By Greg Beacham, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Colorado’s first game as a ranked team in nearly 11 years is a prime chance for the Buffaloes to prove they’re serious about contending with the Pac-12’s perennial powers.
It’s also a chance for one of those perennial powers to continue climbing.
No. 21 Colorado (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) puts its program resurgence to its stiffest test yet Saturday against Southern California (2-3, 1-2), which has dominated this matchup since 1927. These aren’t the same Buffaloes who lost 40 conference games over the past five years, but coach Mike MacIntyre realizes they’ve got to show it on the Coliseum’s grand stage.
“How many times has Colorado played USC? 10,” MacIntyre said. “How many times have they beat them? Zero. So we have to earn our respect, there’s no doubt about it. It’s fun to do something that’s never been done. Hopefully we can do that. I think you always need a little bit of a chip on your shoulder in whatever you do. I think it gives you an added advantage.”
The experienced, veteran Buffs are the only team in the Pac-12 South without a conference loss, and they’re on their first Pac-12 winning streak since joining the league in 2011. They’re carrying momentum and confidence after beating Oregon during their strong start to MacIntyre’s fourth season.
But few teams have the overall talent level of the Trojans, who showed strong signs of revival last week while routing previously unbeaten Arizona State. USC lost three of its first four games away from home to ranked teams in coach Clay Helton’s first full season, but that talent was too much for the Sun Devils.
While the Trojans have never lost to the Buffs, they’ve never taken the matchup for granted. Colorado led for more than 30 minutes last season before Cody Kessler rallied USC to a win in Boulder.
“We’ve always known they have had players,” USC safety Chris Hawkins said. “Most of their players are from here, so I know (receiver) Devin Ross. I played (receiver) Bryce Bobo in high school. I know (receiver) Shay Fields. We know they have the good players. They were young. Now that they’re juniors and seniors, it is really showing how special they can be.”
Here are more things to know for Colorado’s visit to the Coliseum:
USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster broke out against Arizona State with three TD catches from freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. The job of slowing Smith-Schuster could largely fall to Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, a California native with NFL-caliber coverage skills.
The Buffs are the fourth ranked team faced already this season by USC, which is playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules, but this is the first of those games at home. Helton is hoping the Trojans have learned from taking their lumps against Alabama, Stanford and Utah. Colorado has only been ranked once in a previous matchup with USC — and the Trojans beat the Buffs 40-3 in Boulder in 2002.
MacIntyre hasn’t said whether freshman quarterback Steven Montez will make his third consecutive start. The Buffs have been waiting to gauge the health of career passing leader Sefo Liufau, who has an ankle injury. The change isn’t likely to alter Colorado’s game plan. “If you look at the tape, they are the same guy,” said Hawkins, the USC safety. “They can run. They are identical, and I think they are very interchangeable.”
USC offensive tackle Zach Banner is doubtful to play due to a sprained left ankle. He was held out of last week’s game, and a platelet-rich plasma injection this week didn’t appear to help. His absence could open an opportunity for the Buffaloes to put pressure on Darnold, who was outstanding in his first home start last week.
The Buffs are 2-19-1 in California, where they haven’t won since 2002. Colorado has 43 players from California on its roster, including that vaunted receiving group containing Ross, Bobo and Fields, who is aware of the Buffs’ winless record against USC. “You always want to do something that’s never been done in school history,” Fields said. “So that aspect adds a little bit of fire for us.”