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O/NSO: Colorado edition

The Obvious from Los Angeles: There are big games and then there are BIG games, and when the No. 19 and undefeated Colorado Buffaloes (5-0 overall, 2-0 Pac-12 South) visit the unranked USC Trojans (3-2 overall, 2-1 Pac-12 South) on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. PDT) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the inside track to the Pac-12 South Division title will be on the line.

The Not So Obvious: In fact, in the span of the next two weeks, the fate of the USC conference season could very well be etched in stone when you consider spotless Colorado is first up this weekend, and then the following weekend as the Trojans travel for a Saturday, Oct. 20, clash with the Utah Utes (3-2, 1-2 Pac-12 South), who are coming off last weekend’s impressive 40-21 victory over Stanford in Palo Alto. However, first up is the Buffaloes in what should be a war. One big glaring statistic in the Colorado/USC series is the fact that the Buffaloes have never beaten the Trojans in 12 efforts. The Buffs know this may be their best chance in a while to finally stick it to the Men of Troy.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 6 ½ -point favorite to defeat Colorado.

The Not So Obvious: Considering that Colorado is undefeated, that line may be surprising to some, but when you look at the Buffaloes schedule, you realize that they haven’t played a Texas or a Stanford for that matter. Colorado has previously defeated Colorado State (2-4), Nebraska (0-5), New Hampshire (1-4), UCLA (0-5), and ASU (3-3). The opponents’ records certainly raise into question just how strong is this Buffaloes team? As for the Trojans, one “X” factor may be the temperament of the Coliseum faithful. If Trojans fans show and are really ready to make a difference, it could be a real advantage. To add a little intrigue to the game, this is the first time the Trojans have faced an undefeated Colorado team, and for the Buffs, they face a Trojans team that has won 18 games in a row in the Coliseum .      

The Obvious: Saturday night’s game will be televised on FS1 (7:30 p.m. PDT/ 10:30 p.m. EDT).

The Not So Obvious: The FS1 broadcasters will be Joe Davis (play-by-play), Brady Quinn ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­(analyst) and Bruce Feldman (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday night’s Trojans’ radio broadcast from the Coliseum will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM (7:30 p.m. PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Not So Obvious: Trojans’ radio play-by-play announcer Pete Arbogast will be broadcasting his 300th Trojan football game this Saturday night, while radio analyst John Jackson and sideline reporter Jordan Moore will be handling their 75th USC football games in those roles (Jackson previously did 98 USC games as a sideline reporter).

The Obvious: The Trojans radio game broadcast will be preceded by a four-hour pregame show beginning at 3:30 p.m. (PDT) and featuring Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Andy Kamenetsky, Chris Hale, Nick Alfano, and WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.

The Not So Obvious: The Colorado broadcast can be heard on flagship station KOA 850 AM/94.1 FM with Mark Johnson (play-by-play), Gary Barnett (analysts) and Andy Lindall and Bobby Presavento (sidelines). Saturday night’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (online channels 125/147 or online channel 959 and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Pac-12 Network’s “The Pregame” show will also be on site for the game.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Los Angeles weather forecast calls for morning shower and mostly cloudy in the afternoon with a high of 68 degrees, a low of 59 degrees, 77 percent humidity, and 40 percent precipitation. Kickoff temp is expected to be 64 degrees.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether last week’s bye has improved the Trojans on both sides of the ball. Clay Helton, his staff, and the Trojans players c have had two weeks to prepare for the Buffaloes who figure to arrive in the Coliseum with plenty of confidence and motivation, especially with first place in the South Division on the line.

Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans can be a force against a Buffaloes’ defense that is 21st nationally in scoring defense. We’ll see how Trojans’ true freshman quarterback JT Daniels deals with the Buff’s pressure, and we’ll find out whether the Trojans’ offensive line can deal some of Colorado’s defensive stars like linebackers Nate Landman, Rick Gamboa, and Drew Lewis. Whether the Trojans can handle standout defensive end Mustafa Johnson and corner Delrick Abrams remains to be seen.

Defensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ defense can stop Colorado’s version of Reggie Bush in dynamic sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault (6-1, 215), who leads the nation in receptions and receiving yards (51 rec, 708 yds, 13.9 avg., 6 TD in 2018, plus 13 tcb., 41 yds, 3.2 avg., 4 TD). The Trojans have had success in stopping Buffaloes’ junior quarterback Steven Montez (115-of-153, 75.2%, 1,420 yds, 11TDs, 2 int. in 2018, plus 32 tcb, 125 yds, 3.9 avg., 3 TD), who is also a threat to run, so we’ll find out if the Trojans can mount a pass rush and contain a QB that engineers a powerful offense that’s in the Top 25 nationally in passing efficiency offense, total offense, and passing offense. Montez has completed 75.2% of his passes (ranking second nationally) and is also 10th in passing efficiency, 14th in total offense, 15th in passing yards and 19th in completions. Obviously, if the Trojans can’t mount a pass rush, the USC secondary will be severely challenged. Trojans’ DC Clancy Pendergast will need to also design a defensive scheme that also stops Buff’s tailback Travon McMillian (84 tcb, 528 yds, 6.3 avg, 4 TD in 2018, plus 3 rec, 6 yds, 2.0 avg.), who is 20th nationally in rushing, so we’ll find out whether the Trojans can stop a balanced attack.

