USC started its season 3-2, firing coach Lane Kiffin after a blowout loss at Arizona State on Sep. 28.
On Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl, the Trojans completed an improbable 7-2 run under the direction of two interim coaches to finish the season 10-4.
USC beat No. 21 Fresno State 45-20, giving the Trojans their 32nd bowl win in program history.
"We came into this game wanting to make the Trojan family proud and I can't tell you how excited I am about the accomplishments they made," interim coach Clay Helton said after the game.
Kessler shines in Vegas
USC quarterback Cody Kessler had arguably his best game of the season against Fresno State.
Kessler finished 22 of 30 for 344 yards, including four touchdowns and one interception. It was the first-year starter's first time throwing more than two touchdowns in a single game.
His 344 passing yards set his new career high; his previous high was 297 versus Arizona.
"It was a great game today and it is 100 percent due to the offensive line," Kessler said after the game. "They studied film all week and worked so hard. It is due to them and our receivers who are freak athletes."
His longest throw of the day came on a 40-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter to Marqise Lee.
USC defense dominates, again
Fresno State entered Saturday's game against USC as one of the top offenses in the country, averaging over 500 yards per game and 45 points.
USC's defense held the Bulldogs to just 254 total yards of offense.
Helton credited defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast after the game for preparing the Trojans defense.
Shaw also praised Pendergast for his preparation of the defense.
"I've been in college football for four years now and have had a different defensive coordinator every year," Shaw explained. "Coach Pendergast is second to none."
Shaw's defensive effort limited Davante Adams, the nation's leader in receptions and touchdown receptions, to 9 catches for 74 yards and a single touchdown.
Cornerback Kevon Seymour led the Trojans' defense with seven tackles.
Every bullet fired
From kickoff it was clear interim coach Clay Helton meant what he said earlier in the week when preparing for Fresno State; his staff wasn't going to leave a single bullet in its gun by the time Saturday's game ended.
"We came into this game with a game plan to be ultra aggressive in all three phases of the game," Helton explained. "It didn't all work but we wanted that mindset from the start."
Helton went for the first down more than once on fourth and short, after scoring on the opening drive special teams attempted an onside kick, and the wildcat came out multiple times.
Lee doubles his touchdown total
Hard to believe, but 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee entered the Trojans 14th game of the season with only two touchdowns on the season.
He doubled that total against the Bulldogs.
The first came on the opening drive of the game for the Trojans on a ten-yard pass from Cody Kessler.
The second, Kessler found Lee 40-yards downfield for another score.
Lee finished with seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
Uko kicked out
USC defensive end George Uko was ejected from the game early in the third quarter after drawing a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Uko had been jawing with the ref earlier in the game, then later came in contact with the ref. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Five-star travels to the show
Spotted after the game? 2014 Garden (Calif.) Serra athlete Adoree Jackson.
Jackson is a five-star recruit who USC is very much in play for since the hiring of coach Steve Sarkisian. Jackson was talking with USC players by the locker room following the win.
Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl drew the second largest crowd in Sam Boyd Stadium history; it was also the second largest crowd in Las Vegas Bowl history.
42,178 was the official attendance.
The only game to draw more fans in the bowl game history and at Sam Boyd Stadium was the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl between BYU and Oregon, with 44,615 fans in attendance.
Las Vegas Bowl Awards
USC quarterback Cody Keslser was named the MVP of the game….center Abe Markowitz was named the offensive outperformer of the game…cornerback Kevon Seymour was named the defensive outperformer of the game.