will have their hands full. Not to mention, USC has a great run game that has been led by Javorius Allen as of late (12 TDs). Whether Allen, Tre Madden or Silas Redd are getting carries, the defense is going to have problems.
The dicey defense for the Bulldogs is one of the main reasons the Trojans are favored here. The more USC runs the ball, the less time Derek Carr sees of the field. Easier said than done though, right?
The Bulldogs have not covered in four straight bowl games and are 2-5 ATS in their last seven vs. the Pac-12. The Trojans are 4-1 ATS in their last five bowl games, but 2-5 ATS in their last seven vs. the MWC. The last time these teams played each other was back in 2005 with the Trojans winning 50-42 as Reggie Bush racked up 362 total yards and two TDs.
There are a number of things that makes this game un-bettable for us. At the front of that line is the motivational factors for both sides. For Fresno, they were a couple of plays away from a BCS Bowl and all that comes with it. Now, they get the Vegas Bowl. For USC, no question when you start a season a USC, you're thinking a January Bowl game, perhaps New Years Day, at the very least. Maybe even a National Title. Now you're playing an MWC team on the first day of Bowl play. Very difficult to figure if either team will have a motivational edge.
For USC, throw in the 3rd coach of the year to the mix and that has to make you question the USC side even more. Not to mention that the 4th coach is waiting in the wings to take over next year. We also can't forget that USC came up way short their last time out in a big spot, losing their season finale to UCLA 35-14.
Strictly handicapping by the numbers, USC looks to be the better team. We have numbers that suggest they are at least 10+ points better than Fresno. But Fresno has long been known to play their best ball when stepping up in class and with the changes at USC, getting blown out their last time out and questionable motivation, we're going to go against our numbers and take the points with Fresno State here. It's currently +6.5 but we could see +7 by game time. For now, Fresno State +6.5 (not a key release).
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