LAS VEGAS — This was no Freedom Bowl Redux.
Neither was it a repeat of last year's Hawaii Bowl.
Don't get me wrong. Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl was a blowout that at times bordered on debacle.
But there's a simple reason Fresno State looked so helpless, so overmatched while being pantsed 45-20 by USC on national television:
The Trojans were a better football team. When properly motivated and inspired, they proved miles better.
Incredulous Red Wavers won't like reading this, but there were long stretches where Fresno State didn't belong on the same field as USC.
And I mean long stretches. Like the entire first half.
The Trojans were bigger, stronger and faster than the opponents the Bulldogs are accustomed to playing. It showed.
"Physically, they were the most impressive team we've played in two years," Fresno State Coach Tim DeRuyter said.
Take USC cornerback Josh Shaw, who drew the assignment of covering All-Everything receiver Davante Adams.
Shaw, a senior from Palmdale, is listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. That doesn't sound imposing, but you should see the guy up close. He has muscles bulging out of muscles.
"He's a big dude," Adams said of Shaw. "He definitely looked the part."
Everywhere the 6-2, 212-pound Adams went, Shaw followed. It didn't matter if Adams lined up by himself on one side of the formation or bunched among four receivers on the other.
Shaw never let Adams out of his sight, or arm's reach. He had the strength to play bump-and-run and the speed to stick to Fresno State's No. 1 receiver like Super Glue.
Adams wound up with nine catches for 74 yards and a touchdown, but not because Shaw got beat. Adams is skilled enough to make tough catches in traffic.
"I face receivers like that every day in practice," Shaw said.
Which ought to tell you something.
To have any chance of winning, the Bulldogs needed a stellar outing from Derek Carr in his final college game.
They didn't get it.
The presumptive top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft wasn't even the best quarterback at Sam Boyd Stadium. That honor belonged to Cody Kessler, Carr's Bakersfield homie.
While Carr overthrew deep balls, grabbed at his injured left shoulder and argued with the refs over calls, which is uncharacteristic, Kessler showed nimbleness and poise.
On USC's first drive, Kessler picked up a key first down by changing directions and firing an accurate strike to a moving target. On the second, he hung in against the rush before lobbing a deep pass for a 40-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor.
By halftime, the Trojans were ahead 35-6 and Kessler already owned the Las Vegas Bowl record for touchdown passes.
Will Carr's sub-par outing (30 of 54 for 217 yards) hurt his draft stock? Who knows? But it certainly didn't help the Bulldogs.
From the opening kick, it was apparent Fresno State was going to have a tough time on defense. The Bulldogs couldn't cover receivers Marqise Lee or Agholor, or pressure the quarterback without bringing the house.
That put the onus on Carr to match Kessler score-for-score, which quickly proved impossible.
Carr didn't get time to throw. His receivers didn't get separation. Those quick screens that gained 7 or 8 yards against New Mexico went nowhere against the Trojans.
The Bulldogs had not played a defense as talented as USC all season -- and it showed. Their 254 yards of total offense, more than 300 below normal, don't lie.
All week, the biggest question surrounding the Trojans was where their heads would be. It was a valid question because USC barely showed up for last year's Sun Bowl (a 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech) and was playing for its third head coach.
That question got answered in a hurry. Trojans players scrawled "Coach O" on their arms (in tribute to ex-interim coach Ed Orgeron) and celebrated touchdowns en masse with sideline dancing sessions.
Credit current interim coach Clay Helton. I doubt George Washington's troops were any more motivated on that Christmas night in 1776 while crossing the Delaware River.
Saturday was nothing like last year's 43-10 Hawaii Bowl blowout loss to Southern Methodist.
In that game, the Bulldogs acted like they would win by just showing up. They were distracted and ill-prepared.
That wasn't the case against USC. Fresno State needed to have all cylinders firing just to have a chance.
"I think if we would have played our best game, it may have been different," DeRuyter said.
Perhaps. But based on what I saw Saturday, it's tough to make that case.
Losing to USC by 25 points, in a game that wasn't that close, will only embolden the detractors that claimed Fresno State had no business in the BCS discussion.
I'm sure anyone who watched ABC's telecast got an earful already.
And maybe the critics are right. Maybe even during the Bulldogs' best season in two decades they're still not as good as the Trojans in an average one.
Not sure there's any shame in that. Not when USC has every possible advantage in recruiting, training and facilities.
"There's critics out there, and everyone's got an opinion," DeRuyter said. "But I know in my heart we had a really, really fine football team."
Bulldogs fans know that, too. Even if USC is better.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, email@example.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.