5 Things To Watch: Colorado
BOULDER, Colo. — The Oregon football team enters November atop the standings in the Pac-12 Conference and looking to stay in the College Football Playoff conversation when the Ducks play Saturday at Colorado.
The No. 8 Ducks (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12) are the only unbeaten team in Pac-12 play, having reeled off seven straight wins since their season opener in Georgia. The Buffaloes are 1-7 overall and 1-4 in the conference; Colorado's lone win came in overtime at home over California, the team Oregon beat on the road last week, 42-24. The Ducks also have wins over UCLA and Arizona, both of which beat the Buffs.
Oregon leads the all-time series with Colorado, 14-9, including a 6-4 advantage in Boulder. The Ducks won at Folsom Field in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the three most recent trips to Boulder for Oregon.
Saturday's game is scheduled to kick off at 12:30 p.m. PT, with ESPN televising the matchup. Mike Monaco will be on play by play with analysis from Rod Gilmore, and Tiffany Blackmon will provide reporting from the sideline.
Some storylines to watch when Saturday afternoon …
1. The outside noise is only getting louder for the Ducks, after this week's release of the initial College Football Playoff rankings, which slotted Oregon at No. 8.
While not in the thick of the playoff chase, the UO football team is right on the periphery. As this season has progressed, Oregon has done a good job of not getting caught up in much fanfare, most notably before hosting a matchup of top-10 teams against UCLA in late October.
That will need to continue into November, with some of the toughest tests of this season still awaiting Oregon. "I think they're doing a good job of just focusing on the task at hand and continually looking for opportunities to get better," UO coach Dan Lanning said. "That's kind of been our mantra from day one, and our guys have done a good job of accepting that."
2. In last week's win over California, the Ducks were plus-14 in the vital portion of the game known as the "middle 8" — the four minutes just before halftime, and the first four minutes coming out of the break.
That extended a season-long trend, as the Ducks entered this week as the best team in the country in the middle 8. On average, Oregon is outscoring the opposition by 9.5 points in that portion of games, when momentum can be secured with a hot finish to the first half and a similar start to the second.
For Lanning, that success in the middle 8 is most welcome. But it also provides a contrast with the way the Ducks have started and finished games some game this season. "It's a combination," he said this week. "I talked to our team today and asked them, 'Are the points in the middle of the game worth double?' And they said, 'No.' I said, 'OK, exactly.' Just because we're really good in the middle, that doesn't matter when we can't be better in the beginning or better at the end. … We've been good in the middle 8; we want to be better in the first quarter and better in the fourth."
3. Along with extending that trend last week, the Ducks also showed signs of putting an end to another.
Since the season opener, Oregon's third-down defense has ranked near the bottom of the FBS. At California, the UO defense had its best showing of the season, holding the Golden Bears to just four third-down conversions on 15 attempts.
While the Ducks still entered this week at No. 126 nationally in third-down defense, last week's performance followed consecutive weeks of opponents converting at least half of their attempts. "I think you saw moments of (progress)," Lanning said. "I think there's still certainly room for improvement for us moving forward, but we definitely did some good things."
4. Oregon's receiver rotation was shaken up last week, with the departure of Seven McGee and the injury to Chase Cota.
Earlier this week Lanning said Cota's status for Saturday at Colorado was to be determined. Regardless, the Ducks may need some of the guys who filled the void at Cal to do the same this week.
"You'll get to see more of them — Josh Delgado you'll get to see more of, Dont'e Thornton as well," Lanning said. "But we have a good group there that's worked really hard. I think you'll see a lot of those guys able to make contributions."
5. The Ducks aren't naive — they know the disparity in records between the two teams Saturday. They know they will be heavy favorites to win the game.
But they also know that taking an outcome for granted leads to the kinds of upsets college football produces week in, week out. And they don't want to be the victims of such an upset.
"Our focus is us going out there to play to the best of our ability," Lanning said. "Every opponent we play, every single Saturday, has the ability to beat us. This game's no different. We have to go play our best."