Win and In: Scondi’s USC vs. Colorado 2017 preview

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 07: Phillip Lindsay
BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 07: Phillip Lindsay /

After pulling away late against Arizona, USC vs. Colorado will feature the Trojans trying to clinch the division with a victory against the Buffaloes.

I’ve got nothing.

There’s no new narrative I can start this preview with. I’ve used them all. The USC-Arizona game epitomized the season. The Trojans were dominant, then they played sloppy. The offense moved the ball down the field, but they couldn’t score in the red zone. The defense created opportunities but they were washed away when the team gave up crucial turnovers and committed unnecessary penalties. The coaching adjustments were dubious if not non-existent. Despite all of that, they still rallied and found a way to win the game.

Doesn’t this summarize the whole year? USC is consistent in their inconsistency.

The Trojans had 642 yards on Saturday. That amount of offense should lead to more than 49 points considering seven of those points came from a blocked punt. USC was three-of-six in the red zone opportunities against Arizona. They can move the ball all the way down the field, but once you get near the goal line, they forget how they got there.

That was one of those passes you make in the video game when you accidentally press the wrong button. Darnold pressed circle when it was supposed to go to square.

Ronald Jones II had 27 carries for 194 yards and three touchdowns. Why did it take Tee Martin 10 weeks to start “feeling RoJo”? Trojans fans have been “feeling RoJo” since his freshman year.

This statistic needs to be on the first page of the playbook so coaches don’t forget how well the team does when they give Jones II the ball. They win. Simple as that.

On defense, USC did their job to contain Khalil Tate for most of the game. In the first half, Tate averaged 1.58 yards per carry and was sacked three times, almost half of the amount Arizona’s offensive line has allowed in the previous eight games.

Pretty good for a team that lost two of its best pass rushers to broken appendages.

Tate threw for 146 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 161 yards and one touchdown, but lost a fumble. Holding one of the most dynamic players in college football to below the averages he’s put up in the past month is a job well done on the defensive front. It just didn’t look that way because he got all his yards during the second half comeback.

For Arizona, 264 of 380 yards and 29 of 35 points came on four consecutive drives in the second half. Either Rich Rodriguez had a hell of a halftime speech, or the Wildcats fixed what wasn’t working on offense. Unless he brought Gladiator gear to Los Angeles, everyone should lean towards the latter.

It seems like Clay Helton was twiddling his thumbs during halftime. Maybe he was too focused on watching a horse get inducted into the USC Hall of Fame during halftime. Helton has shown that he’s been great at making second half adjustments. This past Saturday reveals that he’s isn’t great at anticipating any changes in his opponent’s strategy. It’s a good problem to have, I suppose. If you have nothing to change for the second half, your team is probably doing well.

It wasn’t just Arizona making changes to their offensive scheme that made the third quarter bad for USC. The Trojans continued to make mistakes that gave opportunities for the Wildcats to come back. Most of those mistakes came in the form of penalties.

The Trojans were flagged 14 times against Arizona. They are fourth in the nation in penalties. Oregon has the most. Maybe some of the fault is on the Pac-12 referees.

The god awful officiating made the beginning of the second half virtually unwatchable. On every flag thrown, the referees needed a lengthy review. When a game starts at 7:45 PM, fans don’t need to sit around while a group of Foot Locker salesmen take half an hour to figure out how many men were on the field. The conference gets a bad reputation for its officiating (among other things) and it’s 100 percent deserved.

Despite how much USC got into its own way, they finished the game strong like they’ve done all year. The team can’t seem to handle the pressure of a Top 10 ranking, but when it comes to winning games in the fourth quarter, they have ice in their veins.

So why am I so critical of a 8-2 team on track to contend for the conference championship? Why am I unable to enjoy this season? There’s a couple of reasons.

First, I’m a pessimist. Not just for USC, but life in general. Misery loves company and I want to make it a corporation.

Second, the season is almost over, but it feels like it hasn’t even started yet. The team hasn’t really improved at all throughout the year. All these games feel like variations of the season opener but with opponents in different jerseys. It’s hard to imagine that in three weeks they could be playing for the Pac-12 title. Maybe this is all regret from not appreciating players on this team before they take their final snap this season. Wait, is this a therapy session or a game preview?

Third and finally, the games haven’t been fun. Initially I thought last week’s game was fantastic until I asked around and realized no one really enjoyed it. There were some great parts, but the comeback by Arizona combined with the officiating really put a damper on the whole Saturday. Fans haven’t been able to enjoy many games this year. Maybe Stanford and Arizona State, but besides that every week is a nervewrecking.

