Heading into Saturday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas bowl, the Fresno State Bulldogs had something to prove.
It was an opportunity to prove the critics wrong – to show the nonbelievers that Fresno State can compete against a powerhouse team.
Instead, the Bulldogs were held to a season-worst 20 points and 254 total yards.
The 45-20 loss was just the second loss of the season for the Bulldogs but despite the predictions, Fresno State didn’t even appear to put up a fight.
Fresno State's greatest offensive strengths – Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper – proved to be no match for the Trojan defense.
Head coach Tim DeRuyter and quarterback Derek Carr didn’t feel USC did anything special. Rather, they said, Fresno State failed to make necessary plays, including overthrown passes which are very uncharacteristic of Carr.
The Bulldog defense also struggled against USC missing crucial tackles and providing poor coverage.
"Physically, they were the most impressive team we've played in the last two years and they played inspired," DeRuyter said. "They played very, very well.
“I thought early, we had a couple of opportunities on third down to get off the field and change the game. They converted….We just couldn't get into a rhythm. We dug ourselves in too big of a hole."
Fresno State came within one win of likely having reached a BCS bowl after winning 10 straight games before a devastating 62-52 loss at San Jose State to conclude the regular season.
The Bulldogs still won the Mountain West Conference title, their first outright title since 1989 after sharing it with Boise State and San Diego State last year.
The 10-0 run gave fans something to be optimistic about and looked to be leading to something great. Instead, the conclusion to the season was quite disappointing.
Carr finished his Fresno State career with an embarrassing bowl game loss and Fresno State lost its fifth straight bowl.
The last bowl victory the Bulldogs celebrated was the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl in which they defeated Georgia Tech, 40-28.
"I think if you look at the body of work, this team won 11 ballgames, won a second straight conference championship," DeRuyter said. "There are critics out there. Everyone's got an opinion.
“I know in my heart we had a really, really fine football team. And I'm very proud of them."