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O/NSO: Colorado edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: Riding a season-high, three-game winning streak, the USC Trojans (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12 South) travel to Colorado (4-6 overall, 1-5 Pac-12 South) for a frigid Pac-12 South Division showdown on Friday night at Folsom Field in Boulder (7 p.m. MT/6 p.m. PT/ESPN2).

The Not So Obvious: It figures to be at or below freezing level at kickoff, but the Trojans were able to – with the exception of the scoreboard – survive the weather issues at Notre Dame. The good news is that it isn’t expected to snow, but that could change. What won’t change is that the Trojans need to win this Pac-12 South Division game to stay within striking distance of South Division-leading No.10 Utah (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12 South), which plays the reeling Arizona Wildcats (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12 South) on Saturday night (7 p.m. PT/Fox1) in Tucson.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened as 14½ -point favorites to defeat Colorado on Friday night in Boulder.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have never lost to the Buffaloes in nine outings, and the Men of Troy have scored at least 40 points in the past five encounters with UC. When the Trojans last played a game in Boulder in November, it was 29 degrees, second coldest in Trojan history.

The Obvious: The USC/Colorado game will be televised on ESPN 2 (7:00 p.m. MT/6:00 p.m. PT).

The Not So Obvious: The ESPN2 broadcasters for Friday night’s kickoff against Colorado will be Dave Flemming (play-by-play), Mack Brown (analysis), and Allison Williams (sidelines).

The Obvious: The Trojans radio broadcast normally heard on ESPNLA 710 AM will air live on 690 AM at 6 p.m. PT because of a Lakers game conflict on USC flagship radio ESPNLA 710 (the Lakers tip at 5:30 p.m. PT). When the Lakers post-game show concludes, ESPNLA710 will join the USC radio broadcast in progress and will also carry the two-hour USC football post-game show. The game broadcast will feature Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

Because of the Lakers broadcast, ESPNLA 710 will air the first two hours (2 to 4 p.m. PT) of the football pre-game show. The next two hours (4 to 6 p.m. PT) of the pre-game show can be heard on TuneIn Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and on select USC affiliate radio stations. The Trojans four-hour pre-game show will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, WeAreSC.com publisher Garry Paskwietz, Steve Mason, Harvey Hyde, Katie Boggs, and Shaun Cody. There will be a two-hour post-game show following the conclusion of the game with Chris Fisher and Shaun Cody.

The Not So Obvious: The Colorado broadcast can be heard on flagship station KOA 850 AM with the Mark Johnson (play-by-play), Larry Zimmer (analyst) and Chad Brown (sidelines).

The Obvious: When the Trojans play at Colorado on Friday, it will be on the ominous Friday the 13th.

The Not So Obvious: This is the second year in a row that the Trojans are playing a game on Nov. 13 (Troy beat California, 38-30, on that date in 2014). The Men of Troy have a 13-1-2 all-time record on Nov. 13, but this will be the first time they’ve actually played on Friday the 13th.

The Obvious: Through nine games, the Trojans offense is averaging 37.4 points per game while the Colorado defense is allowing 28.3 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: Through nine games, the Colorado offense is averaging 27.9 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 22.6 points per game.

The Obvious: The Colorado weather report for Friday calls for sunny with a high of 37, a low of 25 degrees, and a predicted 27 degrees at kickoff.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans will be affected by the weather. The Trojans are 11-8-1 in games considered as “cold weather.” Defensively, the Men of Troy know that Colorado can put points on the board, but we’ll see whether the “rejuvenated” Trojans front seven can withstand a probable ball-control strategy from the Buffaloes. Turnovers will be a key for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s unit, but you can bet that the Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre will test whether the Trojans secondary is vulnerable. It would be surprising if the Buffaloes don’t probe the area that true freshman corner Iman Marshall patrols. It continues to be a learning curve for the talented Marshall, and we’ll see whether he can handle the mental aspect of the game knowing that offensive coordinators at Colorado, Oregon, and UCLA will be giving him the first look.

Another defensive key will be the health of true freshman linebacker sensation Carmeron Smith and whether the cold weather affects his sensitive hamstring issue. A lot of positive publicity as been centered on the Trojans down defensive linemen, and we’ll see whether they can continue to stop the run and apply an adequate pass rush. Trojans senior defensive tackle Claude Pelon is good to go against the Buffaloes, and we’ll find out whether he continues to improve.

Offensively, all eyes will be trained on the Trojans brilliant true freshman running back Robert Jones ll. The Texas native is rightfully being considered the next great USC running back or tailback – fill in your own position terminology. Whether he can handle being a “marked man” will be intriguing. Nobody seems to stop him for any period of time, and thus he has held up well to the physical abuse. With Tre Madden out (knee), Jones will share duty with productive junior Justin Davis.

