The USC Trojans face perhaps their final tuneup of the 2012 season in the Coliseum against the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday at 3 p.m. PT, a last chance to get things right before games against the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks over the next two weeks.
The Trojans are coming off a 10-point road win against Washington. We take a look at 10 things to watch in Saturday's action.
1. Time to break some records. It all lines up. Lane Kiffin likes to set records, and his quarterback and wide receiver are on the verge of some meaningful ones. Let's put it this way: It would be very surprising if both Matt Barkley and Robert Woods didn't set their marks tomorrow. Barkley needs four touchdown passes to break Matt Leinart's all-time school and conference mark of 99 scoring throws, and Woods needs five grabs to pass Dwayne Jarrett's 216 career catches in a USC uniform. There's about – what? -- a 90 percent chance both players do it against the Buffaloes.
2. A test for the tackles. Like almost all college football teams, the Buffaloes have some talented players ... just not enough. Their left tackle, junior David Bakhtiari, is an NFL prospect who would slot right in above USC's Aundrey Walker on the Trojans' line. But he's really the only Colorado player who'd be a for-sure starter in L.A. There's another one who could prove a threat, though: the 6-3, 250-pound defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who's been timed at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. He'll line up directly across from Walker and Max Tuerk at left tackle; he has six sacks this season, so he'll be a good test for the two offensive linemen. Walker's been wrecked by the good ends he's faced this year.
3. Not the outcome, the score. Let's be honest, Colorado's not beating USC. If the Buffaloes somehow topped the Trojans, it'd be one of the biggest sporting upsets in recent memory. It's not even a possibility, though, right? But keeping track of the score could be interesting, because USC's at the point of the season where it really could matter. If the Trojans only beat the Buffs by 21 and someone else beats them by 42, that someone else is going to boast about that mark in a month. Kiffin said he has no plans to run up the score, but it's important to at least make the final margin look nice and convincing.
4. How many will be watching? This game will be on the Pac-12 Network, the second time a USC game has been broadcast there this season. Many Trojans fans don't have the network, and a lot of college football fans don't have it, either. Adding to the fact that West Virginia and Kansas State will be kicking off an hour later, it seems likely to be USC's least-watched game this year -- by far. (All the more reason to run up the score late.)
5. More Shaw, or back to Harris? Kiffin's not saying who he's he starting, but logical signs point to Josh Shaw getting another go at corner against Colorado. He played well last week, and Torin Harris got hurt. Against an opponent like the Buffs, with games against Arizona and Oregon up next, it makes a lot of sense to rest any players who've been ailing at all as of late.
6. Walker and Tuerk. The second corner spot has been one of two problem spots for the Trojans this year. The other has been left tackle. Tuerk, a true freshman, is getting another crack at Walker's job this week, although it's not known who'll be getting the start. It's safe to assume that the player who looks better against the Buffs will be the starter against Arizona next weekend, and that's actually a fairly big deal.
7. Crowd. USC has sold out Saturday's game, quite an accomplishment considering the opponent. Colorado couldn't even sell out its allotted amount of 2,500 seats. The Trojans have talked all week about how much it means to be back at home, so the Coliseum crowd could really support that argument by filling up by kickoff -- or at least early in the first quarter -- and staying until the fourth. The loudest point is probably going to be early. It's parents' weekend at the school, too.
8. Second-stringers. The whole point of the hoopla surrounding USC naming a backup quarterback in the summer was that he was going to have to play a lot when the Trojans opened up big leads over teams and brought in the backups. That hasn't really happened, and Max Wittek hasn't thrown a single pass over the last five games as Barkley's backup. That should change Saturday, and it should be good experience for the guy who appears to have the early lead in becoming Barkley's successor. Skill-position players like D.J. Morgan, Buck Allen, De'Von Flournoy and George Farmer also should get more opportunities.
9. Speaking of Farmer … Has there been a bigger disappointment for the Trojans over the last year and a half than George Farmer? It's sad, but it's true. The ultra-top prospect has done virtually nothing this season after an up-and-down freshman year. His breakout needs to come sometime soon, if it's ever going to happen. Injuries have been an issue and drops have been, too, but his biggest problem has been wholly mental. Would it surprise people if he suddenly came out and caught two touchdown passes tomorrow, though? Not really.
10. Penalties. Flags have been USC's single biggest teamwide issue this season. You can't be the worst in the country at anything and expect to be a dominant team, but that's what the Trojans have done through six games. If they can't fix it in Saturday's game, then it's an even bigger problem than we've realized. The biggest culprits are Walker, tight end Xavier Grimble and overall delays of game on the offense ... plus a myriad of offenders on special teams.