Ryan Abraham: Which quarterback will the Trojan defense see on Saturday and even if both are healthy, which QB gives the Buffs the best chance to win?
Adam Munsterteiger: “As of Wednesday, it is up-in-the-air as to whether senior Sefo Liufau will return to action or if redshirt freshman Steven Montez will get his third straight start behind center. When Liufau is deemed by the training staff to be 100 percent healed from the ankle injury he suffered in week three against Michigan, I expect him to get his starting gig back. When he got hurt, Liufau was sixth in the nation in passer rating, and he is a three-year captain with a wealth of experience. Even though Montez performed excellent against two sub-par defenses in Oregon and Oregon State, I don't see how you can justify not letting Liufau play out his senior season. Certainly if Liufau does come back and struggles for a significant stretch, then I could see giving Montez another opportunity. But, again, Liufau was playing great football before he got hurt. The Buffs outscored their first two opponents 100-14 and were leading at No. 4 Michigan when Liufau was sidelined.”
RA: How has Colorado gone from scraping to win a single Pac-12 game to being undefeated in the conference and nationally ranked?
AM: “It started with Mike MacIntyre fixing the attrition issue, an issue that had plagued the Buffaloes' program for far too long. It felt like there was a revolving door and players would bolt at the first sign of adversity. That led to a re-occurring cycle of having to put players out on the field, as freshmen and sophomores, before they were truly ready. As I mentioned, MacIntyre has kept players in his program, and the staff has developed them. The Buffs' returning players had a total of 412 starts under their collective belt entering the 2016 season, the most in program history. 11 of Colorado's 12 starters on defense are upperclassmen. And the additions of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini to the staff the last couple years has been big as well. The new facilities have also helped them gain an up-tick in recruiting.”
RA: The Colorado front-seven has really been impressive this season. Who are the standouts Trojan fans should look for in that group?
AM: “Senior Josh Tupou, who returned to Boulder after a year-long suspension, does not make a lot of tackles himself but he is the key to the Buffaloes' defensive front. He is a space-eating 325-pounder that mans the nose tackle role on Colorado's three-man defensive line. Tupou has been playing at an all-conference level this season, as has senior inside linebacker Kenneth Olugbode, who leads the team in tackles by a fairly wide margin. Jordan Carrell and Samson Kafovalu are the other starting defensive linemen and they both seasoned seniors. Outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert is coming off his best game as a Buff. He had two sacks and two forced fumbles against Oregon State last Saturday.”
RA: USC fans are familiar with the name Shay Fields. Can you share the story of how he ended up in Boulder and how he has grown as a player since then?
AM: “Shay Fields grew up a Trojans fan, and he changed his pledge from Boise State to USC when Ed Orgeron was the interim head coach in the fall of 2013. When Steve Sarkisian took over, however, Fields stopped receiving calls from the Trojans. He read between the lines and started taking other trips. Fields saw an opportunity to play early at Colorado and that certainly played out. He broke five school freshman records in 2014, including most receptions. Fields then had a great start to his sophomore campaign last season before a high ankle sprain limited him. He still finished second on the team in catches and yards behind Nelson Spruce, and tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions. Fields' hands are really dependable. I could count the number of drops he has had in games at Colorado on one hand. Fields is coming off a three touchdown performance against Oregon State and he has admitted in the past, he circles the USC game on his calendar every year.”
RA: On Saturday, if the Buffaloes are able to win their first game against USC, it will be because...
AM: “USC doesn't carry the momentum it seemingly gained last weekend against Arizona State into this game. We know after five games Colorado is a pretty good football team, despite its struggles in previous years. In my opinion, we don't know yet what this Trojans team is capable of. If all those former blue-chip recruits on USC's squad show up and play to their ability on Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, the Buffs will remain defeated against the Trojans. Colorado's defense certainly needs to find a way to rattle Sam Darnold, or at least make him uncomfortable, to pull off the upset. The Buffs' run defense also needs to be better than it was at Michigan and at Oregon.”
RA: How do you see this game playing out and do you have a score prediction?
AM: “I have honestly had a better feel going into Colorado's previous five games than I do this week. USC has certainly underachieved so far this season, but did they start to figure it out last week? I do think Trojans fans that haven't watched the Buffaloes yet this season will be somewhat surprised. This isn't a Colorado team that is going to get blown out. But the Buffs have yet to defeat the Trojans, and until they do, I am going to take the jaded view. I'll say USC wins 34-31.”