On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll see whether the special teams can be a factor in a big game, especially USC sophomore placekicker Michael Brown (2-of-2 FG, 7-of-7 PAT in 2018) who has done a fine job filling in for original starter Chase McGrath, out for the season with an ACL. The Buffaloes have a “seasoned” placekicker in Australian 31-year-old sophomore James Stefanou (5-of-8 FG, 24-of-24 PAT in 2018), a 2017 Freshman All-American who has 22 career field goals.

The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense is averaging 24.6 points per game while the Colorado defense is allowing 18.0 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans’ defense is allowing 24.2 points per game while the Colorado offense is averaging 37.8 points per game.

The Obvious: Mike MacIntyre is in his 6th season as the Colorado head coach.

The Not So Obvious: One of the more outwardly enthusiastic coaches in the conference, MacIntyre’s Buffaloes are off to its best start (5-0) since 1998 and looking for its best 6-0 mark since 1994. After posting a 28-21 home victory over Arizona State this past Saturday, the Buffaloes remain the Pac-12’s only undefeated team.

The Obvious: Tee Martin is the Trojans offensive coordinator.

The Not So Obvious: Asked to comment on the Colorado defense, Martin said, “It’s a good-looking defense with a lot of experienced guys that have played in Coach MacIntyre’s system their whole careers. They don’t make a whole lot of mistakes, they force the team they play against to execute for four quarters. It’s opportunistic in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback, seeing multiple pressure looks so on and so forth, but not only this season, but it’s been their ‘MO’ every year we’ve played them. We’re going in expecting that and getting reps with all the different looks – things that are on tape and are not on tape. They’ve made up stuff on game day. We’ll challenge our guys as much as we can to go out and No. 1 identify their looks, communicate them, and execute when the ball is snapped.

“Their secondary looks good, two veterans that we’ve played against. The safeties are active, their D-line is stout that are holding the point in the 2-gap in their 3-4 scheme, and their linebackers are downhill making plays – a lot more aggressive than they were a year ago. Overall, I think they are a solid team, a solid defense.”

The Obvious: Clancy Pendergast is the Trojans’ defensive coordinator.  

The Not So Obvious: Asked about the Colorado offense, Pendergast says, “They’re very explosive, and they’re averaging a lot of points. They really do a really good job of spreading the ball around to a lot of different players. They’re playing at a really high level right now, so we’ll have our hands full playing them on Saturday.

“They’ve been during a really nice job in all phases of their offense. They block the running game very well, the quarterback is playing at a very high level and distributes the ball to a lot of different players, and he (Steven Mendez) can make all the throws. I am very impressed thus far how he’s played this year. We’ve gone against him the last two years, and I thought he was a really good player when he was a freshman, so he’s matured a lot and you can see that they’ve given him more and more of the offense, so it’s a very talented group.”

The Obvious: In Trojans history, there have been only 11 lettermen that hail from Colorado.

The Not So Obvious: Those 11 lettermen include ILB Joe Barry (1992-93), OT Tony Boselli (1991-94), C Chris Foote (1977-79), and FB-TB Scott Lockwood (1987-88) and 1990- 91). The other Trojan Coloradoans: T Ward Bond (1928-30), FB Rory Brown (1990/1992-93), OG-C Jeff Byers (2004/2007-09), CB-S Brian Kelly (1994-97), WR Ryan Lenderman (1993-94), OG-OT Butch Lewis (2007- 10) and TB LenDale White (2003-05).

The Obvious: The Trojans have no players from the state of Colorado

The Not So Obvious: Colorado has 40 players from California.

The Obvious: One of the Trojans’ tight ends is sophomore Josh Falo.

The Not So Obvious: Falos’ brother, Nu’umoto Falo Jr., is a junior outside linebacker for the Buffaloes.

The Obvious: The Trojans’ secondary coach is Ronnie Bradford.

The Not So Obvious: Bradford played his college ball at Colorado (1989-92), including playing on the Buff’s 1990 national championship team. Ronnie block of a Notre Dame PAT attempt in the Orange Bowl helped preserve CU’s 10-9 victory.

The Obvious: This weekend is Trojan Family Weekend.

The Not So Obvious: It is expected that thousands of parents and family members will be joining their Trojan students at the game, which should help with the home field advantage.  

The Obvious: USC has an enrollment listed at 45,000 students.

The Not So Obvious: Colorado has an enrollment listed at 32,432 students.

The Obvious: And finally, the Trojans’ athletic department will recognize a number of people during the game for their past and present university achievements.

The Not So Obvious: Being honored during the game will be USC’s 2018 NCAA champion women’s outdoor track and field team, along with the NCAA women’s and men’s indoor and outdoor individual champions. The 2019 USC men’s basketball team will be introduced during the game, and the AFCA Coaches Trophy, presented to the national champion in football as determined by the coaches poll, will also be on display at the game.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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