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Motivation, quarterback give nod to Fresno State

When handicapping bowl games, motivation and location are crucial elements to consider. It helps to find a quarterback edge, too, and Fresno State has one today with Derek Carr.

In the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium, it appears the Bulldogs have a major advantage in the motivation department. During the recruiting process, most Fresno State players didn’t get much attention from Southern California.

Therefore, any disappointment the Bulldogs had over not making a Bowl Championship Series bowl quickly went out the window when they saw USC as their next opponent.

Fresno State has a major advantage at quarterback thanks to Carr, who has thrown 48 touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. Carr, surely highly motivated to impress a slew of NFL scouts on hand, has completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 4,866 yards.

The Trojans went to a bowl game that didn’t get them excited last season, and the result was a 21-7 setback to a seven-loss Georgia Tech squad.

You have to question USC’s desire again in this pre-Christmas bowl game. The Trojans had all sorts of momentum with a five-game winning streak and a win over Stanford on Nov. 16. However, a 35-14 loss to rival UCLA and the subsequent departure of interim coach Ed Orgeron squashed the positive vibes.

USC will play for its third coach this year with Clay Helton taking command for now. With Steve Sarkisian next in line, but only observing, a team that already lacked discipline can’t be counted on to give a determined effort.

Another factor working against USC is that it will be without two starting offensive linemen, as tackle Aundrey Walker and center Marcus Martin are out with knee injuries.

The Bulldogs have not been underdogs all season, but expect them to be barking as 6-point ’dogs in this situation. I also like Fresno State for a small money-line play in the plus-220 range.

Three more plays for upcoming bowls:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, today

■ San Diego State (-1½) over Buffalo — The talent gap between the Mountain West and the Mid-American Conference is substantial. Although it laid an egg in a 45-19 loss at UNLV in its regular-season finale, San Diego State had won seven of its previous eight games. The only defeat during that stretch came in overtime against Fresno State. I made the Aztecs 7-point favorites over the Bulls.

New Orleans Bowl, today

■ Tulane (-2) over Louisiana-Lafayette — With star quarterback Terrance Broadway expected to miss another game due to a wrist injury, Lafayette isn’t playing with a full deck. Without Broadway, the Ragin’ Cajuns got smashed 30-8 at South Alabama their last time out. Tulane has a 7-1 spread record in its past eight games, while Lafayette has dropped five in a row against the number. The Green Wave won five of their six home games straight up and against the spread.

Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl, Monday

■ East Carolina (-14) over Ohio — Eight of the Pirates’ nine wins were by 14 points or more, so I won’t hesitate to lay the double-digit number. East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden has enjoyed a stellar season, connecting on 71 percent of his passes for 3,866 yards. Carden has a 32-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Ohio limped down the stretch, losing three of its past four games by margins of 27, 49 and 31 points.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 35-39-3

Brian Edwards of VegasInsider.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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