Trojans brace for final road trip to Colorado

Junior running back Ronald Jones II speeds past a diving tackler in a game against Arizona at the Coliseum. Photo by Sarah Kim | Daily Trojan

As the Trojans began another week of practice in preparation for Colorado, the team received positive news in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings, which were announced midway through Tuesday’s practice.

USC reacts to rankings jump

In the first edition of the CFP Rankings, which were released last week, the Trojans came in ranked at No. 17. After a wild week of college football in which four top 15 teams suffered defeats, USC rose dramatically to No. 11, ahead of Ohio State, Penn State and Oklahoma State.

“I’m not surprised, I feel like we should be there,” junior running back Ronald Jones II said after finding out about the new ranking. “I didn’t know that we jumped that far, but that’s what’s up. I like that.”

The Trojans appeared to be eliminated from playoff consideration when they were crushed by 35 points at the hands of Notre Dame, but now after consecutive wins over Arizona State and Arizona, there seems to be at least a small chance.

“We do have that hope,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold said. “But at the same time we’re focused on taking it one week at a time, because if we beat Colorado then we control our own destiny. If we beat UCLA, if we just continue to win games, that’s really all that matters.”

It was the second-highest increase in rankings among teams ranked in the CFP Top 25. Michigan State moved up 12 spots to No. 12 after upsetting Penn State on Saturday. Only No. 10 Auburn came in as a higher ranked two-loss team, while No. 9 Washington continues to be the highest-ranked Pac-12 program. 

“It’s still so early in November,” head coach Clay Helton said. “There are so many games still to be played and decisions to be made. It’s nice to be thought of that way. We still have the opportunity to not only play Colorado but also have another game next week and hopefully have another one after that with the Pac-12 Championship.”

Injury Update

On Tuesday, several key contributors including junior tight end Tyler Petite (shoulder), senior outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (ankle) and freshman placekicker Chase McGrath (groin) were held out of practice with minor injuries. All are listed as day-to-day.

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Christian Rector (broken hand), junior cornerback Iman Marshall (knee) and redshirt freshman running back Vavae Malepaei (knee) all returned to practice in limited capacities. Helton thinks both Marshall and Malepaei, who suffered similar injuries, could be ready in time for Colorado.

“I think both of them showed good signs,” Helton said. “It’s early in the week. We held both last week, being protective, and both of them got live work today, which was good to see.”

Scouting Colorado

Colorado has regressed significantly from last year’s surprising 10-win season, but the Buffaloes still have bring an elite ground attack to the table behind running back Phillip Lindsay. The high-volume, powerful back has the most carries in the FBS (263) and the fourth-most rushing yards (1,334).

“Lindsay jumps out all over the tape,” Helton said. “His ability to be a very durable back, he can touch the ball 30 times, he actually carried it 40 times in one game. Just a very durable back that comes out of the backfield and can be very explosive. I remember him catching a pass against us down the sideline last year on a wheel route.”

Helton sees Colorado as a dangerous opponent with plenty to prove this weekend, despite entering as a heavy underdog.

“You really see a team that’s playing good football but has lost some very close games,” Helton said. “They’re fighting for bowl eligibility, so we know we’re going to get their best.”