BOULDER - As seniors walked off of Folsom Field for the last time, some with tears in their eyes, it was clear that this was in many ways the end of an era of Buffs football.
The University of Southern California isn’t just a football powerhouse, they’ve been the class of the Pac-12’s South division the last couple years. On Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field, they reiterated their superiority by clinching the division a game early.
The Colorado Buffaloes put up a valiant effort in a 38-24 loss, first slowing down USC’s powerful offense in the first half defensively and then getting an offensive rhythm going in the second half. Two seasons ago, a game like this got you excited as a Buffs fan; it’s a sign things are progressing in the right direction. Today, after having won the South division a season ago, it feels as if the “Rise” isn’t complete just yet.
When putting the Trojans and Buffaloes side-by-side it’s not the size that is lacking nor is it effort or even coaching; USC simply had a couple more playmakers than CU and that’s ultimately what it came down to.
There are young Buffs like Juwann Winfree and Laviska Shenault who made plays every time they touched the ball and the heart of Phil Lindsay that made a difference on the ground. Bottom line is the playmakers are just slightly inferior to the South’s best team and that’s where the next wave of improvements needs to come.
Steven Montez has the frame, the arm, and even the athleticism to match opposing quarterbacks like Sam Darnold, but on Saturday, it was Darnold who was just a step above Montez. There are throws that are too often left on the field or just barely missed, throws Darnold isn’t missing unless the defense makes a play to counter them.
Trojans running back Ronald Jones II was also a major factor in this game, particularly as it progressed and he wore down the Buffs' defense. While Lindsay showed his heart, power, and vision, he just didn’t break as many tackles as Jones nor did he create nearly as many big runs.
As the Buffs enter a new era of football with this senior class moving on after a final game on the road against Utah, USC was a perfect barometer for the Buffs, who still have more improvements to make before they can expect to contend for the South division year in and year out.
Last year’s recruiting class should help as those freshmen become a year older and Sheanault and fellow freshman K.D. Nixon have one more year of experience under their belts. Both possess game-breaking speed. It’ll also be huge for Montez to take that next step, channeling his true potential into production. It's clear the talent isn’t lacking for this team at least not in the future but the playmakers are, at least for now as they still improve.
Defensively. the Buffs are young and inexperienced and it shows, but it was also apparent how much better this team can still get. Cornerback Dante Wigley, in particular, showed lots of flashes. He's not the only one either as Chris Mulumba showed his power against the run and Drew Lewis has made plays all year.
This is a coming of age story, and also one about a group of Seniors who overcame all the odds to set the foundation for what we called the “Rise,” returning the Buffs to prominence in the college football world. The road to travel is far from over, as evidenced by the 20 point defeat to USC, but as things progress there’s plenty to be optimistic about as we start to look forward to the 2018 season. It'll take a new generation of players to do it, but for the first time in ages, it feels like that new generation is already here waiting to be groomed.