Fresno State, USC matched up in Las Vegas Bowl

Fresno State will face Southern California in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The 21st-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) capped their spectacular season by earning their first outright conference championship in more than two decades on Saturday, trouncing Utah State in the Mountain West title game behind star quarterback Derek Carr.

Although Fresno State and coach Tim DeRuyter fell one loss shy of busting the BCS, the Bulldogs' reward is a high-profile matchup with the transitioning Trojans (9-4) at Sam Boyd Stadium on Dec. 21.

"We know that the team and all Bulldog fans are in for a fantastic week," DeRuyter said. "We also know the challenge of playing against a Pac-12 school and look forward to competing against a very talented Trojan squad."

USC (9-4) will have its third head coach of a tumultuous season, with offensive coordinator Clay Helton directing the Trojans in their second straight bowl appearance following a two-year NCAA ban. USC lost the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech last year.

"It is a tremendous honor and a great reward to our team and what they have been able to accomplish in the 2013 season," Helton said. "We look forward to our trip to Las Vegas and the challenge of competing against one of the better teams in the country."

Interim coach Ed Orgeron went 6-2 after Lane Kiffin was fired, but he resigned Monday after USC chose Steve Sarkisian for the permanent job.

Sarkisian isn't planning to take a role in bowl preparations over the next two weeks, allowing Helton and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to direct USC's game plan for the Bulldogs.

Fresno State could close a memorable season with a landmark victory over USC in just the schools' third meeting. The Bulldogs nearly pulled an enormous upset in November 2005, losing 50-42 to top-ranked USC after blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.

The Bulldogs also beat the Trojans 24-7 in the 1992 Freedom Bowl.

These two schools will meet again in their 2014 season opener at the Coliseum in August.

USC has played in the Las Vegas Bowl once before, losing 10-6 to Utah in 2001 in Pete Carroll's debut season.

The matchup has other interesting layers as well: Carr and USC quarterback Cody Kessler were both born and raised in Bakersfield, Calif.

"Cody and I are good friends," Carr said. "We'll be trash-talking him and telling him to lighten up his defense."