BOULDER, Colo. -- It was my first USC road game. Sure, I'd covered the Trojans Back East, back home if you will, at the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands, at Notre Dame and at the 1988 USC- Notre Dame game at the Coliseum that gave the Irish the national championship.
But on this day in 2002, in Game 2 of that season after a 24-17 opening home win over Auburn, the Carson Palmer-Troy Polamalu Trojans, ranked a tentative No 17, were off to Boulder to meet the No. 18 Buffs.
And as the USC beat reporter for the first time, I was there. And a perfect place it was to be. Day game. Early September. In beautiful Boulder. You couldn't ask for more than that.
Those weren't the only things that made this as close to perfect a day as USC fans, who showed up in great numbers among the sellout crowd, could have hoped for. The Trojans rolled, 40-3, in a game that said Pete Carroll & Co. were back. USC held Colorado to just 61 yards and four first downs in handing the Buffs their worst home loss since 1983.
"So many things worked so well for us,'' Carroll said. "I think we handled the environment, we handled the altitude. We ran the football like we haven't in a while. Defensively, we didn't let them get into a rhythm. I'm glad we could get some focus and play a complete football game.''
That win was more important than USC could know at the time as it carried the Trojans through a couple of early losses -- to Pac-12-winning Washington State in overtime at Pullman and to a scrambling Kansas State team at the Coliseum.
Despite those losses, USC never fell below No. 20, allowing the Trojans with a seven-game win streak to rise to No. 5 and a spot against Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
It's a good lesson for this 2015 USC team even if this Colorado team isn't ranked and can't help USC's upward mobility. It's one more step.
And one that will keep the ball rolling for Clay Helton's guys. They'll have another chance for a number of them to step up as they did that day in Boulder where Palmer (22 of 30 for 244 yards, one passing TD, one rushing TD) was the star. But he wasn't alone.
On offense, Malaefou MacKenzie scored two touchdowns, Sultan McCullough rushed for 110 yards and a 62-yard TD and Keary Colbert caught a pair of long Palmer passes.
And no way to highlight by naming them all here what the Polamalu-led defense did to the Buffs. This was a team effort.
"We were just awful, I don't know what else to say. We were doubly awful on offense and just awful on defense'' Colorado coach Gary Barnett said in comments that most CU coaches have had to make in a onesided series that has the Buffs losing all nine games back to 1927 with USC outscoring CU 333 to 104.
"But I don't want to take anything away from Southern California," Barnett said. "That's a very good team and a well-coached team. I'm embarrassed that we didn't give them a better game. They were obviously ready to play, and we were not ready to play that caliber of football today.''
Now if USC, in Game 10 of this series, against a fellow Pac-12 member this time, can just go back to those good old days when the Trojans were getting it together to make their multi-year run.
Colorado will always be a part of that. Now it's up to USC to make history repeat itself in whatever way it can.
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