Southern California climbed back into the AP rankings for the first time since September after beating one of the country’s top teams last weekend.
Interim coach Ed Orgeron’s program doesn’t appear to have nearly as tough a challenge Saturday night.
Seeking a fifth consecutive victory, the No. 23 Trojans try to stay unbeaten in eight matchups against lowly Colorado.
While USC (8-3, 5-2 Pac-12) failed to live up to expectations under Lane Kiffin after opening the season ranked 24th, the Trojans have thrived under Orgeron, going 5-1 overall and 5-0 in conference play. His leadership was on full display last Saturday as USC beat then-No. 5 Stanford 20-17 behind Andre Heidari’s 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left.
“In our tight-knit family, there was a belief that we were going to find a way to win the game,” Orgeron said. “I don’t know if I pulled them together. I think they just came together. The leadership of this program is really coming to the forefront.”
Cody Kessler completed 25 of 37 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown, and Dion Bailey and Su’a Cravens came up with big fourth-quarter interceptions. USC sits in a second-place tie with UCLA in the South Division, one game behind Arizona State.
The Trojans haven’t won five straight in the same season since 2008.
“When you have a father figure like Coach O treating us all like sons and putting us under his arm, we want to run through a brick wall for him,” linebacker Hayes Pullard said. “One team one heartbeat, we wanted to carry that over. We wanted to show him that we are with him no matter what.”
With Orgeron’s success comes questions regarding his job status for next season. The longtime defensive line coach, though, is trying to keep his focus on the field.
“Obviously there’s going to be a decision made here after we play UCLA (on Nov. 30),” he said. “That’s totally out of my hands. All I can do is work with them every day. I think everything happens for a reason and there’s a greater plan.”
The Trojans will try to keep rolling against the Buffaloes (4-6, 1-6), whom they have outscored 230-47 in winning all seven matchups. Marqise Lee hauled in six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in last season’s 50-6 rout.
Colorado had dropped 14 consecutive conference games by an average of 34.6 points before beating one-win California 41-24 last Saturday. Freshman Sefo Liufau threw for a season-high 364 yards and three scores, finding Paul Richardson 11 times for 140 yards.
“I think that is good for the university,” Richardson, who ranks fourth in the nation and second in the Pac-12 with 120.1 receiving yards per game, told the Buffaloes’ official website. “They bring guys in each year hoping that they can do better than the guys in the past. We have to rewrite history in order to get this program back to being successful.”
Fellow wideout Nelson Spruce added eight receptions for 140 yards.
“Those guys are special,” coach Mike MacIntyre said of Spruce and Richardson. “I’m really proud of both of them. (Richardson) is real special. I’m very proud of what he means to this team. They do a great job of getting open and our quarterback does a great job of reading coverages and getting the ball to the right guys.”
While Liufau picked apart the Golden Bears’ secondary, he could be in for a long night against the Trojans. USC is tied for 12th in the country with 15 interceptions and allows just 217.5 passing yards per game.
Kessler and the Trojans will try to take advantage of a very favorable matchup. Colorado is giving up 38.8 points per game, tied for the eighth-worst mark in college football.
The Buffaloes have dropped 13 straight against Top 25 foes, falling 57-16 to then-No. 2 Oregon on Oct. 5 and 45-23 at then-No. 17 UCLA on Nov. 2.