USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr both grew up and played high school football in Bakersfield.
So the city located about two hours north of Los Angeles, and two hours south of Fresno, could be split when USC plays Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21.
“People in Bakersfield are making it a big deal,” Kessler said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Kessler, a third-year sophomore who attended Bakersfield Centennial High, and Carr, a fifth-year senior who played at Bakersfield Christian High, have worked out together and have been friends for about six years. Kessler saw Carr’s father, Rodger, at a high school game in Bakersfield last Friday.
“We talked about how awesome it would be if we get to play and we found out two days later we’d get to,” Kessler said.
On Sunday, Kessler said he traded texts with Derek “about how excited we are about this opportunity.”
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Carr is the brother of David Carr, who starred at quarterback for Fresno State and was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NFL draft.
Derek has led Fresno State to an 11-1 record and has passed for a nation-leading 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns, with seven interceptions.
Kessler, 6-1 and 215 pounds, has passed for 2,623 yards and 16 touchdowns, with six interceptions.
Fresno State has a large following throughout the Central Valley.
“Especially in Bakersfield,” Derek Carr said. “You drive around town you see Bulldog flags, you see Bulldog signs up in restaurants. There’s no pro sports in the valley.
“Football-wise, it’s Fresno State. Everyone is a Bulldog fan. Especially when everything is going right.”
Safety Dion Bailey, defensive back Josh Shaw, linebacker Hayes Pullard and defensive linemen George Uko each said after Tuesday’s practice that he would wait until after the bowl game to decide whether to make himself available for the NFL draft.
Uko said he had submitted paperwork with the NFL for a draft evaluation and had spoken with new USC Coach Steve Sarkisian.
“He just said, ‘See where you are after your evaluation, talk to your family and do what’s best for you,’” Uko said.
The players said the Trojans would remain focused for the bowl game.
“Once we found out we’re playing Fresno State — they’re a very good football team,” Shaw said. “Especially for us on the defensive side. They’ve got a great quarterback, a great receiving corps and it’s the best passing attack we’ve faced so far this season.
“So we can’t go out there and go through the motions. Otherwise, we will get beat.”
The Trojans are off until Saturday. They will practice Saturday and Sunday and then take Monday off. USC will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before departing for Las Vegas.
Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this story.