USC and Colorado are on opposite ends of the football spectrum this season, but their game on Saturday carries significant stakes for both teams.
The No. 11 Trojans (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) are one win away from clinching the Pac-12 South title after beating Arizona 49-35 last week. They own tiebreakers over the Wildcats and Arizona State and a victory over the Buffaloes would lock up a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
For Colorado, bowl eligibility is on the line. The Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5) need a win over either USC or Utah in two weeks to assure a second straight bowl game. Colorado had Arizona State on the ropes for three quarters last week, but faded late in a 41-30 loss to the Sun Devils.
USC has never lost to Colorado. The Trojans hold an 11-0 lead in the all-time series — including six straight wins over the Buffaloes in Pac-12 play.
USC at Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: USC –13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can anyone slow down Ronald Jones II?
USC has a rich history when it comes to producing dominant running backs. Jones (above, right) is living up to that reputation quite nicely this season. Jones is tearing apart defenses from the backfield as the regular season winds down.
He has totaled 410 yards and five touchdowns on the ground over USC's past two games, helping the Trojans lock up a pair of critical victories over Arizona and Arizona State. Jones offers a dangerous blend of speed and athleticism. His skills perfectly complement what Sam Darnold brings to the passing game and give the Trojans' offense much needed balance.
Through nine games, Jones has run for 1,082 yards and 13 touchdowns. He only needs 19 more yards to pass Reggie Bush to rank ninth in USC history in career rushing yards.
Stopping him could be a problem Colorado. The Buffaloes allowed 381 rushing yards in their loss to the Sun Devils, with Demario Richard gashing their run defense for 189 yards on 25 carries on his own. Colorado has given up 199.3 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 11th among Pac-12 teams. Four opponents have rushed for at least 250 yards on the Buffaloes.
2. Can Colorado be more consistent on offense?
Finishing off drives has become a chore for Colorado at times this season. The Buffaloes are moving the ball down the field, but they aren't punching it in the end zone.
Colorado ranks in the middle of the Pac-12 in total offense, averaging 420.6 yards per game. The problem is that the Buffaloes are 11th in the league in scoring, producing just 28.0 points per game. They have especially struggled in games against ranked opponents, averaging just 5.0 points and 242.5 yards in those contests.
One thing that could help is feeding the ball more consistently to Phillip Lindsay. The senior running back ranks eighth nationally with 1,334 rushing yards. Colorado has a tendency to drift away from putting Lindsay to work in crunch time. In the fourth quarter against Arizona State, for example, he ran the ball just four times for 10 yards. That won't cut it against USC if the Buffaloes hope to spring an upset.
3. Will USC sneak into the College Football Playoff?
The idea that a two-loss USC team could snare one of the four playoff spots sounded unthinkable a couple of weeks ago. It isn't as far-fetched now as the season winds down.
If teams ahead of the Trojans keep losing, allowing them to climb up the polls. USC is just outside the top 10 in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings and is a favorite to win its next two games. Should the Trojans perform as expected, it may not be a stretch to see them near that No. 4 spot heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game. Several teams standing in their way will play one another before the end of the month.
Obviously, USC will need a ton of help — and possibly outright chaos — to get into that last slot. One thing favoring the Trojans going up against other one- and two-loss teams is a decent strength of schedule and no bad losses.
Colorado hasn't reached bowl games in back-to-back years since doing it in 2004 and '05 when the team still competed in the Big 12. It's a tough task for the Buffaloes to try to get bowl eligible against USC. The Trojans possess a potent offense and are good enough on defense to make it tough for Colorado to move the ball. USC has never lost to the Buffaloes and that perfect streak isn't likely to be marred this weekend.
Prediction: USC 31, Colorado 14
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.