Trojans senior quarterback Cody Kessler (above photo) went touchdown passing crazy last season in the Coliseum against Colorado, or have you forgotten his seven TD performance (five in the first half). You can bet that the Buffaloes haven’t, so we’ll see what Colorado does and whether they can get to Kessler early, who at times seems affected by a strong pass rush. For Kessler’s sake, he’ll need his offensive line to hold up and protect him in the cold weather. He’ll also need to find out whether the weather affects his receivers’ productivity – specifically future All-American JuJu Smith-Schuster who has been able to handle the pain from right-hand surgery a week ago.

The Obvious: The Trojans second-time interim head coach is Clay Helton.

The Not So Obvious: Regarding the Buffaloes, Helton says, “They’re a good football team, and I think improving by the year. Coach MacIntyre is doing a terrific job one with the personnel he is bringing in and two developing them. This is a different Colorado team than we’ve faced over the last couple of years. I just look at them and I know the wins aren’t coming to them like they would like. But you look at the way they’re competing against some really quality teams right now, and they seem like they’re in every game. This is somebody we better take a championship attitude into their place or like any game in the Pac-12 you’ll get beat if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game.”

The Obvious: The head coach of Colorado is Mike MacIntyre, who is in his third season with the Buffaloes.

The Not So Obvious: “They (USC) have two guys 350 and 360 (on the offensive line) and you go, ‘Can they move?’ You watch and they’re like ballerinas. They can move and jump, they’re athletic and they’re huge. Their secondary is quick as lightening. Their D-line is big and athletic. I’ve been here two and a half years and they’ve four head coaches. It’s hard for them to have stability with that going on. They’ve go a lot of great football players, I know that.”

The Obvious: Current Trojans defensive line coach Chris Wilson was once the defensive line coach at Colorado (2000-2004).

The Not So Obvious: Current Colorado offensive line coach Gary Bernardi was an assistant coach at USC (1987-1992).

The Obvious: The Trojans placekicker is junior Alex Woods, who has connected on 8 of 12 field goals this season and 43 of 44 extra points.

The Not So Obvious: Colorado placekicker Diego Gonzalez is in the national Top 20 in field goals. Gonzalez is 16 of 23 in field goals and 30 of 30 in PATs.

The Obvious: Colorado’s starting quarterback is versatile junior Sefo Liufau (208-of-337, 61.7%, 2,324 yds, 9 TD, 6 int in 2015, plus 105 tcb, 262 yds, 2.5 avg, 5 TD).

The Not So Obvious: Liufau ranks first on CU’s all-time chart in completions, second in TD passes and total offense, and third in passing yards, but he is a threat to run the ball, as well. His main passing targets are senior Nelson Spruce, the Pac-12 record holder in career receptions (272) and CU’s in receiving yards (he is second in career TD catches), and sophomore Shay Fields.

When Liufau isn’t running, his running options are backs Phillip Lindsay (107 tcb, 503 yds, 4.7 avg, 5 TD in 2015, plus 16 rec, 148 yds, 9.2 avg and 5 KOR, 120 yds, 24.0 avg), a sophomore, and senior Christian Powell (65 tcb, 326 yds, 5.0 avg, 4TD in 2015, plus 6 rec, 64 yds, 10.7 avg), two of the five Buffaloes who have run for 100 yards in a game this season.

The Obvious: The Trojans defense had a good game defensing the run against Arizona (60 yards rushing), but may have to play without standout true freshman linebacker Cameron Smith, who hurt a shoulder last Saturday against Arizona.

The Not So Obvious: The Colorado defense is led by junior corner Chidobe Awuzie (9 TFLs in 2015), freshman linebacker Rick Gamboa and junior safety Tedric Thompson.

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

The Not So Obvious: Colorado has 48 players from California.

The Obvious: Trojans wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr., a redshirt sophomore, has the ability to score from anywhere on the field.

The Not So Obvious: Speaking of Mitchell, his cousin, Devin Ross, is sophomore a wide receiver for Colorado.

The Obvious: In its history, the Trojans have had only 11 lettermen from Colorado.

The Not So Obvious: Among those 11 letterman, the list includes LB Joe Barry, OL Tony Boselli, C Chris Foote, FB-TB Scott Lockwood, T Ward Bond, OG-C Jeff Byers, FB Rory Brown, CB Brian Kelly, WR Ryan Lenderman, OG-OT Butch Lewis, and TB Len Dale White.

The Obvious: And finally, there is concern that Friday night’s game in Boulder could be the dreaded “trap game” for the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: And why would you even consider a “trap game” scenario considering the Buffaloes have won only one conference game? Maybe it’s because the next two Trojans opponents following the Buffs are Oregon in Eugene and UCLA in the Coliseum.

Greg Katz
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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