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O/NSO: Colorado edition

The Obvious: With clinching the Pac-12 South Division outright on the line, the No. 15 USC Trojans (8-2, 6-1, Pac-12 South) travel to Colorado (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12 South) for a  huge Saturday afternoon conference game (2 p.m. MT/1 p.m. PT/4 p.m. ET), a confrontation that could punch the Trojans’ ticket to the Pac-12 Championship Game, which will be played on Friday night, Dec. 1, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (5 p.m. PT).

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have not won a conference title since the Pete Carroll era in 2008, so winning the South Division and taking a major step towards a conference championship is a big deal, and as Trojans’ athletic director Lynn Swann has mentioned on more than one occasion, despite all the wonderment of last season’s rousing finish and exhilarating Rose Bowl victory over Penn State, the 2016 Trojans did not win the Pac-12 Conference or vie for a CFP National Championship. However, the Men of Troy can still fashion some history on Saturday and make Swann temporarily happy with a conquest in Boulder.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 13 ½ -point favorite over Colorado.

The Not So Obvious: For added intrigued to Saturday’s game, Colorado needs one more win to become bowl eligible, although the Trojans could lose Saturday but still have another shot at a South Division championship against UCLA next Saturday, Nov. 18, in the Coliseum. No doubt, the last thing the Buffs, the defending South Division champions, want to see is the Trojans celebrating on the Folsom Field turf after a division-clinching game. That’s what makes Saturday’s game so intriguing. As a last-season refresher, the Trojans held on to defeat Colorado, 21-17, with a hard-fought game in the Coliseum.

The Obvious: Saturday’s game featuring the Trojans and Buffaloes will be nationally televised on FOX (1 p.m. PT/ 4 p.m. ET).

The Not So Obvious: The FOX broadcasters for Saturday’s game will be Tim Brando (play-by-play), Spencer Tillman (analyst) and Holly Sonders (sideline).

The Obvious: Saturday’s radio broadcast from Colorado will air live (1 p.m. PT) on ESPNLA 710 AM with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans’ pregame show (9 a.m. PT) and two-hour post-game show will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, Dennis Thurman, Rachel Frain, and WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz.

The Not So Obvious: The local Colorado broadcast can be heard on flagship station KOA (850 AM) with Mark Johnson (play-by-play), Gary Barnett (analyst), and Bobby Presavento (sidelines).

Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (online channel 972) and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Boulder weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 57 degrees, a low of 30 degrees, 41 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans will be too overly worked up and emotional, given that a win over Colorado gives them the South Division crown and advances them automatically to the Pac-12 Championship Game. We’ll see whether the Trojans are prepared to face a Colorado team that also needs one more game to be bowl eligible and figures to play with plenty of fight knowing this is their last home game of the season. Offensively, the Trojans will need quarterback Sam Darnold to play like he did in the fourth quarter against Arizona, so we’ll find out whether Sam can also play without a turnover, which means no fumbles and/or interceptions. We’ll also see whether the Trojans will continue to feed tailback Ronald Jones ll, who was on fire rushing (195 yds./ 3TDs) last week against the Wildcats. In order for Jones and capable backup Aca’Cedric Ware to do their thing, the offensive line, which could be rearranged due to potential injury issues to offensive tackles Toa Lobendahn (knee) and Chuma Edoga (ankle). The O-line will have to continue to play with the aggression like they displayed in the final quarter against Arizona. A side memo, last week against ASU, Colorado gave up a whopping 381 yards on the ground. We’ll see whether this USC offense plays with a sense of urgency, takes advantage of Colorado’s porous run defense, and eliminates the hurtful penalties that have been so prevalent during this season. We’ll ascertain whether the Trojans’ young receivers like Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman can continue their growth and adjust to the mile-high altitude, which can take its toll throughout the course of the game. And we’ll find out if tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe continues his comeback and returns as a major force in the USC offense. The Colorado secondary is rebuilt, so advantage to the Men of Troy. A quick note: Colorado’s defense allowed 583 total yards of offense to Arizona State, which bodes well for the Trojans’ offense. We’ll see whether the Trojans’ offense can repeatedly dent a Colorado defense that showcases linebackers Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis, safety Evan Worthington, and defensive end Leo Jackson lll. One big USC question mark is whether placekicker Chase McGrath can perform in the cold weather with a groin issue, which prevented him from finishing the Arizona game both as a placekicker and kickoff artist. It appears that he will do some placekicking, but he’ll give way to Reid Budrovich in terms of kickoff duties.