Maybe I should stop feeling sorry for myself and enjoy the rest of the season. I’m speaking for all USC fans when I say that.

It could be a lot worse. Just look across town at UCLA.

The season may almost be over and it definitely didn’t go the way some people thought, but USC can still achieve greatness.

It all starts with beating Colorado and wining the Pac-12 South.

Colorado Team Preview

Note: As always, Bill Connelly’s team preview of Colorado was invaluable to my research. He gets the credit.


After Colorado’s best season in over 15 years, the Buffaloes are having a let down year with a 5-5 record. They went undefeated in non-conference play, but have struggled with any Pac-12 team with a pulse. Colorado has lost to Washington, Washington State, Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA. They were able to get a victory over Cal and, of course, they beat Oregon State. Who hasn’t?


Mike MacIntryre may be the most boring coach the Trojans have faced all year. He looks like the computer generated coach that gets created when you make your own team in Madden: just a middle-aged white dude holding a clipboard on the sidelines. It doesn’t seem like he has any personality either.  He makes Clay Helton look like Ric Flair without the hair.

Before coming to Colorado, Mike MacIntryre was the head coach at San Jose State. He went 16-21 in three seasons, going 10-2 in his final year. Striking when the iron is hot, he left for a better opportunity in Boulder.

This will be MacIntryre’s fifth year coaching the Buffaloes. The team went 8-27 in the first three years before going 10-4 in 2016. This year isn’t going as planned, but it’s a lot better than the beginning of his tenure at Colorado.


Colorado’s offense is pretty mediocre. They are 51st in the total offense averaging 420.6 yards per game, that’s slightly below Southern Mississippi, the third best team in the C-USA.

Their offense is similar to the Trojans in that they are both run by co-coordinators and they both move the ball with quick passing and strong short-yardage rushing. At least that’s USC’s strategy on days Tee Martin remembers he has Ronald Jones II on the team.

The Colorado offense is led by Steven Montez, who has thrown for 2,404 yards, 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Montez has run for 267 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also caught one reception for 11 yards and a touchdown. That makes him a triple threat on offense.

Montez didn’t have much success against USC last year only throwing for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the 21-17 loss to the Trojans. He was supposed to make the jump this year, but like Sam Darnold, fans are seeing a lot more of the same. Good thing for the Trojans. Bad thing for the Buffaloes.

The best player on the team, and possibly in school history, is running back Phillip Lindsay. He is Colorado’s leader in career all-purpose yards. Lindsay is also second in career rushing yards. He’ll need 305 yards in the next two games to become the record holder. He’s going to need a lot of garbage time carries against USC or hope his team can get to a bowl game by beating Utah.

This year, Lindsay has rushed 1,334 yards and 12 touchdowns, catching 20 receptions for 233 yards and one touchdown. He’s 37.3 percent of Colorado’s total offense. He’s the bell cow for the offense. Actually, he’s the bell buffalo. He has carried the ball 263 times, the most in the nation.

Despite having the fourth-most rushing yards of any individual in the country, Colorado ranks 64th in rushing offense. How is that even possible? Are all the other running backs going in the opposite direction when they get the ball? This could explain why he has 30 more carries than any other player in the FBS.

The Buffaloes have one of the most skilled groups of wide receivers in the Pac-12, but maybe the worst moniker of all time. The receiving corps have nicknamed themselves the “Blackout Boyz.” The “Z” shows they mean business. Or is it buzinezz?

Maybe they named themselves that because no one remembers any of their games. It could have been because everyone forgets the last time the team was consistently good. They are college students so it’s probably because they love to drink. It’s fun for them, but for lifelong fans of the program, it may be a necessity.

Finding work has been tough for the Jabbawockeez ever since “America’s Best Dance Crew” got canceled. At least they didn’t have to get rid of the “Z” when they changed their name. It takes a lot of confidence for wide receivers on a .500 team to wear Halloween masks in pregame warmups. By confidence, I really mean lack of awareness. The best part of this is that it was taken before their game against Washington State when Colorado only passed for 94 yards and lost 28-0. Maybe they wore the masks to hide their faces in shame.

