(AP) — After a heartbreaking loss last weekend, Southern California has an opportunity to bounce back in front of a national audience against a much more favorable opponent.
The 21st-ranked Trojans visit last-place Colorado on Friday night, looking to hand the Buffaloes their seventh straight loss.
USC (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12) came up short against No. 4 Stanford on Saturday night, losing 56-48 in triple overtime. Curtis McNeal rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns, but fumbled into the end zone in the third overtime.
The Trojans are ineligible for postseason play and were looking for a signature win.
“It hurts right now because we were so close,” said Matt Barkley, who passed for 284 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. “It was almost like it slipped away. You can’t blame it on Curtis. It’s good that we took them to the wire, but it’s not good enough for us. We’re disappointed, because we knew we had them.”
Coach Lane Kiffin, who was fined $10,000 by the Pac-12 for criticizing officials, is eager for the team to put the game behind them. Although USC is visiting a Colorado team that has lost six straight by an average of 27.3 points, he’s wary of the Trojans coming out flat.
“Just making sure we’re up for the game and playing well,” he said. “To play as a smart football team, which for the most part we have. .. There’s a bunch of stuff going (into Friday’s game) and we need to have great focus.”
While Kiffin may be concerned about his team having an emotional letdown, USC is facing one of the nation’s worst defenses. Colorado is tied for 93rd in scoring defense, giving up 32 points per game, and ranks 92nd against the pass, allowing 248.9 yards per game.
That presents a favorable matchup for Barkley, who has 12 touchdowns and two interceptions the last four games, and top target Robert Woods, tied for second in the FBS with 81 receptions and fifth with 123.9 receiving yards per game.
“They’re the best combination in the conference, those two guys,” Colorado coach John Embree said.
The Buffaloes (1-8, 0-5) struggled against another of the conference’s top quarterbacks last week, allowing Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler to pass for 307 yards and two touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ 48-14 win last Saturday.
“You’re kind of stuck with the issues we have,” Embree said. “You have these great quarterbacks. Well, if you blitz them and you can’t cover? And then if you don’t blitz them and they have all day, it’s kind of the same thing. So you just try to pick your spots and hope that when you pick them, you’re right.”
Injuries have played a big part in Colorado’s struggles during its first year in the Pac-12. Running back Malcolm Creer was added to a crowded injured list after he suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.
However, there is some good news for the Buffaloes. Top running back Rodney Stewart and receiver Paul Richardson could return from knee injuries this week. Richardson, who has 474 yards receiving this season, has missed the last four games, while Stewart, who has sat out the last two, had 908 yards of total offense, including 473 rushing.
Colorado is looking to avoid its first seven-game losing streak since 1980 and end a seven-game skid against ranked opponents. The Buffaloes also had a seven-game winless streak in 1982, going 0-6-1.
The Trojans improved to 5-0 in the all-time series with a 40-3 road victory in 2002.
USC will be without safety T.J. McDonald for the first half of Friday’s game after the Pac-12 announced a half-game suspension for a late hit on Stanford receiver Chris Owusu. McDonald is tied for fourth on the Trojans with 39 tackles, team-leading 6 1/2 for loss.