The Trojans begin the Steve Sarkisian era when they host the Bulldogs from Fresno State Saturday at the Coliseum (7:30 pm ET, Fox). Here's our take on this match-up, with a free NCAAF pick tossed in for your consideration.

The Betting Odds
As of Thursday AM the best line we could find on Southern Cal was the -21.5 (-106) offered at Pinnacle, while Fresno State could be gotten at +22 at Heritage. And most shops were listing the college football odds for the total at 58.

 

The Match-Up
USC returns 13 starters from a team that played through a mess of distractions last year to go 10-4, with a bowl victory over Fresno State. Seven starters are back on offense, led by junior QB Cody Kessler (65 percent completions, 20/7 TD/INT last year), RB Javorius Allen (5.8 yards per carry, 14 TDs last year), leading receiver Nelson Agholor and three along the offensive line. And six starters are back on defense, including last year's top three tacklers.

The Trojans averaged 30 points per game last year, and allowed 21 PPG. We wouldn't be surprised if they improved upon both those figures this season.

Fresno State, meanwhile, returns 13 starters from a team that went 11-2 and won the Mountain West last year. Five starters are back on offense, including last year's top two rushers, but the 'Dogs will have to replace QB Derek Carr, who threw 50 touchdowns last season, and his top two receivers, Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse, who combined to catch 230 balls last year for 2,700 yards.

But eight starters are back for Fresno State on defense, including last year's top six tacklers.

The Bulldogs averaged 43 points per game last year, while allowing 30 PPG. They will not come close to matching that figure on offense this year, but could improve upon that second figure.

This game is a rematch of last December's Las Vegas Bowl, a 45-20 USC victory. The Trojans jumped out to a 35-6 halftime lead and coasted home from there, easily covering the spread as six-point favorites.

Southern Cal out-gained Fresno State that day 501-254, held the ball for almost 39 minutes and limited Carr, a second-round NFL draft choice, to 217 passing yards on 54 pass attempts.

 

The Coaches
Sarkisian used to be the OC at USC during some of the glory days under Pete Carroll. He then went to Washington and took a team that went 0-12 the year before he got there to five, then seven, seven, seven and nine victories, and four straight bowls.

Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter, in his third season in charge, comes from a defensive background, serving as Texas A&M's defensive coordinator in 2010-11. In 2012 he guided the Bulldogs, who had gone 4-9 the year before, to nine wins and a share of the Mountain West title, and last year they beat Utah State in the Mountain West championship game. The Bulldogs are 20-6 SU, 15-10-1 ATS under DeRuyter.

 

Bulldogs-Trojans Betting Trends
Fresno State is 0-2 SU, 1-1 ATS against ranked teams under DeRuyter.

 

Free NCAAF Pick
If the Trojans can beat the Bulldogs with Carr and company by 25 points, they should be able to handle the 'Dogs without Carr. So we'll give the points and go with USC for our free college football pick on Saturday's contest.