This year, the Blackout Boyz have combined for 153 receptions, 1,929 yards and 13 touchdowns. The best are Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, Devin Ross, and Jay MacIntrye. Fields has 45 receptions for 619 yards and four touchdowns. Bobo has 48 receptions for 527 yards and five touchdowns. Ross has 38 receptions for 468 yards and two touchdowns. MacIntrye has 22 receptions for 315 yards and two touchdowns. That’s pretty impressive for someone that only made the team because his dad is the coach.

The Buffaloes offensive line features two All-Pac 12 candidates, tackle Jeromy Ivwin and guard Gerrad Kough. They have combined to allow only four sacks this season. The other side of their line must be a disaster because Colorado is 113rd in the sacks allowed with 3.10 per game. Ivwin and Kough are 24 and 23 respectively so maybe the rest of the offensive line needs a couple of victory laps to catch up to them experience-wise.


The main reason Colorado was so good last year was their defense. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes lost about everyone on that side of the ball.

Colorado lost their defensive coordinator, top three linemen, two linebackers, and three of the six defensive backs that accounted for 93 percent of the secondary’s tackles in 2016. They lost more members in a year than the Trump Administration. Because of the mass exodus during the offseason, the Buffaloes are ranked 102nd in the nation in total defense this year.

They replaced former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt with D.J. Eliot. It’s a questionable hire since Eliot’s previous team, Kentucky, was below average defensively in 2016. The Wildcats were good at big play prevention, but that doesn’t translate to a defense that has to play Khalil Tate, Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold.

Colorado runs either a 3-4 or the 3-3-5 defense that USC saw last week against Arizona. The only difference is that their safety hybrids aren’t called the “spur” and the “bandit.” They’re called the “buff back.”

Their line is led by defensive end Leo Jackson, who leads the team in sacks with 5.5. He’s also fourth in tackles with 11 for a loss. On the other side is Chris Mulumba, who turned 25 this season. Do some of these older players realize they are playing in college and not some sort of semi-pro league?

Colorado’s linebacking corps is their best unit. Inside linebackers Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis are first and second on the team in tackles respectively. They are on pace to become the first pair of 100-plus tacklers for the Buffaloes since 2006. On the outside is Derek McCartney, who has exploded recently. He had a career-high 14 tackles last week. He’s batted down five passes in the last two games and is second in sacks with four. McCartney turns 24 later this month.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has four touchdowns in his first season in the NFL and can’t even buy beer yet. Two members of Colorado’s front seven are almost able to rent a car.

In the secondary, Colorado has Isaiah Oliver, one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Oliver has been thrown at 53 times in eight games and only allowed 22 completions. Despite missing the last two games, he is ninth in the nation in passes defended with 10 pass breakups and one interception. It’s unsure if Oliver will be able to play this Saturday, but if he does, USC should avoid throwing to his side.

With or without Oliver, Colorado still has safety Evan Worthington, who is sixth in the Pac-12 in interceptions with three. He also has seven pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

Special Teams

On special teams, Colorado has one of the best kickers in nation, James Stefanou. Stefanou is 31-of-31 on PATs and 16-of-18 on field goals. He’s one of the nation’s top scorers and he’s doing it as a freshman. A 30 year-old freshman.

Stefanou is currently the second oldest player in college football. Is this a remake of Rodney Dangerfield’s film, “Back to School”? If his college career pans out what does he apply to first: the NFL Draft or the AARP? I thought people went to Florida when they got old. Guess, they play for Colorado instead.

At punter, the Buffaloes have Alex Kinney. He is averaging 43.1 yards per punt. In the last two games, Kinney has really made his case for the Ray Guy Award, punting eight times for a 50.5 yard average with seven of the kicks landing inside the 20.

Their punting and kickoff return teams are pretty average. USC has had to deal with much more dangerous threats this season.

Colorado has a Swiss Army knife in George Frazier, who has played 215 downs on offense, 120 downs on defense and 77 downs on special teams this season.  I should have mentioned him in every section to give him the credit he deserves for his versatility.


This section is devoted to the long time tradition of creating scenarios in which USC can make the College Football Playoff.

Well, it’s time to put on your tinfoil hat and start hypothesizing on how USC can make the College Football Playoff.

Do the Trojans deserve this ranking? Well, it’s hard to say.

On one hand, they have one of the hardest schedule in the nation. On the other, they’ve lost to their two most difficult opponents.

They have beat Top 25 teams this year. They just aren’t currently in the Top 25 at the moment. It shouldn’t be the fault of the Trojans that AP voters can’t properly rank teams.

