Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/4/11

When the USC Trojans take the field Friday night, they’ll be expected to run the Colorado Buffaloes off the field in the first half, and with good reason.

Junior tailback Curtis McNeal will be the starter when USC faces Colorado Friday night

USC is ranked #21 in the nation, while Colorado is 1-8 on the year, winless among Pac-12 competition during their first season in the conference. The Buffaloes are on a six-game losing streak, while the Trojans are hoping to bring their hot streak with them to chilly Colorado, where eight inches of snow fell earlier in the week.

The Trojans are 5-0 all-time against Colorado, most recently winning, 40-3, in Boulder in 2002, but USC hasn’t played in snow since 1957, when they lost, 40-12, at Notre Dame Stadium.

The weather shouldn’t be too bad this weekend (at least not for Colorado in November), but it’s just one factor USC needs to keep in mind in order to come home with a win. USC’s triple overtime loss to Stanford took a physical toll on many of the Trojans’ players, and if it’s weighing on their minds, we’ll find out this weekend.

The Trojans are 21.5 point favorites but need to be careful not to let a Stanford hangover ruin their Friday night. They need to come out focused on nothing but the ‘Buffs, like a brand-new team with a clean slate.

USC might look like a new team since last weekend thanks to injuries on both sides of the ball. LB Dion Bailey, the team’s leading tackler, left the game against Stanford in the second overtime with a serious concussion. He has not yet been cleared to play, but even if he is, the safe bet for USC – and for Bailey’s future – is to sit him in favor of freshman Tre Madden. Madden entered the game in the second overtime last week after Bailey was hurt, and Stanford immediately threw to his side for the touchdown. He’ll get a chance to redeem himself at Colorado with Bailey likely out.

Safety Jawanza Starling also missed practice this week due to an injury. With Drew McAllister starting the first half for T.J. McDonald, who was suspended for half a game for what the league decided was a dangerous hit, senior Marshall Jones would take Starling’s place.

The Trojans’ D has come up with several big plays, forcing fumbles  and interceptions, but one area in which the Buffaloes have excelled this season is in ball security. They’re sixth in the nation in turnovers, with just seven through nine games; six of the seven are QB Tyler Hansen’s interceptions.

When the Trojans have the ball, it will more than likely be in the hands of Matt Barkley, or Robert Woods, or Curtis McNeal. McNeal is the starter after two straight 100+ yard rushing games made him the team’s rushing leader in 2011, though Kiffin hopes senior Marc Tyler, who suffered a dislocated shoulder against Notre Dame, will recover quickly. Barkley went toe-to-toe with future No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck – and nearly won. He’s 18th nationally in pass efficiency and 20th in total yards, with 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions on the year.

Barkley’s numbers are so good in part because of his wide receivers, who should be able to run all over the Colorado defense. Sophomore Robert Woods is tied for second in the nation with 81 catches, and he’s fifth in receiving yards, averaging 123.9 per game. Woods’ high school teammate, Marqise Lee, is making a name for himself very early in his career with the Trojans – but he and Woods won’t be the only Serra grads on the field.

Colorado WR Paul Richardson also played opposite Woods in high school. He’s missed the last four games with a knee injury, and it’s questionable whether he’ll play, but it’s crucial that Colorado get him back if they want a shot to make a game of it.

Richardson is one of many ‘Buffs to be bit by the injury bug. At one point during the season, as many as six scholarships corners were injured at the same time. Colorado’s top running back, Rodney Stewart, is also questionable with a knee injury. He missed the last two games and has 908 yards of total offense, including 435 yearbook entires), but could return Friday. If he does come back, he’ll face a tough test in his first game back. USC is 16th nationally in rushing defense, and even with a few holes, Stewart will have to work for every yard.

One of the brighter spots in the Buffaloes’ disappointing season is the passing game. Hansen has a 56.7% completion percentage, with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. The team’s 245.1 passing yards per game average is 48th in the nation (compared with USC’s 286.5), one of Colorado’s better statistical categories. With some new faces on the USC defense, the Buffs’ could have an opportunity to make something happen on offense.

The Colorado defense, though, is another story. Free safety Ray Polk, a converted tailback, will make some plays, but the rest of the defense has not stepped up as players have dropped to injury. They gave up 307 yards to ASU’s Brock Osweiler last weekend, and as a team, the Buffaloes have been outscored, 224-74, in Pac-12 play thus far.

USC, facing a much weaker team, should come out fired up after last week’s close loss, and more recent developments, like Kiffin’s fine and McDonald’s suspension, should have them on the attack, but they can’t lose sight of the task at hand – winning the football game. If they come out playing hard like they did against Notre Dame and Stanford, the Trojans should win in a rout. As Barkley told the Daily Trojan, “I think it will be an opportunity for us to dominate rather than just coast through.”

If they’re affected by the altitude and the weather, the Pac-12 officiating issues from the week and the players sitting out for various reasons, USC could leave the door open for the Buffaloes. If not, this game, televised nationally on ESPN at 9 ET, could be over by halftime.

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