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Oregon coach Mark Helfrich sees progress with CU football

Former CU offensive coordinator sees positive changes in the Colorado Buffaloes program.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich has come a long way from his days as the Colorado Buffaloes offensive coordinator. At the age of 32, he joined Dan Hawkins' staff in 2006 as the youngest coordinator in college football history. The offensive mastermind was a witness to one of the lowest points in CU football history. A lack of players due to recruits decommitting and an inexperienced coaching staff hampered any hopes of returning to the Big 12 championship game.

The Buffs finished 2-10 during Helfrich's first season with an offense ranked 103rd in the nation. Despite going through a rebuilding phase with no top prospects, CU finished the following season by improving to 62nd on offense. Helfrich's system didnt have a major impact at Colorado, mainly because he wasn't in Boulder for a full recruiting cycle. After turning down an offer to be the Oregon's offensive coordinator in 2007, he reconsidered with a second offer that came two years later and left Colorado.

Helfrich has noticed significant changes with CU's football program since last year.

"Coach MacIntyre had done a great job",  Oregon's coach noted. "Obviously, they've done a tremendous job upgrading the facilities and all the things done to the stadium."

The Ducks know coming into Saturday the Buffs have gotten better on both side of the ball. In preparation for a much different opponent, Helfrich doesn't see this game as a potential bounce back win.

"CU's athleticism is at a much higher level than it's been over the past few years. The lines on both sides of the ball are bigger and more physical. They made some changes defensively with bringing in Coach Leavitt and are schematically very different than they've been. They've built and improved gradually in a great way and now the wins have shown up."

Colorado's defense will have to alter Oregon's offense and control the fast-paced nature the Ducks are accustomed to operating with.

Now that Helfrich has established his roots at Oregon, he's been able to showcase his coaching talents on a bigger stage. Since taking over for Chip Kelly after his departure to the NFL, the former offensive coordinator didn't skip a beat maintaining the powerhouse program. Oregon's total offense has been ranked in the top 10 every year since his first year as a coordinator in 2009. The Ducks had the nation's top offense last season, averaging nearly 46 points per game and taking the Ducks to a national championship game loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Here's a look at Mark Helfrich's tenure and how the Ducks have ranked on offense.

Year Position Rank Record
2009 Offensive Coordinator 28th 10-3
2010 Offensive Coordinator 4th 12-1
2011 Offensive Coordinator 3rd 12-2
2012 Offensive Coordinator 4th 12-1
2013 Head Coach 2nd 11-2
2014 Head Coach 1st 13-2
*2015 Head Coach 12th 2-2

*Through 4 games played

Could this year be the start of a down year for Oregon or have opposing defenses finally starting catching up?

Since Helfrich arrived in Eugene the Ducks have finished with three losses only once, but that could change this season with three top 25 teams remaining on the schedule. Colorado could add another loss to drop Oregon below .500 on the season and it's a possibility that  Helfrich isn't overlooking.

"They're a complete, confident team right now and playing really well. The points per game is very significant, especially coming off of a shutout. Confidence, home crowd, late night, travel, all of those things we'll deal with and focus on us."

The Buffs offense has limited the amount of mistakes and the majority of the Ducks' focus on defense will be centered on how to force quarterback Sefo Liufau into uncomfortable situations. He hasn't been sacked or thrown an interception in the last three games. Helfrich hopes the defense can somehow find an answer to break that and stifle Liufau.

"We would love to both sack him and intercept him. That starts with confusion or pressure. He's done a great job distributing the ball and they've done a really good job protecting him. Coach Bernardi has done a great job with their offensive line so it's a challenge."

Expect a good game between the Buffs and Ducks on Saturday. Oregon's currently favored by 7.5 points after opening at 12. That could change with the depth chart for both teams being released today. The weather could play a factor as well with game time conditions calling for rain and temperatures in the mid 50's at Folsom Field.