The team Washington beat with a winning record? Montana, an FCS team with a 6-3 record which is good enough for fourth in the Big Sky conference. Maybe when Chris Petersen was complaining about kickoff times he was trying to get networks to put his team on during worse time slots. It was all reverse psychology to try to hide his team’s mediocre play against under .500 teams.

So how does USC make the playoff? Here’s one scenario:

Every team that has played consistently well the whole season would have to somehow lose the rest of their games. This hypothetical is so unreasonable, it’s probably going to happen.

Here’s one that’s a little more on the sane side:

So basically, USC needs Notre Dame to fall apart or Georgia to blow a rivalry game. If you’ve watched any college football in your life, you know which one of those is more likely to happen. Just need the Bulldogs to wear those black uniforms again.

Even if a majority of the five conferences have a two-loss champions, their resumes will look a lot better than the Trojans. The Pac-12 is cannibalizing each other again. There’s too much parity in the conference and unfortunately that will probably get overlooked by the committee.

I can’t imagine how crazy Trojans fans are going to get when the team enters the Top 10 next week.

Despite fans freaking out about the slim chance of making the playoffs, Clay Helton is focused on winning this weeks game. A win would make USC the Pac-12 South champions for the first time since 2013.

The players are focused on the game too. Sure, it would be great to play Alabama or Notre Dame in a nationally televised game (because those go so well for the Trojans), but it would be greater to win the conference championship for a chance to beat up on the Big-12 champion in the Fiesta Bowl. They’re basically the Pac-12 with cowboy hats.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

The game is at 1:00 p.m. (2:00 p.m. in Colorado), which is a relief for fans that haven’t gone to bed before midnight the last two Saturdays. Although, with daylight saving time, it will still be dark by the time the game’s over.

Fans are only going to this game so they can legally get high, aren’t they?


The road is open for the Pac-12 title and the best way to get there is with the Texas Tesla. All USC needs to do on offense is run the ball as much as they did against Arizona.

Colorado’s rushing defense has given up:

  • 413 yards to Arizona
  • 381 yards to Arizona State
  • 280 yards to Oregon State
  • 254 yards to Washington

Beside the Fighting Khalil Tates of Arizona, none of these teams have a better rushing attack than the Trojans. Let’s hope Tee Martin is “feeling RoJo” again. If not, just make sure Darnold doesn’t throw the ball near Isaiah Oliver. Also, maybe try to avoid throwing it to any player with the Buffalo on the side of their helmet near the goal line.

USC is 117th in red zone conversions this year. Inversely, Colorado allows touchdowns in the red zone 52.63 percent of the time. Stoppable force meets immovable object.

Field goals may not be a viable option with the injury to Chase McGarth. Maybe USC avoids the red zone altogether. The Trojans should just try scoring from the 21-yard line.

On defense, USC needs to contain Phillip Lindsay. He’s going to get his yards. Every great running back that has played the Trojans this season has. USC just has to make sure he doesn’t break the school’s rushing record this week. He’s over a third of Colorado’s offense. Limit him and the Buffaloes will struggle.

More from Reign of Troy

The Trojans will need to pressure Steven Montez when Colorado goes to the air. Montez set the school record with 172 pass attempts without an interception. Before breaking the streak last week, he hadn’t committed a turnover since September 23rd. He needs to be forced into making mistakes. They aren’t going to naturally happen.

A lot of game plan would be easier if the defense was healthier. Uchenna Nwosu has sat out practice this week with a sore ankle. However, Iman Marshall and Christian Rector might return to the field Saturday if they are able to put a club on the latter’s hand.

Clay Helton doesn’t need to rush these players back onto the field. They are wanted, but not needed. Look at what happened when they rushed Porter Gustin back twice this season. Each time he was immediately back in his boot after the game and out for several weeks because it takes more than not lifting legs for a couple of days to recover from a surgically repaired toe.

TRENDING: Four Storylines to Watch For vs. Colorado

The right side of Colorado’s offensive line is allowing more sacks than Fifth Avenue. USC will be fine with the players that are fully ready to go on Saturday.

Colorado is 11-0 all-time against USC. They’ve never beat them. Ever.

Their uniforms this week aren’t helping their chances either.

Colorado is 22-28-1 when they wear their all-black uniforms and 2-15 when they wear their black helmets. If the helmets are matte, they are 0-6. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2013, the Buffaloes are 1-7 in all black uniforms, and 1-11 in black helmets.

When Colorado wears both? They are 0-6.

Don’t bet on black.

USC 35 Colorado 17