CU opponent glance
Opponent: USC Trojans
Game time: Saturday, 2:10 p.m. MDT, at the Los Angeles Coliseum
Coach: Clay Helton, 2nd season (8-7)
Record: 2-3, 1-2 Pac-12
Last week: Beat Arizona State, 41-20
Key players: QB Sam Darnold, Fr. (55 of 81, 741 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT; 2 rush TD); RB Justin Davis, Sr. (60 carries, 384 yards, 2 TD); DE Porter Gustin, So. (34 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks); CB/KR/PR Adoree Jackson, Jr. (21 tackles, 1 INT; 10 kickoff returns, 311 yards, 1 TD; 5 punt returns, 118 yards, 1 TD); WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jr. (26 catches, 320 yards, 5 TD)
Notable: The Trojans snapped a two-game skid with its rout of ASU. … CU will be the Trojans’ fourth ranked opponent. So far, they are 0-3 in those games, losing to Alabama, Stanford and Utah. … USC is 10-0 all-time against Colorado, but this marks just the third time the Trojans haven’t come into the game without a national ranking (also 1927 and 2015). … USC is 2-0 at home this season.
The Colorado football team continues to play high-caliber football, and people are starting to notice.
On Sunday, the Buffaloes entered the Top 25 national rankings for the first time in 11 years, landing at No. 21 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the Amway Coaches’ poll.
This is the first time CU has been ranked since Nov. 6, 2005, when it was No. 22 in the AP and No. 21 in the coaches poll. Six days later, the Buffs lost at Iowa State to spark a 10-game losing streak.
Since then, the Buffs have had four different head coaches (including an interim coach), changed conferences and endured 10 consecutive losing seasons. CU’s string of eight consecutive seasons without a bowl berth is the longest among Power 5 conference teams.
The Buffs (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) are off to a great start this season, however, and Sunday’s return to the Top 25 is further evidence that the tide is turning in Boulder. At No. 21, the Buffs have their highest AP ranking since Sept. 7, 2003, when they were at No.17.
“It’s amazing right now; 4-1,” said junior receiver Shay Fields, who endured 2-10 and 4-9 seasons his first two seasons at CU. “We still have some great things to do in the future, but just cherish the moment right now.”
The Buffs routed Oregon State 47-6 on Saturday and sit alone atop the Pac-12 South division. They have won back-to-back conference games for the first time since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
“We’re just playing ball,” Fields said after Saturday’s game. “If we happen to get into the top 25, that’s great. We still have work to do.”
According to ESPN’s FPI ratings, the Buffs have a better than 50-percent chance to win five of their last seven games.
The next game, Saturday at USC (2-3, 1-2) is one in which the Buffs won’t be favored, but head coach Mike MacIntyre likes his team’s chances if they keep doing what they’ve done all season.
“Every week we’ve gotten better,” MacIntyre said. “We’ve got to keep doing that, because we have seven really good teams left to play and a lot of hard venues and a lot of great games. Our guys have got to work and get ready for USC.”
Not long ago, the Buffs and their fans weren’t too thrilled about getting ready for opponents such as USC. This is a much different team than the ones that took the field in CU’s first five Pac-12 seasons, however.
“We’re a good football team,” said MacIntyre, who came to CU in 2013 after rebuilding the program at San Jose State. “That’s the good thing, we don’t have as many kids anymore; we’ve got some men. They’re getting more professional. As you mature, that’s what happens. The less teenagers you have playing the better off you are, I think.”
One teenager who is playing is quarterback Steven Montez. A 19-year-old redshirt freshman from El Paso, Tex., Montez has filled in for injured senior Sefo Liufau the past two weeks and led the Buffs to victories against Oregon and Oregon State.
“Just the desire to be the best,” he said of what drives him. “I just go out there and work every practice and I just try to make my family happy, trying to make El Paso proud and just go out there and play my game and be me.”
That’s been the approach of all the Buffs, who believe that if each player does his best in his specific role, the results will be positive. So far, they have been, and the vision MacIntyre had nearly four years ago is coming into focus.
“I used to tell them all the time when I was first recruiting this bunch of guys, all these seniors and redshirt juniors, ‘Come on with me, but we’re getting in a rollercoaster,'” MacIntyre said. “‘You’re getting in the roller coaster at the bottom. When you say you’re going to come (to CU), I’m going to lock it on you quick so you can’t get out. I want you to lock in and I want you to stay with me.’ They’ve stayed with me.”
And, now, finally, the Buffaloes are experiencing success they haven’t had in years.
“They’ll be ready to play (at USC), I guarantee you,” MacIntyre said. “They’ve tasted it now and it tastes sweet and I know they want to keep tasting it. They’ll keep moving in the right direction.”
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.