BOULDER, Colo. -- This is what's known in the business as stealing the show.
Before the latest Deion-Does-Boulder happening Saturday at Folsom Field, Colorado was already a heavy favorite in sideline celebrity swag. Da Baby, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, CC Sabathia -- among others -- were on the sideline wanting to get a first-hand glimpse of what Coach Prime has built in nine short months.
You've read it, you've heard it, you've seen it. You have to experience it.
Really, the pregame mingle was half fashion show, half celebrity hang. It was all the way Deion Sanders. Colorado's coach came out fashionably late for warmups covered by a hoodie pulled up around his head.
As if that was going to hide him.
Not by much. Without quarterback Caleb Williams, USC might have trundled back to Los Angeles having to explain a loss rather than another perplexing defensive performance. As it stands, the Trojans will again spend another week explaining themselves on that side of the ball.
Considering he was the difference in the game, it's almost as if Williams is being taken for granted. This time, he tossed six touchdowns, tying a career high. The six were one less fewer than Matt Leinart's school record. The Trojans needed every one of them because the result was the Buffaloes continuing to define themselves more so than USC taking the next step.
"If you can't see what's coming with CU football, you're out of your mind," Sanders said. "You're a flat-out hater."
So far, Williams has been the difference all season for a USC team that looks increasingly like a more-talented version of TCU in 2022.
That's a backhanded compliment. The Trojans are better than those Horned Frogs. TCU basically outscored its way to the College Football Playoff National Championship. Frogs QB Max Duggan was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Saturday proved USC may have to win games the same way as Williams goes for consecutive Heismans. If he wins a second straight, Saturday will stand out on the resume. A few minutes into the second half, USC was up by 27 points for the second time. Williams had tossed five touchdown passes. For the sixth consecutive game, he accounted for at least four touchdowns. That tied for the second-longest streak in the Power Five since 2015.
"That's the best first half we've played all year against a good opponent," USC coach Lincoln Riley said.
"He always plays that way," Sanders said of Williams. "I haven't seen him play badly. He had some throws I'm sure he wants back [but] he is a flat-out baller. He is a difference maker. It was a pleasure for me to play against him and his head coach. It was fun; it really was. Sorry it didn't look like it."
The Trojans spent most of the second half squandering their huge lead. Williams threw only his second interception of the season. But with 2:13 left in the third quarter, he rallied once against to toss a 3-yard scoring pass to tight end Jude Wolfe. That sixth TD pass tied a career record he set two years and one team ago with Oklahoma in 2021 against Texas Tech.
That made it 48 points for USC; they were barely enough. That's why it felt like the team that won was almost apologizing. Meanwhile, the team that lost took encouragement from a program that is still building.
Despite winning, USC almost got run off the field in the second half. Colorado ran 90 plays totaling 564 yards. That's the most by a Trojans opponent this season ... by 200 yards.
"It's not really the same [defensive] issues, though," Riley explained. "I don't agree with [that]. ... When something doesn't our way … it doesn't look like last year. Not to the trained eye. Not to a coach. We were suffocating them."
Fortunately for this feel-good CU story, Williams had an equal Saturday. Shedeur Sanders has emerged as the Buffs' point man with the same impact as Williams. Both can bail out their teams in times of trouble.
Colorado is still getting there. USC is still trying to meet expectations. Those won't go away until Riley gets back to the College Football Playoff.
That's why, after another record-setting performance by Williams, most of the postgame shine was on Shedeur. He threw four more touchdown passes, the last with 1:43 left to draw the Buffs within seven.
The Trojans were spent by then. Colorado had scored the last 20 points of the game. With CU out of timeouts, all Williams had to do was kneel.
"If we would have got that ball last, we were going to go down and score," Coach Prime said. "We knew that. Everybody in here knows that. All his teammates know that."
This is the way it's going to be for CU until it get some difference makers up front on the defensive line. It showed in the blowout against Oregon. It showed in the first half against USC until Colorado refused to buckle. The 48 points were the second-most most points given up by Deion Sanders in his Division I coaching career. They were the most given up in his month-long FBS coaching career. (Alabama A&M scored 52 in 2020.)
But there is a savior wearing No. 2.
"His nickname in my phone is 'Grown,'" Deion said of Shedeur. "He's very mature for his age. He's very confident. He don't flinch. He doesn't get flustered. He's the most sacked quarterback in college football. You can tell by the way he carries himself."
True, Shedeur had been sacked more than any Power Five QB (23 times) coming into the game. As Saturday went on, the Buffs were missing three starters in the secondary. Filling in for injured teammates, freshman Omarion Miller caught the first seven passes of his career for 196 yards.
We'll find out quickly if is USC's makeup. Especially because it now has significant competition in the nation's best conference as the Pac-12 sun sets for the last time.
We're still finding out Colorado's makeup. A lot of glitz, for sure. The substance part may not be far behind.