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    USC, Colorado bring similar rebuilds into titanic Saturday matchup
    • September 29, 2023

    In appearance, in public persona and style, the architects behind two of the most visible programs in college football couldn’t possibly be more different.

    One is an oft-described football genius with a light Southern drawl and heavy weight on his shoulders, who’s made waves helming two national contenders but earned heavy backlash in the process, who often approaches the public with cards tucked carefully against his chest.

    One is a bona fide marketing genius who’s led an entire city – scratch, that, country – to rally behind cowboy hats and shades, inspiring collegiate football hope in a town of Boulder, Colorado, where there was little, so self-aware of his own incendiary charisma that he’ll show his cards to anyone who asks and dare ‘em to raise the pot.

    The process by which Lincoln Riley and Deion Sanders have approached respective rebuilds at USC and Colorado, though, is much the same. Ignore the criticism, and unabashedly blitz the portal in lieu of an extended recruiting rebuild – Riley bringing in 20 transfers in his first year in Southern California to reignite Trojans glory, Sanders going so far as to tell returners to skedaddle and welcoming in an unprecedented 51 transfers this year to the Buffs. Build a dynamic offense behind explosive quarterbacks – Caleb Williams and Sanders’ son Shedeur – they both brought from previous stops.

    So Sanders and Riley have waxed poetic about the job the other’s done in pre-week availability, a far cry from Colorado’s recent opponents

    “I see right where he’s coming from,” Riley said Tuesday.

    Yes, their approaches are radically different. But Sanders has been genuine in that approach, Riley said. And leadership, Riley expressed later in the week, thrives on authenticity.

    “When I’ve seen, in my opinion, guys fail or mess up or maybe not hit the mark, it’s been like – guys try to be something they’re not,” Riley told media Thursday. “And then the people they’re leading typically see through that.”

    The trajectories of two of the most vaunted leaders – and interesting personalities – collide Saturday at Folsom Field, a game that Trojans and Buffs fans have had circled and the national media have licked their chops over since Sanders began dominating college football headlines.

    USC and Colorado walk in with something to prove: hype around the Buffs throttled in a 42-6 loss to Oregon last Saturday, and the Trojans left with a laundry list of issues to correct after a sloppy 42-28 win over Arizona State. And the spectacle at Folsom on Saturday (will Lil Wayne lead Colorado out of the tunnel again? Will rumored guests DJ Khaled, Will Ferrell and Snoop Dogg share a suite together? Will Buffs fans rush the field even after their athletic director wagged his finger?) will be a sight to behold.

    When Colorado has the ball

    Through three weeks, Jackson State transfer Shedeur Sanders was generating considerable Heisman buzz. That vanished in the span of four quarters and a single touchdown at Oregon. Only so much a man can do, though, when he ends up on his backside seven times; the quarterback has thrived in spite of a flimsy line, completing 77% of his passes with 11 touchdowns.

    “That’s phenomenal,” Deion Sanders said of his son in pre-week media availability, “considering what we’ve given up sack-wise and pressures.”

    It doesn’t get any easier for the Buffs on Saturday, as USC enters tied for second in the nation in sacks. If Solomon Byrd and Bear Alexander can continue dominant play generating pressure, it’ll take plenty of pressure off a highly inconsistent secondary – particularly as Colorado’s two best receivers in Xavier Weaver and Travis Hunter may be out.

    When USC has the ball

    The main area emerging for USC to correct last Saturday – of many – was pre-snap issues. The Trojans racked up six penalties in the first quarter alone, the offensive line looking so out of sync at times in a roaring ASU atmosphere that Justin Dedich accidentally snapped a ball directly into an unsuspecting Williams’ groin.

    “It probably was somewhat disappointing, that we’ve been practicing crowd noise since day three of camp,” Trojans offensive line coach Josh Henson said Wednesday. “So we didn’t handle it very well. We’re going to handle it better.”

    If the line can keep Buffs like Jordan Domineck – whom Henson pointed to as a “talented guy” – out of Williams’ hair, he should rain hail on Colorado’s secondary, which has struggled with injury.

    NO. 8 USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) AT COLORADO (3-1, 0-1)

    When: Saturday, 9 a.m. PT

    Where: Folsom Field, Boulder, Colo.

    TV/radio: FOX (Ch. 11)/790 AM

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    ​ Orange County Register