Guess who’s in first place in the Pac-12 South? No, it’s not preseason favorites USC or UCLA. And even though Utah and Arizona State are off to hot starts, they too are looking up in the standings. It happens to be a team that was picked to finish dead last by Sports Illustrated, Athlon Sports, and every single Pac-12 ‘expert’ at CBS Sports. Yes, it’s time to take notice. With a 4-1 record and a 2-0 mark in conference play, the Colorado Buffaloes have risen to the top of the Pac-12 South.
You could say that nobody saw this coming, but that wouldn’t be fair to the Colorado faithful. Just watch the first two minutes of a preseason promotional video called, “The Rise.” In the opening scenes, as Head Coach Mike MacIntyre speaks before his squad of seasoned players, the confidence is unmistakable. We see a team that from the outset believes it has turned a corner. The film continues, and over rolling images of Folsom Field and the Champions Center weight room, we hear the words, “get on board gang, because the Buffs are coming.”
As they said they would, the Buffs came out of the tunnel with a vengeance. They destroyed Colorado State and Idaho State in their first two games, scoring 44 and 56 points respectively. Colorado suffered its first and only loss in week three, but it came on the road against Michigan, in a game they actually led 14-0 early on. The defeat was more of a milestone than a setback, and they responded by taking out the Ducks in Eugene the following Saturday. They returned home more confident than ever, and proceeded to pummel Oregon State 47-6. Looking back, you can see a statement in every game.
This week the Buffaloes take their momentum and a fresh top-25 ranking into the Coliseum. They face a Trojan team that has found some mojo of its own. USC’s improvement over the last two games hasn’t been lost on Colorado’s MacIntyre, who told reporters on Monday that USC has “completely changed their offense in the last game and half,” and finally “settled in with their offensive identity.” That identity is now firmly wrapped around Sam Darnold and his ability to get the ball into the hands of SC’s playmakers.
In that regard, this might be Colorado’s toughest test yet. But here again, the Buffs shouldn’t be overlooked. They have plenty of big play guys of their own. Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau is the first name that comes to mind, but he’s still recovering from a right ankle sprain and may not be able to go. That would leave the ball in the hands of Redshirt freshman Steven Montez, who proved to be more than capable last week against Oregon State, throwing for 293 yards and three touchdowns.
All three of those scores came off long balls to receiver Shay Fields, who finished with seven catches for 169 yards. Earlier this week, Coach Clay Helton pointed to Fields as a significant deep threat, saying, “There’s so much speed on the field. Shay Fields just jumps out at you.”
In that same interview, Helton was asked about Colorado’s resurgence. He was quick to say, “We saw it coming,” noting that as he walked away from their game last year (a game the Trojans barely won) he was saying “Wow. They’re doing it the right way. They’re recruiting quality athletes…and really developing them.”
While this may be a feel good story for the Buffs, it’s not one Trojan fans want to hear. Not now at least, when there’s seemingly no letup in the schedule. Prior to the season, this game looked like it might give USC a chance to catch their breath. A home game against a lighter opponent, the Trojans heavily favored. Somehow it’s turned into another must-win, with the spread shrinking to 4 ½ points, and the season on the line. USC had better be ready, ‘because the Buffs are coming.’