Tomorrow night the Ducks will enter Folsom Field twice beaten and unranked in the AP poll, a position no one expected them to be in at this point. They're bruised up, having lost several key players to injury, and have to be mentally shaken following their worst home defeat in nearly 40 years. For the first time in a long time, the Ducks might be doubting themselves.
Taking down Oregon still poses a monumental challenge for this Colorado squad, but the Buffs find themselves in terrific position to do so. A program-catapulting victory is within reach. Here are the most important elements that each side has going for it this weekend.
Why the Ducks are still dangerous
Oregon is very fast. That's one aspect of this team that certainly has not changed in the past week. They have speed across the board and have utilized that speed in the previous four matchups between these programs to deconstruct Colorado's defense in terrifyingly sudden fashion. They also still have Royce Freeman, who remains one of the toughest tackles in the country. He and his two counterparts, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James, are averaging a cumulative 6.8 yards per carry. Oregon's ground attack continues to pose a very real threat. On the outside Bralon Addison is the primary target. While undersized he is a swift and skilled receiver who will test Ken Crawley as much any wideout he's faced.
Defensively, the Ducks return three seniors along the line, led by end DeForest Buckner, who are each capable of producing havoc. That's actually all the praise I have for their defense. Nothing they've shown so far inspires a feeling of "danger." However, Sefo Liufau is dealing with a significant amount of shoulder pain. If the Ducks can slow up the Buffalo tailbacks and create pressure, they could goad the Colorado offense into costly miscues.
Working against the Buffs is Oregon's record following a conference loss. The Ducks are 6-0 in such games since 2009 and haven't dropped consecutive contests in the same season since 2007. Additionally, facing a team arriving directly from an embarrassing and tectonic defeat at home means encountering a sharply double-edged sword. While the Colorado staff has had a week to watch the Utah tape to pinpoint Oregon's flaws and work out how best to capitalize on them, the Oregon staff has been busy simplifying their defensive calls and making adjustments offensively. While the Duck players may now harbor some real doubt in their minds, they're also going to come into Boulder freshly impassioned and with a serious point to prove.
Why the Buffs can win this game
First of all, this might be the first game in years that the Ducks' opponent's on-field look has been talked about more than Oregon's. Maybe I'm biased from living in CU Twitter but the 5 point jump down to 7.5 that the line made following the announcement of the #SilverandBlackAttack is no coincidence.
As noted at the top, the Ducks have suffered some critical injuries already in the young season. Dynamic wide receiver Byron Marshall is week-to-week with what appears to be a lower leg injury and key defensive back Chris Seisay is likely lost for an extended period of time after reportedly undergoing surgery on his foot on Wednesday.
Colorado's job on defense doesn't get much easier but offensively Brian Lindgren and his unit will attack the very young and inexperienced Oregon secondary early and often. This could very well be the night that Sefo Liufau needs to make the leap. Through four games the Ducks have allowed 5 touchdown passes of 15 yards or more, that's one more than they allowed in the previous two seasons combined. Thus far the Buffs have completed 10 passes that have gone for 20 yards or more. If that shoulder feels anywhere close to normal, Sefo's got to let it rip.
Furthermore, it's unlikely that quarterback Vernon Adams will play much if at all while he continues to deal with a broken right index finger and harbors concerns about his sickle cell trait at altitude. This means that the Buffs will contend with Jeff Lockie at quarterback. A serviceable signal caller but not quite the dynamic creator that Oregon is accustomed to having behind center. If the Colorado defensive front, with Derek McCartney and Leo Jackson back in action, can do enough to produce pressure and seal the edge there will be turnovers in the offing.
That brings us to the most important factor. It's something that's lain dormant for far too long, awaiting the perfect confluence of circumstances to emerge once again. An 8:00 kickoff in crisp fall temps against the defending conference champion on ESPN presents the perfect opportunity for the Buffs to bring that magnificent Folsom Magic back. Tomorrow night promises to deliver the wildest, most raucous atmosphere that the stadium on the hilltop has seen in five long years. (There are even frenzied rumors of the return of the marshmallow fight, something not seen in these parts for 15 years.)
Saturday night represents a tremendous opportunity for Colorado to begin to assert itself within the Pac-12. Oregon is vulnerable and the Buffaloes have improved to the point where they've given themselves this much of a shot. Enjoy the long day of tailgating, and most importantly enjoy having that old thing back in Folsom Field tomorrow night at 8:07 P.M. Mountain Daylight Time.