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Colorado Buffaloes vs. USC Trojans Preview and Prediction

Mike MacIntyre

Mike MacIntyre

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Arizona State saw USC’s full colors last week, as true freshman quarterback Sam Darnold unloaded for 352 yards and three touchdowns. JuJu Smith-Schuster did his usual dance all over the hearts of opposing defenders, going off for 123 yards and three touchdowns, while Deontay Burnett added in another 93 yards on just seven catches. Running back Justin Davis rounded out a complete performance with 123 yards on the ground and a touchdown.

As the Trojans look to build on the success of last week, in ride the No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes, whose only loss on the season came at the hands of Michigan. Even then, the Buffs led that game 21-7 before injuries took their toll. This is the 52nd time in school history that Colorado has opened up the season 4-1, and the Buffs have a chance to grab their second road win for the first time in 12 seasons. They’ll just have to beat a team they’ve never beaten before (0-10) to get the job done.

For USC, the Pac-12 standings have to look like something out of a foreign flick. Colorado and Washington lead the South and North, respectively, while Oregon, USC, and Arizona toil around at the bottom of the conference. USC may have one of the toughest schedules in the entire nation, but the Trojans have done themselves no favors by jumping out to such a poor start. A win over the Buffaloes would bring them back to .500 on the season and help position the Men of Troy for the second half of the season.

The Trojans did look magnificent in their last game. But more importantly, they looked like a complete team. Adoree’ Jackson and Porter Gustin teamed up with Cam Smith and several others in the secondary to completely limit ASU on offense. They’ll need to do so again against a team that is averaging 531.2 yards per game. These Buffs also manage 14.6 yards per pass, which will test that USC secondary and its prolific DBs all day long.

Colorado at USC

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 4 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: USC -4.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Sam Darnold Must Maintain Status Quo

It’s really not fair to ask this of Darnold, but a scholarship, particularly a quarterback scholarship, comes with a ton of expectations, especially at a high-profile program like USC. If a young prospect truly wants to blossom into a household name in Los Angeles, backing away from a fight isn’t going to earn you any points. More to the point, this was a guy who pushed Max Browne until the very last possible moment; he’d best be able to deliver and last Saturday proved he was game.

Now Darnold must roll that into continued success. Colorado may not be packed with names, but they have players that USC wanted (see: Shay Fields) and a number of those guys will be all too happy to kick the Trojans while they’re down. Regardless of its record right now, Colorado has never beaten USC and thus the target looms larger than ever. A win pads the Buffaloes’ resume even more and grows their lead in the Pac-12 South.

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2. It’s Sefo Liufau’s Time to Shine (Maybe)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I pegged Liufau as one of the most talented players in the Pac-12. I’d like to think I knew then what the nation knows now, but I was probably just guessing even then. That said, Liufau is currently one of the most talented players in the conference and his accolades are only rising. It was USC that knocked out Liufau with a Lisfranc injury last year, he’ll definitely be looking for revenge, provided he has recovered from the ankle injury that’s caused him to the miss the last two games.

Despite the injury, Liufau is off to a tremendous start this season, boasting a QB rating of 182 and averaging 256 passing yards per game. Wide receiver Shay Fields, a former USC recruiting target, already has nine plays from scrimmage that have gone for 50 yards or more. Fields is averaging 21.9 yards per catch and will give that USC secondary plenty to think about.

And if Liufau’s ankle injury prevents him from playing, head coach Mike MacIntyre will have no problem handing the reins of the offense over to backup quarterback Steven Montez. The freshman from El Paso, Texas, has thrown for 626 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in leading Colorado to wins over Oregon and Oregon State the last two weeks. He’s also added 163 yards and a score on the ground.

3. Turnovers into Points

The sample size for USC isn’t overwhelming, but the Trojans are a team that do much better when they can force turnovers and manufacture points off those takeaways. Losses tend to happen when the Trojans are on the wrong side of the turnover margin. As things stand right now, the Buffs are tied for No. 23 in the nation turnover margin (+4).

In games like this, it’s the small things that can see you through to the end. If USC can hang onto the football, the Trojans have enough of an offense to give Colorado everything it can handle and then some. Mistakes and sloppy play from USC, however, will only help fuel an already-confident Colorado team that’s looking to make history, and a statement.

Final Analysis

Going with the logical conclusion when picking USC doesn’t seem to work as often as one would expect. USC is, by its very being, an unpredictable and unknowable commodity. The talent the Trojans put on the field suggests that 10 wins should be the minimum for a program of this caliber. The eye-test tells you that 10 wins are a long way off, but the results always seem to bring the Trojans close to mid-level expectations – 8-10 wins.

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I’m throwing logic out the window on this one. Colorado is a team USC has been accustomed to beating down on an annual basis. Supposed Heisman Trophy campaigns from Cody Kessler and Matt Barkley have jumpstarted because of thrilling performances against the Buffaloes. We’re talking six-touchdown days for those young quarterbacks. However, this year’s Colorado team looks like anything but one that plans to get run over by the Trojans again.

Last year’s game was a reminder that these Buffaloes are getting better and better. This is the year they finally get one back on the Trojans.

Prediction: Colorado 32, USC 28

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California.