USC 38, Colorado 24
How it happened: CU's offense sputtered early, and the Trojans took advantage of the Buffs' mistakes (including two missed field goals and an interception return for touchdown) to build a 27-0 lead. CU rallied, but it wasn't enough to overcome the start.
Turning point: After a scoreless first quarter, USC scored early in the second quarter, forced a CU punt and then scored again to take a 14-0 lead. CU never recovered.
CU's stars of the game
WR Juwann Winfree: Caught five passes for a career-high 163 yards and his first two CU touchdowns.
S Afolabi Laguda: Finished with six tackles and a pass breakup and was solid in stopping the run.
QB Steven Montez: Threw for a career-high 376 yards and two touchdowns and helped the Buffs rally late.
Bottom line: CU's season now comes down to the finale at Utah on Nov. 25. At 5-6, the Buffs will need a win in Salt Lake City to secure bowl eligibility.
Colorado senior center Jonathan Huckins set his helmet on the grass and stood alone, with hands on hips, soaking in the view before walking off the Folsom Field turf.
"One last time," he said.
Huckins and 20 other CU seniors played their final game at Folsom Field on Saturday, and while they've admired the view from the picturesque stadium for the past several years, they left with the bitter taste of a 38-24 loss to No. 15 Southern California.
"I just wish I could send out the rest of my brothers in the senior class with a win," senior safety Afolabi Laguda said. "Just to lose at home on senior day is tragic. There's no words for that. It hurts."
It especially hurts because it has set up a must-win scenario in two weeks at Utah.
CU (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) will have a bye next week before heading to Salt Lake City to face the Utes (5-5, 2-5) on Nov. 25. There's an outside chance the Buffs could sneak into a bowl with a 5-7 record, but more than likely would need the win at Utah to reach the postseason for the second year in a row.
The Buffs lost their second in a row, fell below the .500 mark for the first time since 2015 and remained winless (0-12) against the Trojans (9-2, 7-1), who clinched the Pac-12 South title with the win.
"We had some critical mistakes and kind of gave them the game," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "(The Trojans are) the most talented team in our league year in and year out. We had some opportunities tonight and squandered it away."
The Buffs struggled on offense early, had two field goals blocked and had a Steven Montez pass picked off by Ajene Harris and returned 34 yards for a touchdown just 19 seconds before the half.
All of that contributed to a 27-0 deficit that too big to overcome.
"We've shot ourselves in the foot two games in a row here," MacIntyre said. "We can't do that."
USC took full advantage, behind star quarterback Sam Darnold, who threw for 329 yards and two first-half touchdowns and scored on a third-quarter touchdown run. Ronald Jones II added 142 yard and a touchdown on the ground for the Trojans, who will play in the Pac-12 title game for the second time in the past three years.
"We weren't in this position last year and now we are," USC head coach Clay Helton said. "Credit goes to a bunch of great kids and the staff working together. Now we have an opportunity to represent the South in the Pac-12 Championship game."
The Buffs were in that game last year as South champs, but they looked nothing like that squad for much of the day Saturday.
It took a four-touchdown deficit to wake up the Buffs.
Two plays after Darnold's touchdown run made it 27-0 with 9:14 to play in the third, Montez connected with Juwann Winfree for a 79-yard touchdown pass. It was the longest play of the year for the Buffs and Winfree's first touchdown with CU.
On the ensuing USC possession, CU freshman Nate Landman blocked a punt and Kyle Trego returned it 21 yards to the USC 1. That set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Phillip Lindsay.
Another Montez-to-Winfree touchdown, this one from 57 yards out, cut the deficit to 38-24 with 7:35 to play, but that's as close as the Buffs would get.
"The way we battled we showed a lot of grit," said Montez, who finished with a career-high 376 yards passing, along with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
That grit helped the Buffs make it a game in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough to get that much-needed victory.
"It was real frustrating," said Winfree, who caught five passes for 163 yards. "We wanted this game real bad. We gave our all for it. To see it slip like that hurts. All it does is prepare us for the future and for more to come because we see where we lack in this game and things that we can do better - missed opportunities. It's more motivation. We have to pick it up for next week."
The Buffs now have just one more shot to get that coveted sixth win, and they'll have two weeks to prepare for it.
"They understand what's at stake and I think they'll be motivated during the (bye week)," MacIntyre said.
No. 15 Southern Cal 38, Colorado 24Southern Cal 0 20 10 8 — 38
Colorado 0 0 14 10 — 24
Second quarter: USC — Pittman 10 pass from Darnold (McGrath kick), 11:59 USC — Burnett 18 pass from Darnold (McGrath kick), 7:51 USC — Harris 34 interception return (kick failed), :19 Third quarter: USC — Darnold 24 run (McGrath kick), 9:14 COL — Winfree 79 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 8:34 COL — Lindsay 1 run (Stefanou kick), 5:30 USC — FG McGrath 26, 2:13 Fourth quarter: COL — FG Stefanou 39, 12:42 USC — R.Jones 22 run (Krommenhoek pass from Darnold), 8:56 COL — Winfree 57 pass from Montez (Stefanou kick), 7:35USC COL
First downs 23 23
Rushes-yards 38-193 34-110
Passing 329 376
Comp-Att-Int 21-34-0 27-49-2
Return Yards 63 99
Punts-Avg. 3-44.6 63-41.66
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 9-79 4-45
Time of Possession 31:30 28:30
RUSHING — Southern Cal, R.Jones 25-142, Darnold 3-31, Malepeai 3-10, Ware 2-7, Greene 1-4, V.Jones 1-3, (Team) 3-(minus 4). Colorado, Lindsay 20-68, Montez 12-40, Nixon 1-3, (Team) 1-(minus 1).
PASSING — Southern Cal, Darnold 21-34-0-329. Colorado, Montez 27-49-2-376.
RECEIVING — Southern Cal, Burnett 6-79, Vaughns 5-90, Mitchell 4-91, Pittman 4-59, R.Jones 1-6, V.Jones 1-4. Colorado, Bobo 10-113, Winfree 5-163, D.Ross 5-40, MacIntyre 3-33, Lindsay 2-11, Shenault 1-12, Fields 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Southern Cal, McGrath 40. Colorado, Stefanou 47, Stefanou 39.