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Oregon Ducks vs. Colorado Buffaloes Preview and Prediction

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Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Colorado has lost to Oregon four times by a combined 174 points. The Buffaloes never scored more than 16 points in that stretch, and the Ducks never fewer than 44.

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One must look back to the now-defunct Aloha Bowl for the Buffs’ last defeat of Oregon. Mike Moschetti outgunned Akili Smith in a 51-43 shootout on Christmas Day 1998.

Saturday looks like Colorado’s best hope of snapping its five-game skid against Oregon, which includes the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.

“We’ve got more depth. We’ve got more experience. We’re bigger. We’re stronger,” Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “Our second year’s team was 20 points better than our first year’s team, and this year’s team is 20 points better than last year’s team.”

Conversely, Oregon has not looked as vulnerable at any time in the last several years as it does Saturday. The Ducks are 2-2, out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2009 and fresh off a 42-point home loss to Utah.

Saturday’s matchup at Folsom Field is a potentially pivotal moment in the trajectory of both programs.

Oregon at Colorado

Kickoff: 11 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Colorado +7.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Sefo Liufau vs. the Oregon Secondary

Oregon’s young secondary has been roasted in varying capacities by each of the four quarterbacks it faced in the first four weeks.

Eastern Washington’s Jordan West and Reilly Hennessey combined for 438 yards and five touchdowns. Georgia State’s Nick Arbuckle finished with 318 yards and three touchdowns. Last week, Travis Wilson had arguably the best game of his career with four passing touchdowns.

Michigan State’s Connor Cook had the most modest numbers of any quarterback yet to face the Ducks — 20-of-32 for 192 yards and two touchdowns — but he delivered a few deep passes that exploited the Oregon secondary.

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Third-year Colorado starter Sefo Liufau’s statistical output is down from a year ago, but he’s proven in his time quarterbacking the Buffs are capable of attacking through the air.

2. Can Ralphie Keep Running?

Colorado boasts the nation’s No. 13-ranked rushing offense through four games. That’s a rather remarkable turnaround in MacIntyre’s third season, and one that’s reflective of the program’s progress as a whole. Colorado ranked No. 109 with the run in 2013 and No. 77 a year ago.

The Buffs’ multifaceted attack has produced three running backs over 212 yards: Christian Powell, Phillip Lindsay and Michael Adkins. Wide receiver Donovan Lee is also over 100 yards on the season. The effectiveness of the run has taken some of the onus off Liufau throwing, and the quarterback has helped his own cause with 143 rushing yards.

Establishing an effective run early would force Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum to load up on the box, leaving an already vulnerable Duck secondary further exposed to haymakers.

3. How Does Oregon Respond?

After its early-season loss last season to Arizona, Oregon rallied to win the next nine games by an average of 27.4 points per game, claiming the Pac-12 Conference championship and winning the Rose Bowl in the process.

It didn’t hurt that the Ducks had a once-in-a-generation quarterback, Marcus Mariota. But the 2014 Ducks also had to overcome a bevy of injuries to finish its historic season.

The 2015 campaign is far from lost, but Saturday will prove pivotal in the course of Oregon’s season to come. 

Despite its improvements, Colorado remains on paper one of the lesser challenges Oregon will face in the remaining Pac-12 slate. Struggling with the Buffs is a poor barometer of things to come; a loss could send Oregon’s season completely off the rails.

Final Analysis

Colorado rallied nicely from its Week 1 loss at Hawaii, beating up on teams it should beat up on (Massachusetts and Nicholls State) and finally getting over the hump in a close decision against a quality opponent (Colorado State).

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A three-game winning streak, coupled with Oregon’s struggles a week ago, should give the Buffs a nice jolt early. The problem against Oregon is that beating the Ducks with their style of play requires sustained excellence over 60 minutes.

Oregon is not as bad as last week’s score indicates. Utah met that 60-minute mark, while the Ducks suffered an uncharacteristic lapse.

The Buffs won’t take the kind of beating they’ve sustained against Oregon in recent years, but the Ducks should rally for their first Pac-12 win.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Colorado 30

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