Buffaloes at a glance
Record: 4-6 (1-5 Pac-12); lost vs. Stanford, 42-10, last week.
Passing — Sefo Liufau, Jr.: 208 of 337, 2,324 yards, 9 TD, 6 INT.
Rushing — Phillip Lindsay, So.: 107 carries, 503 yards, 5 TD.
Receiving — Nelson Spruce, Sr.: 67 catches, 728 yards, 2 TD.
Tackles — Rick Gamboa, Fr.: 68 tackles (37 solo).
3 questions facing CU
1. Will mistakes cost the Buffs another game?
Quite often, the Buffs come away from losses talking about how they beat themselves. Turnovers, a blown assignment here or there, or an untimely penalty have been devastating to this team. Some of the mistakes have been huge (such as Liufau’s two interceptions against UCLA) and others are more subtle. This team has a knack for getting slapped with drive-killing 5-yard false start penalties and things of that nature.
2. How will CU compete at the line of scrimmage?
Two weeks ago, CU’s offensive and defensive lines both played well. The Buffs ran the ball well on offense and did a solid job defensively to stop the run. That’s a big reason why they almost pulled off an upset. Last week, Stanford had its way with the Buffs up front, and CU lost by 32 points. The Buffs have to be strong up front against the Trojans.
3. Can the Buffs outscore the Trojans?
While CU’s defense is much improved this year, it’s going to have a hard time stopping the USC offense. The Trojans rank second in the Pac-12 at 37.4 points per game, while CU has given up at least 35 points to five of its six Pac-12 opponents. Chances are, USC finds a way to put 35 points on the board. That’s bad news for the Buffs, who have topped the 31-point mark just twice (against UMass and Nicholls). CU likely needs its best offensive showing of the season.
Bottom line: While the Buffs continue to play most teams close, they have proven over the past two seasons that their margin for error is razor thin. Yeah, CU’s had a lot of narrow losses in the past two seasons, and that’s a sign of progress, but the Buffs are never going to take the next step if they don’t play sharp. Against a team as talented as USC, the Buffs have to play well from start to finish. If they do, they’ve got a shot. If they don’t, this one could get away from them in a hurry.
Trojans at a glance
Record: 6-3 (4-2 Pac-12); beat Arizona, 38-30, last week.
Passing — Cody Kessler, Sr.: 196 of 283, 2,511 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT.
Rushing — Ronald Jones II, Fr.: 89 rushes, 710 yards, 6 TD.
Receiving — JuJu Smith-Schuster, So.: 60 catches, 1,094 yards, 9 TD.
Tackles — Cameron Smith, Fr.: 72 tackles (43 solo), 3 INT.
3 questions facing USC
1. Will the offensive line continue to hold up?
Just like CU, the Trojans have had a bunch of injuries to their linemen. Despite that, USC has managed to do a nice job of blocking for its running backs and giving Kessler adequate protection to throw the ball. Facing CU’s improved defensive front, the Trojans have to be solid with their line.
2. Can the Trojans bury the Buffs early?
In 2011, CU took an early 7-0 lead against the Trojans but USC scored the next 28 points. In the past three meetings, the Trojans have jumped to leads of 19-0, 23-0 and 28-0. In every one of their four Pac-12 meetings with CU, the Trojans have put the game away by halftime. Kessler and his mates would love to put this one away early, too.
3. Will USC’s defense keep the CU offense the field?
When CU’s offense is allowed to keep the ball and run play after play, the Buffs generally find a way to hang around and keep games close. Last week, Stanford limited CU to 53 plays and blew out the Buffs. USC is No. 2 in the Pac-12 in third-down defense, allowing just 35.1 percent of conversions, while CU is 11th in third-down offense, converting just 36.8 percent of the time. That pair of stats plays right into the hands of USC.
Bottom line: Since Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011, USC has had its way with the Buffs. It’s been four blowout wins in four years for USC, as the Trojans have simply overmatched the Buffs in terms of speed and talent. This is probably the best CU team USC has faced in recent years, but USC still has more talent than the Buffs (and most teams). The Trojans have to take advantage of that once again.
— Brian Howell