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Colorado Buffaloes vs. Oregon Ducks Preview and Prediction

Dakota Prukop

Dakota Prukop

Colorado and Oregon meet Saturday at Autzen Stadium with remarkably similar resumes, as both sport 2-1 records and a Week 3 loss in Big Ten country.

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However, the trajectory of each program feels quite different. Oregon's 35-32 loss at Nebraska was a missed opportunity, with the Ducks eschewing a game-tying total of points by opting to go for two-point conversions instead of PAT kicks. Colorado let a two-score lead slip at Michigan, but the Buffaloes' fight against the nation's No. 4-ranked team showed that head coach Mike MacIntyre just might have a dark-horse contender in the Pac-12 South.

The Buffs looked especially dangerous before quarterback Sefo Liufau came out of the game with an ankle injury. His status is one of several key storylines around player availability, and among the primary plots that will dictate this Pac-12 showdown.

Colorado at Oregon

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Oregon -10.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Injuries, Injuries, Injuries

The injuries are plentiful and high-profile heading into this matchup enough so that Colorado's gag depth chart from Michigan week might need some call-ups just for Oregon to fill out its roster.

Ok, so maybe the Hanson Bros. of Slapshot fame won't line up in the Duck backfield. However, preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Royce Freeman might not. Freeman came out of the Nebraska loss early, leaving Kani Benoit to shoulder much of the rushing load.

Freeman's a maybe Saturday, but offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby and wide receiver Devon Allen are scratches for the season. Those are two substantial blows to the Oregon offense.

Colorado's injury list isn't as staggering in number, but perhaps just as impacting if Sefo Liufau is still out. Mike MacIntyre said the quarterback's day-to-day, despite rejoining practice. Colorado was unable to mount an offensive attack after Liufau come out Saturday, with Steven Montez feeling the heat of Michigan's pass rush.

Speaking of pass rush, Colorado's takes a hit with Derek McCartney sidelined by an ACL tear. Nebraska's ability to pressure Dakota Prukop stifled Oregon in Week 3.

2. A Game of Runs

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Colorado has introduced more tempo to its offense this season, most evident in the Week 1 rout of Colorado State. The pressure applied through an up-tempo offense has overwhelmed the Buffs in the past, including in losses to Oregon, so MacIntyre going to a similar look is no surprise.

The problem with operating quickly, however, is it in can get a team into trouble as quickly as it builds a lead. Colorado's been undone by big runs in some recent losses, including last Saturday's, when Michigan scored 17 points in a little more than eight minutes, and in the Buffs' 2015 meeting with Oregon.

Colorado gave the Ducks fits last year in Boulder, but a 14-point third quarter gave Oregon the breathing room it needed. Recent history has proven the way to beating Oregon, typically, is avoiding a deluge — usually in the second quarter — and keeping it close. Of the Ducks' 10 losses since 2012, eight were by one score.

In contrast, Oregon has won just five games over that same time-frame by a similar margin.

3. Oregon's Big-Play Defense

Oregon's pass defense ranked among the nation's worst in 2015. Through three games in 2016, the Ducks have made some strides — last week, for example, they held Nebraska to 200 yards and a completion rate just under 50 percent.

Still, the Ducks are vulnerable to giving up big plays, ranking No. 87 nationally in pass plays of at least 10 yards, and No. 112 for yielding rushing plays of 10-plus.

Colorado's primary wide receiving option, Devin Ross, isn't a big-play target, more a reliable possession target. With four scores on the season, however, he's plenty capable of breaking off a big score, particularly in the red zone. Establishing Phillip Lindsay as a threat may be the most critical aspect for Colorado, especially early. With Oregon struggling against the run, defensive coordinator Brady Hoke having to leave holes in the secondary could leave the Ducks susceptible to huge gains through the air.

Final Analysis

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Colorado has looked far and away the best it has since joining the Pac-12 over these last three games. That should extend into conference play. The Buffaloes will score a major upset at some point this season, but Saturday may not be that day.

Despite the Ducks' ongoing defensive woes, there's too much firepower to keep Oregon contained. Colorado isn't as stout defensively as its one-time Big Eight/12 rival Nebraska, so holding Oregon to just 32 points seems unlikely.

While the Buffs might have a very real chance with Sefo Liufau at 100 percent, his uncertainty casts doubt on Colorado's ability to keep pace with an Oregon team that cannot afford to open conference play in an 0-1 hole.

Prediction: Oregon 45, Colorado 34 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.