First, first look: Colorado

July, 14, 2011
7/14/11
5:50
PM PT
The weeks are counting down until fall camp begins for the USC football team the first week of August. During each of the in-between weeks, we've been offering up an early first look at the 12 scheduled opponents for the 2011 season, in chronological order. We began with Minnesota and Utah, continued the next three weeks with Syracuse, Arizona State, and Arizona, and added Cal, Notre Dame and Stanford recently. We now present Colorado, who the Trojans will play at home on Friday, Nov. 4:

History: Colorado is the only team USC will face next season that has never beaten the Trojans.

In five all-time games between the two schools, USC has outscored the Buffaloes by a score of 138-24. The closest Colorado has come to the Trojans was a 17-14 squeaker at the Coliseum in 2000; the other four matchups were either USC shutouts or 35-point-plus margin victories.


The last time they played, in 2002, USC and Colorado entered into the game ranked back-to-back in the Associated Press rankings: Nos. 17 and 18. Former high school All-American quarterback Craig Ochs missed the game because of a concussion for Colorado, Heisman candidate Chris Brown was held below 90 yards rushing for the only time all season and USC's Carson Palmer shined to smash the Buffaloes, 40-3.

Offense: The Buffaloes' offense is built around one of the top running backs in the Pac-12, 5-foot-6, 170-pounder Rodney Stewart -- a 1,300-yard rusher in 2010 who has proven more than capable of taking a beating as a workhorse in the backfield, despite his small stature.

Stewart was supposed to have four of five starters on the offensive line returning to block for him, too -- until senior center Mike Iltis returned this offseason to focus on academics after suffering a knee injury in the 2010 season finale. Still, the Buffs will bring back three starters on the line, including former state player of the year Ryan Miller, considered a potential All-American at right guard. The other two returners are senior left guard Ethan Adkins and sophomore left tackle David Bakhtiari.

At quarterback, Colorado will start senior Tyler Hansen, a talented slinger and capable scrambler who has never started a full season. A Murrieta native, he missed the final five games in 2010 because of a ruptured spleen and started only the final seven games of 2009 after seizing the starting job.

After Scotty McKnight was drafted by the NFL's New York Jets, Hansen's top pass-catching option will be sophomore Paul Richardson, a high school teammate of Robert Woods who was a pleasant surprise as a freshman. Michigan transfer Toney Clemons caught a pass in all but one game last season and returns for his senior year in 2011.

Colorado's offensive coordinator is Eric Bieniemy. Lane Kiffin offered him the same job at USC in July 2010 before hiring Kennedy Pola, a nice little built-in storyline for the television broadcast in November.

Defense: The Buffaloes don't have a standout defender, junior defensive tackle Will Pericak the closest thing to an all-conference performer coordinator Greg Brown inherited when he returned to Colorado this offseason after a one-year stint as Arizona's co-defensive coordinator.

Defensive end Josh Hartigan, a senior, is another talented player, but he's exceedingly small for the end position at just 6-1 and 220 pounds. He led the Buffs with seven sacks in 2010. Senior tackle Curtis Cunningham is another experienced player returning on the line, and the Buffaloes have a good amount of depth at end as well.

In the secondary, they lost NFL first-round pick Jimmy Smith, a standout at corner, but return intriguing sophomore Terrel Smith, who averaged 10 tackles a game last season, and junior safety Ray Polk. Converted safety Patrick Mahnke is the only returning starter at linebacker.

In general, the Buffaloes defense is smaller than normal. But a defensive line that has proven capable of generating a pass rush could offset that weight disadvantage.

Special teams/special circumstances: USC has one player who hails from the state of Colorado: walk-on corner Allen Noble. Colorado has 18 players who hail from the state of California.

Two in-state sophomores, kicker Justin Castor and punter Zach Grossnickle, are expected to handle the special-teams duties, with Clemons taking over at punt returner for former USC receiver/returner Travon Patterson. Clemons also ran back kicks, and he figures to split time with Mission Viejo product Brian Lockridge there.

That's it for this week. Next week comes a look at Washington.

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