LOS ANGELES (AP) — Josh Falo will look across the line of scrimmage at some point Saturday night, and the Southern California tight end will be lined up against his brother, Colorado linebacker Nu’umotu Falo.
Yet this friendly sibling rivalry won’t be the most important thing on either brother’s mind when the 19th-ranked Buffaloes (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) go for a historic victory over the defending conference champion Trojans (3-2, 2-1).
“I feel like it’s our biggest game of the season,” Josh Falo said. “I feel like it’s going to be for first place in the Pac-12 South, and I feel like whoever wins it is going to win the Pac-12. Doesn’t get much bigger than that.”
Both teams realize the stakes when they meet at the Coliseum, where the Trojans still haven’t lost in 18 games under head coach Clay Helton.
Colorado is off to its best start in two decades, but the Buffaloes realize they have to beat the biggest program in the division to truly cement themselves as the favorite for their second Pac-12 South title in three years. The Buffs might be the only unbeaten team between South Bend and the Pacific Ocean, but the extent of their growth into a championship-contending program will be measured under the lights in downtown LA.
“We’ve never beaten them. Just that right there is a little bit of motivation,” Colorado quarterback Steven Montez said. “We go into this game like we’ve gone into these past five games. … Every year is a new year, and so anybody can be beaten at any time. That’s how we looked at every single game we’ve played so far. We know we can be beaten as well.”
Both teams are packing a wealth of offensive talent into this showdown.
Montez has one of the most intriguing partnerships in college football with big receiver Laviska Shenault, who leads the nation in receptions (51) and yards receiving (708) after a monster game against Arizona last week.
USC has plenty of playmakers supporting freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels, even if Daniels and the Trojans haven’t put together a dominant offensive game. Receiver Michael Pittman Jr. believes the Trojans are rounding into form after some early missteps, just as they did in 2016 when they started 1-3 but won their final nine games, including the Rose Bowl.
“This feels similar to two years ago, like we’re starting to get it going,” USC receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. “You never know what happens if we win out and teams start losing. Maybe we can get back in the playoff.”
More things to watch in the Pac-12’s latest late-night matchup:
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
The Buffaloes have lost all 12 of the school’s previous meetings with USC, but the Trojans have never faced an unbeaten Colorado team outside two season openers in the 1960s. The Trojans have outscored Colorado 419-169, but their last three meetings under coaches Mike MacIntyre and Helton have been much closer, with USC winning that trio by a combined 21 points. Helton is unbeaten at the Coliseum since taking over the permanent job from Steve Sarkisian in 2015. The 18-game winning streak is the second-longest in the nation, and the school’s longest at the Coliseum since winning 35 straight from 2001-07 under Pete Carroll.
As you might expect, MacIntyre doesn’t care about the streaks: “Anytime you’re playing a Pac-12 South opponent it’s a little bit bigger, because you can separate yourself a little more, or they can close the gap a little more. That makes it a big game.”
USC was off last weekend, and the Trojans used the time to get healthy and to re-focus on the seven regular-season games remaining. The Trojans dropped road games at Texas and Stanford during their typically difficult September schedule, but tailback Aca’Cedric Ware thinks they came out of the break refreshed and reloaded: “We still have the possibility of being a great team. We can make a run, but we’ve got to start it right now. These next two games (against Colorado and Utah) are going to be a test of who we are and how far we’ve come.”
BUFFS’ BIGGEST TEST
Colorado ran up its 5-0 record against opponents with a combined 6-21 record.
Daniels used the Trojans’ week off to think about improving his pocket presence and his precision on deep balls. The 18-year-old who graduated a full year early from high school has passed for 1,257 yards with only four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Daniels has just one 300-yard performance after Sam Darnold put up eight last year. He is firmly entrenched as USC’s starter, but hasn’t yet dazzled for an entire game. Offensive coordinator Tee Martin hinted the Trojans have a few new offensive wrinkles coming out of their open date.
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Boulder contributed to this report.
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