When the USC Trojans host the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday, it will be their final game of the season against a team with no postseason outlook.
After this game, it's nothing but ranked opponents and a potential berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game, should the Trojans (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) beat UCLA next week.
But that just means this week's game against the Buffaloes (1-8, 1-5) is that much more important; USC cannot afford to overlook this game in anticipation of their upcoming opponents, or the Trojans will find those games stopped mattering because they lost to Colorado.
Of course, a Colorado win here would be a first. The Buffaloes have yet to beat the Trojans since joining the Pac-12 (0-10), and the vast majority of their victories have come by way of blowouts. Of the 15 total meetings, only four were within one score, the most recent close game coming in 2019 with USC winning 35-31.
With that in mind, let's explore the different avenues to success for each team.
Colorado at No. 8 USC
When Colorado Has the Ball
Colorado is about as anemic as it comes on offense. The Buffaloes have worked with two quarterbacks for most of the season, but J.T. Shrout has been the guy they've leaned on the most and will likely get the nod versus USC. This will be welcomed news to a USC defense that leads the nation in turnovers. Shrout is a 50 percent passer apt to throw as many interceptions as touchdowns.
When it comes to the run game, it's either Delon Smith or Anthony Hankerson, and neither back is very explosive. That said, USC doesn't have the stingiest run defense (142.2 ypg, 66th in the FBS), and with the injuries to the Trojan front seven, it wouldn't be surprising if the Buffaloes had one of their best rushing outings on the season. USC will need to be prepared for Colorado to test the durability of that front seven and to attack it often if they find it as soft as previous teams have found it to be.
When USC Has the Ball
It seems USC's offensive problems are a thing of the past, for now. When it comes to quarterback play in college football, it doesn't get much better than Caleb Wiliams. Williams has quietly been having one of the best seasons in FBS history, echoing shades of Kellen Moore's absurd campaign in 2009 when he threw for 39 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Williams is only 11 touchdowns away from beating Moore's record and has thrown one fewer interception.
The big question for USC is whether or not Jordan Addison and Mario Williams will be available at receiver. Both have been nursing injuries, and head coach Lincoln Riley knows that they're going to be more important to have available against UCLA and Notre Dame than against Colorado. If they're not quite ready, expect them to sit for one more game and expect the woes that have come along with their absence. Maybe lean on running back Travis Dye a touch, but know that he's had his struggles against Colorado in the past.
There really isn't much to say about this game prior to kickoff. Everything suggests USC should have a relatively easy afternoon. These are the type of games that are only news after they've been played and the upset has happened. USC knows this all too well from 2007 and Stanford. The Trojans are expected to win big, and unlike previous lines, this one is likely something USC can hit with ease under Riley.
The biggest issue for Riley in this game is avoiding injuries. As previously stated, USC's biggest games are on the horizon, and Riley is going to have to manage getting his guys their stats while making sure they're ready for the games that matter. Don't be surprised if players are pulled early in the event of a blowout and saved for the next few weeks. It's the smart and sensible thing to do when facing an opponent with the exact opposite record of your 8-1 team next.
Prediction: USC 50, Col 16
Podcast: Complete Week 11 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Kane Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.
*Price as of publication.