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USC vs. Colorado Football Prediction and Preview

USC Football: Kedon Slovis Puts on a Show for the Trojans

Pac-12 teams hoping to turn things around get together on Saturday when Kedon Slovis and the Trojans pay a visit to the Buffaloes

The USC Trojans and Colorado Buffaloes, both desperate for a win, are set to meet this week in Boulder for a pivotal Pac-12 South matchup on Saturday.

USC got off to a strong start in the post-Clay Helton era with a 45-14 victory over Washington State two weeks ago but came back to earth with a 45-27 upset loss at home to Oregon State last weekend. The Trojans are now 2-2 overall and 1-2 in conference play, 1-1 under interim head coach Donte Williams. 

The Buffs opened the season with a 35-7 victory over FCS member Northern Colorado but have scored a combined 20 points in three losses since. Last week, Colorado fell 35-13 to Arizona State in its Pac-12 opener.

Colorado is still looking for its first win against USC. They first met in 1927, but the Buffs are winless in 14 games, including nine since Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011.

USC at Colorado

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2, at 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: USC -7.5

When USC Has the Ball

Jaxson Dart provided a spark for the USC offense in the win over Washington State, and if not for a knee injury that has sidelined him since, Dart might challenge Kedon Slovis for the starting quarterback spot. Dart's four touchdown passes in relief against the Cougars are as many as Slovis has in four starts this season. Slovis has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 842 yards (6.5 yards per attempt, which ranks No. 92 nationally and ninth in the Pac-12), with four touchdowns and four interceptions — three of them coming in the loss last week. Slovis has had lots of success, including more than 3,500 passing yards as a true freshman and a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection in 2020, but he has struggled lately, and the Trojans have struggled as a result.

Fortunately, Slovis can rely on wide receiver Drake London, who has played like an All-American despite playing through nagging injuries during the first four games. London leads the nation with 135.0 receiving yards per game, and he's tied for the lead with 39 receptions, three of them touchdowns. Tahj Washington (15 rec., 175 yds., TD) and Gary Bryant Jr. (12, 89, 2) have helped, but London is the go-to weapon for USC. The USC running game has shown modest improvement in 2021 as the Trojans have averaged 117.3 rushing yards per contest compared to 97.3 last season. Keaontay Ingram (225 yards, 3 TDs) and Vavae Malepeai (180 yds.) have split the workload.

When Colorado Has the Ball

USC's offensive struggles are nothing compared to Colorado. Against FBS competition, the Buffs have averaged 6.7 points and 191.0 total yards per game, both of which rank dead last among the 130 FBS teams. Colorado has averaged 4.10 yards per play in those contests, which is worse than all but five others. Only Vanderbilt (4.01) is worse among Power 5 teams.

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The Buffs rank last in the Pac-12 and No. 128 in FBS (ahead of triple-option teams Army and Navy, and one spot behind Air Force) with 85.0 passing yards per game, which is a drop of 116.5 yards per contest from last year's attack that ranked No. 10 in the conference and 87th overall. Only Connecticut (3.9) averages fewer yards per pass attempt than Colorado (4.2). Quarterback Brendon Lewis, who had competed with Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout for the job before Shrout suffered a knee injury in fall camp, has completed 52.1 percent of his passes for 313 yards and one touchdown with one interception in four starts. No Colorado player has more than 45 receiving yards.

A true bright spot last year, the rushing attack has also taken a step back. Jarek Broussard leads the Buffs with 188 rushing yards on 44 attempts, and Alex Fontenot, who like Broussard has two rushing touchdowns to his credit, has gained 148 yards on the ground on 37 carries. Lewis is a capable runner and has 132 rushing yards on 34 attempts, and Ashaad Clayton (84 yds., TD) and Deion Smith (33, TD) round out a deep running back group. A top 25 rushing attack last year with 212.3 yards per game on the ground, Colorado ranks 79th in 2021 (154.0).

Final Analysis

Helton was fired in large part because USC's win-loss record rarely met its talent profile. Last week's loss to Oregon State in the Coliseum is a perfect example of the type of game the Trojans shouldn't lose, so obviously the problems won't be fixed right away. But can Colorado pull off a similar upset?

The Buffs have a solid defense led by linebacker Nate Landman and edge Carson Wells and even picked up an unexpected bonus with the recently renewed eligibility of former All-Pac-12 defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson after he was not selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. It's unclear how much Johnson will play in his first game back, but the Buffs can use all the help they can get right now. Given Slovis' recent ineffectiveness, Colorado could give USC's offense trouble —especially if the unit can limit London's production.

Unfortunately, Johnson doesn't play offense and won't be able to help Colorado's banged-up offensive line. Unless the Buffs do a better job opening holes for running backs and keeping Lewis clean (Colorado has allowed 10.0 sacks, an average of 2.5 per contest — some of which can be attributed to the quarterback as well), the unit simply won't score enough.

This is a game the Trojans should win. Emphasis on the word "should."

Prediction: USC 31, Colorado 21

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— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and managing editor of CFBWinningEdge. Follow him on Twitter @CFBWinningEdge.