After four weeks, this is setting up to be one of the more memorable seasons in college football. Alabama is vulnerable, the Pac-12 is going down swinging, new blood is circling the playoff picture, and, dare I say, Texas is back. Then, there is the biggest story of them all: the Colorado Buffaloes.
The national attention Deion Sanders has brought to his program has been bigger than I ever imagined. Last week’s marquee matchup against Oregon was the most watched game of 2023. Folks who haven’t watched a single game of college football are now tuning in to see how far Sanders can take the Buffaloes in his first year.
Even after a 42-6 bludgeoning at the hands of Dan Lanning’s Oregon Ducks, Sanders handled the loss admirably, keeping the college football world anticipating how the next chapter of the season unfolds. His Buffaloes will get perhaps their greatest challenge of the season this Saturday when they host Caleb Williams and the USC Trojans.
This was billed as a possible showdown between two Heisman trophy favorites, but Oregon’s defense delivered a crushing setback to Shedeur Sanders’ chances. The Colorado quarterback saw his odds balloon to +8000 after the loss, while Caleb Williams and Michael Penix Jr. occupy the top spots at +350 to win the award. An upset over USC as a 21.5-point underdog would certainly propel Sanders back into the conversation.
The betting splits appear a little more balanced this week, a shift from the avalanche of public money backing the Buffaloes in recent weeks. Should bettors expect another blowout, or will Colorado prove it can compete with the Pac-12’s best? Let’s take a look at why the Trojans are a different matchup than the Ducks, and what early indicators will show us if we are going to get a similar result to what we saw in Oregon.
No. 8 USC Trojans at Colorado Buffaloes
The first thing we should clear up is that USC and Oregon are not the same type of teams. The Ducks are a much more physical team in the trenches and were able to easily dominate Colorado at the point of attack. The two teams being different doesn’t necessarily mean it will lead to more success for the Buffaloes. Opposing offenses have exploited Alex Grinch’s defense by running right at it. The Trojans’ defense is currently 112th in EPA per handoff and allowed Arizona State’s Cameron Skattebo to gash it for 110 yards (5.6 per rush) last week. The challenge is that Colorado’s offense isn’t designed to take advantage of defenses that way. We know the Buffaloes are best when the ball is in Shedeur Sanders’ hands. Whether coordinator Sean Lewis commits to a more balanced attack, and whether that even works, will go a long way in determining if Colorado can keep up with the Trojans’ offense long enough to cover the spread.
I can easily see the USC offense going into full “Mike McDaniel mode” and hanging 70 points on Colorado. It makes sense for Williams to show out in front of the massive audience. It’s a great opportunity to put up video-game numbers in an effort to create some separation from Penix in the Heisman race. The biggest difference you will see between Williams and Shedeur Sanders is the amount of time each quarterback has to operate in the pocket. Williams has the luxury of playing with one of the most efficient rushing attacks in college football. Lincoln Riley’s offense ranks third overall in EPA per rush and should run right through Colorado’s defense. It’s bad enough Colorado ranks 119th in defensive success rate, but the problems compound when you factor in that it is coming off a game in which it was physically dominated for 240 rushing yards. No matter how you look at it, Colorado’s defense is getting cooked in this game.
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USC’s ability to light up the scoreboard impacts Colorado’s offense as well. Let’s tie it back to a balanced run/pass ratio being the best way to exploit USC. When Williams is adding another seven points to the scoreboard every time he steps on the field, it’s going to make it really, really difficult for Lewis to dial up a bunch of running plays. If Colorado chooses to consistently drop back, Sanders is going to be running for his life. Per Chris Hummer at 247 Sports, USC has the sixth-highest pressure rate in college football, and Colorado gives up sacks at the seventh-highest rate in the FBS. Per Pro Football Focus, the Trojans also grade out with the third-highest pass-rushing grade. The USC secondary can be had, but I have my doubts Sanders is going to have the time to get the ball out consistently enough to sustain drives.
This game is setting up to be closer to a repeat of last weekend’s game for the Buffaloes than the thrilling comeback against Colorado State that saw Shedeur Sanders drive 98 yards to force overtime. I will be excited to see Shedeur Sanders in those types of situations again, but it’s not likely to happen this week. Colorado gets Arizona State and Stanford in the following two weeks and I might get back to betting on the Buffs, but this week it’s all USC for me.
Betting recommendations: USC -21.5, USC 1H -11.5, USC team total over 48.5
Stats provided by PFF and gameonpaper.com.