When one team dominates as thoroughly as USC did in its 40-3 rout of Colorado, it's hard to know where to begin explaining what went right. The Trojans held the Buffaloes to 61 total yards, and once-inconsistent senior quarterback Carson Palmer completed 22 of 30 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown. But what will really raise eyebrows is the Trojans' 181 rushing yards. "Last year we couldn't generate a running game for all the money in the world," says USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow. "Our starter then [Sunny Byrd] is the seventh-best back we have."
The revival of the Trojans' ground game may have been the most important development in a chest-thumping day for the Pac-10. The league's only loss in nine nonconference games was Washington State's 25-7 defeat at Ohio State (page 85). Still, the No. 16 Cougars are one of six ranked Pac-10 teams, the most since September 1998. Even Cal, 1-10 last year, flexed muscle, pounding Michigan State 46-22 in East Lansing to climb into the Top 25 for the first time since 1996.
A year ago Tailback U finished 109th in the nation in rushing. On Saturday three USC backs—Sultan McCullough, Malaefou MacKenzie and Darryl Poston—ran for TDs, and the Trojans controlled the ball for 34:26. "When you win time of possession, your defense can play at a really high intensity," coach Pete Carroll said. "You're jacked up on every series."
USC is jacked up to have healthy runners. McCullough, a senior who missed the second half of 2001 with a strained abdominal muscle, rushed for 110 yards. MacKenzie, a senior who scored twice, missed most of last year due to a knee sprain and his father's death. Senior Justin Fargas is back from a strained hamstring and is expected to start on Saturday at Kansas State—though he did sneak into the Colorado game for one carry before Carroll waved him off the field and had his helmet packed away. "The plan had been that after the third game, we'd have a sense of where we were at tailback," Carroll says. "I'm not real worried about it. [The tailbacks] may be, but I'm not."