First look: Colorado

Lane Kiffin's statement Monday night after the Pac-12 announced his $10,000 fine for criticizing officials in USC's loss to Stanford included a brief mention at the end of the Trojans' next opponent.

"We have moved on from last week's game and we are preparing for a very challenging conference game this Friday at Colorado," the statement read.

There's a game this week? It was pretty easy to forget in the haze of Kiffin's comments after the Stanford game over the weekend. But there is indeed a contest for the Trojans to play -- on Friday, no less -- a game they have to win to continue a three-week string of good performances.

And that's the biggest challenge for USC this week: not letting up in the face of its weakest 2011 opponent. On the surface, the Buffaloes have a 1-8 record and their two best skill-position players have missed several games because of injuries. But letdowns happen. As Kiffin also mentioned over the weekend, the end of Saturday's game was a letdown -- at least defensively. The Trojans couldn't stop Stanford at all in the final minutes of regulation and the three overtime periods.

Kiffin said it reminded him of USC's defensive performances from last year, when teams could count on scoring on their final drive against the Trojans almost every time.

Colorado hasn't lost to a team by less than 28 points in a month. Playing Stanford, Washington, Oregon and Arizona State the last four weeks obviously didn't help, but the Trojans shouldn't have too much of an issue playing the Buffaloes in three days and dispatching by them a multi-touchdown margin.

They shouldn't. But that doesn't mean they won't. All the key signs for a letdown are present, from the big-time emotions expended recently to the short week to the mediocre opponent to the night kickoff to the adverse weather conditions expected in Boulder.

And USC must also be wary of the potential return of receiver Paul Richardson and running back Rodney Stewart for Friday's matchup. Buffaloes coach Jon Embree has said this week that he expects both to suit up against the Trojans.

That could change some things. But, like it usually is for Kiffin's Trojans, the key to victory will start and end with their own play -- not anybody else's.