WeAreSC staffers discuss USC football related topics:
1. What do you see as the key matchup in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl?
Garry Paskwietz: I think it will be the USC offensive line vs. the Fresno State D-line. The Trojans will have two new starters for this game at center and right guard, following injuries to the regular starters in the season finale. The Bulldogs are vulnerable in the secondary, giving up over 275 passing yards per game, while Marqise Lee is as healthy as he’s been all year and Nelson Agholor is a big weapon opposite him. The key will be getting protection for Cody Kessler, as the Fresno State defensive averages 3.25 sacks per game, tied for the top mark in the FBS.
Johnny Curren: I think the key matchup of the game will be the Fresno State passing offense versus the USC passing defense. It’s no secret that the reason why the Bulldogs have 11 victories this season is because of the play of quarterback Derek Carr -- the FBS leader in passing yards (4,866) and touchdowns (48) -- and his outstanding collection of receivers. The Trojans secondary, meanwhile, has struggled at times in coverage. The USC defensive backs will need to come up with perhaps their best outing of the year, while also getting some help up front from the vaunted Trojans front seven. But with the Fresno State offensive line having allowed a total of just 11 sacks this fall, that certainly won’t be easy.
Greg Katz: The key will be how much pressure the Trojans front seven on defense can put on Carr. Without the presence of defensive line coaches Ed Orgeron or Pete Jenkins, can the Trojans’ down linemen rise to the emotional level to dominate and impose its will on the Bulldogs offensive line?
2. Who do you think will be USC’s MVP in this game?
GP: Marqise Lee. This year has been an up-and-down affair for Lee as he has struggled through a pair of injuries that have slowed him beyond what anyone would have seen coming. It’s still expected that Lee will declare for the NFL draft sometime after the Las Vegas Bowl so here comes one last chance for him to have that Marqise-esque kind of game. Would anybody really be surprised if it happens?
JC: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lee have a big day in what might be his last game as a Trojan. He’s looked great in practice this week, due in part to the fact that he appears to be the healthiest he’s been in quite a while. On top of that, the play of the Fresno State secondary in coverage has been a definite weak point this season, with the Bulldogs allowing an average of 277.4 yards per game through the air. Lee has a chance to really explode in this one.
GK: Part of me says it will be Trojans tailback and team MVP Javorius "Buck" Allen. However, a healthy Lee at wide receiver can really be dominant, so in probably his final game in a Trojans uniform, I say the MVP will be Lee.
3. Which draft eligible players do you see leaving as of now?
GP: As stated above, Lee is assumed to be gone. Based on body language and statements over the past two weeks I think Dion Bailey will leave as well. The next one I would look at is George Uko. I don’t know that Uko would be a high level pick but he’s a big body in the middle and the NFL always likes those kind of guys. I still think Uko would be better served by coming back next year to help form an interior USC D-line group that could be as dominant as any in the country. I’m also not ruling out Josh Shaw to leave early although I do think he ends up staying.
JC: Lee, who came in at No. 15 in ESPN.com’s first 2014 mock NFL draft, still seems to be the most likely candidate to leave early, but I’m also getting a feeling that Bailey will bolt as well. He said last week that he was having a meeting to discuss the issue with his parents sometime this week, and it’s a decision that has obviously been weighing heavily on his mind. With the departure of Orgeron, the hiring of Steve Sarkisian, and the team in a temporary state of limbo under interim coach Clay Helton, there’s a somewhat peculiar vibe on campus right now, so I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if one or two surprise players wind up declaring for the draft as well.
GK: Say goodbye to Lee and Bailey. Rumors abound regarding center Marcus Martin and offensive guard Aundrey Walker. Martin and Walker, especially Walker, should give this decision some heavy thought. Don’t be shocked if Shaw joins the exodus, as well. The expectations are that tight end Xavier Grimble will return, especially when you consider how successful Sarkisian has been using his tight ends.