Defensively, the Trojans will be looking at a Colorado offense that has had its ups and downs. The Buffs will rely on sophomore quarterback Steven Montez, but he plays hot and cold depending on the pressure of the front 7. We’ll see whether Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast can design a scheme to confuse Montez and get the El Paso, Texas, native off his rhythm and mark. Montez will not be comforted by the fact the Trojans lead the nation in sacks (34). The Buffs have a talented and veteran receiving corps in seniors Shay Field, Bruce Bobo, and Devin Ross. Given this reason, we’ll find out whether the Trojans’ secondary, led by safeties Marvell Tell lll and Chris Hawkins, can contain the experienced Buffs receivers by minimizing the pass interference calls. Again, the Men of Troy will rely on veteran linebacker and co-captain Cameron Smith, a Lott Impact Trophy semi-finalist, to keep things in order, and we’ll see whether the Buffs can neutralize Smith and the attacking Trojans’ D-line. Smith will be surrounded by some young but impressive talent in sophomore linebackers John Houston Jr., who played perhaps his best game as a Trojan against Arizona last week, and Jordan Iosefa, who also showed promise on the outside against UofA. It is expected that impact sophomore defensive end Christian Rector will return. The Trojans defense, which will also be led by junior DE Rasheem Green, will be challenged by Colorado’s outstanding senior running back Philip Lindsay, who can not only burn defenses with his running but his outstanding receiving acumen. We’ll see how Pendergast attempts to limit Lindsay coming out of the backfield. The Trojans got a big break this week when it was announced that Colorado’s best offensive lineman, sophomore guard/center Tim Lynott Jr., suffered a torn Achilles tendon early in the first quarter of the Buffaloes’ 41-30 loss at Arizona State last Saturday night.

The Obvious: The 2017 Trojans’ offense averages 35.2 points per game while the Colorado defense is allowing 25.0 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2017 Colorado offense averages 27.8 points per game while the Trojans’ defense is allowing 26.7 points per game.

The Obvious: Mike MacIntyre, who has a 25-36 record as head coach of Colorado, is in his fifth season as the Buffaloes’ head coach.

The Not So Obvious: While MacIntyre acknowledges that Trojans’ quarterback Sam Darnold is a major focus for his defense, it’s tailback Ronald Jones ll that has his attention. MacIntyre said, “He’s fast as lightning. He’s really athletic, able to run their stretch play.  That’s their No. 1 running play, stretch and let him run and find a crease. When he sticks his foot in the ground and he accelerates, he accelerates. He’s an excellent, excellent back. He’s a pro back for sure.”

The Obvious: For seniors of this Trojans’ class, a win over Colorado will give them the opportunity to return to the Pac-12 Championship after having lost the 2015 Pac-12 Championship Game against Stanford, 41-22.

The Not So Obvious: One of those Trojan seniors that played in the 2015 Pac-12 title game is center Nico Falah. Remembering the 2015 championship game, and the opportunity to beat Colorado this week and advance to this season’s Pac-12 championship, how big an accomplishment would it be for the Men of Troy to win on Saturday? Falah said, “It would be a huge deal. I was there for the last championship appearance, and it was my first start ever at USC. It’s kind of funny how things intertwine, and I am excited about the opportunity. Of course, it’s extra motivation (to clinch the division title against Colorado) for us to play better, but we just need to treat each team the same way we do every week. We’re not going to just turn it up just because it’s a clinching game. We know under our heads it’s a clinching game, but we need to take it week-by-week and game-by-game.”

The Obvious: Senior safety Chris Hawkins is another Trojan that played against Stanford in the 2015 Pac-12 Championship Game.

The Not So Obvious: Hawkins says the thought of beating Colorado for the Pac-12 South championship and getting back to the title game with his senior teammates is a big deal. Hawkins said, “This is very big. I mean Colorado was the Pac-12 South champions last year, and we have a chance to go in there and clinch ourselves a spot in the Pac-12 championship and for the first time somebody has been able to clinch early in a long time. Usually it comes down to the last week because somebody losses and somebody wins. We did what we had to do in the Pac-12 South by not losing a game. We’re looking to keep that streak going. There’s no added pressure (to win on Saturday). We’re just going to go out there and play our game. It’s fun playing football right now. We’re letting loose, and everything is clicking for us right now.”

The Obvious: Like most college teams playing their final home game of the season, Colorado will honor their outgoing seniors prior to kickoff.

The Not So Obvious: One of those seniors being recognized is standout UC running back Philip Lindsay, who is aware the Buffs have never beaten the Trojans. Lindsay said, “For the seniors, it’s going to be an emotional time. We haven’t beaten USC since we’ve been here. We want to beat them. We feel strongly about that, and we’re going to go out there and work our butts off to get this win.”

The Obvious: Colorado’s quarterback is sophomore Steven Montez (6-5, 225).

The Not So Obvious: Montez’s father (Alfred) was a college quarterback at Texas Tech and Western New Mexico and played one season in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders (1996). Montez was also a member of the National Honor Society coming out of Delle Valle High in El Paso, Texas.

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

The Not So Obvious: Bradford played at Colorado (1989-92), including the Buffaloes’ 1990 national championship team (his block of Notre Dame’s PAT attempt in the final minutes of the Orange Bowl preserved CU’s 10-9 victory).

The Obvious: The USC/Colorado series began in 1927.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans lead the series 11-0-0.

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

The Not So Obvious: Colorado has 36 players on its roster from California.

The Obvious: And finally, Colorado plays its home games at historic Folsom Field.

The Not So Obvious: Folsom is tied for the 18th oldest venue among the 128 NCAA Division I-A/FBS stadiums. It is the fourth oldest stadium in the Pac-12 Conference, as only Husky Stadium (1920), the Rose Bowl (1922), and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (1923) are older.

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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