The Bulldogs milk the clock

Fresno State controlled the ball for more than two-thirds of the game against what was once a potent Boise State offense, holding the Broncos to their lowest scoring output since 1999. When California beat USC in 2003, the Golden Bears followed the same script. Notre Dame nearly won with the same formula this year.

Poise under center

The Trojans faced an excellent quarterback in each of the three games -- Oregon, Arizona State and Notre Dame -- they struggled this year. Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar, a four-year starter, is the school's career leader in touchdown passes and has completed 64.5 percent of his throws.

Hobble the secondary

USC's defense has improved since the Notre Dame game, but that's not saying too much. The secondary, hampered by injury all season, is still vulnerable. USC ranks 70th nationally against the pass. Fresno State has eight receivers with double-digit catches and has a balanced attack: 19 passing touchdowns, 21 rushing.

Avoid the big play

Notre Dame almost made the play in the secondary to stop USC on fourth and nine, but not quite. Fresno State is 19th nationally in pass-efficiency defense and has the cornerbacks to challenge USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett. Fresno State has the best group of cornerbacks it has ever had, led by Richard Marshall, who has three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Special teams advantage

Unless Reggie Bush returns a punt, expect Fresno State to get the nod in the kicking game. The Bulldogs rank second nationally in punt returns and seventh in kickoff returns. What's more, the Trojans are 106th in net punting.

Quintessential BCS Busters

Fresno State is 10-7 in its past 17 games against BCS schools. Many of the players competed at top-ranked Oklahoma two years ago. The Bulldogs tried to schedule an SEC team or another Pac-10 school this season, but two turned them down. Just ask Virginia, UCLA, Kansas State or Colorado if Fresno State can play.

The common opponent

Both teams played at Oregon in consecutive weeks with varying results. USC trailed 13-0 before waking up and scoring 45 unanswered points. Fresno State led 17-0 before falling, 37-34, in a game that the Pac-10 office has since acknowledged was poorly officiated.

Trojans eyeing Bruins

It is understandable if USC players treat this as an NFL regular season game, unintentionally looking ahead to a more glamorous game against UCLA on Dec. 3. As for Fresno State, the Bulldogs just won what amounts to the conference title game (against Boise State), and this is their Super Bowl.