Last week on a soggy, cold field in Corvallis, Ore., the Colorado football team learned it's still a long way from being able to make mistakes and beat even a mid-level Pac-12 Conference opponent.
Saturday at Folsom Field the Buffs (2-1, 0-1) could play perfectly and still not get a victory with the No. 2 ranked and other-worldly Oregon Ducks in town (4:07 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 Conference at the start of the season and it has done nothing under first-year head coach Mark Helfrich -- a former CU offensive coordinator -- to make anyone think it won't happen.
Perhaps former CU coach Bill McCartney, who will be honored at halftime as CU's latest inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, can conjure up some the magic that helped him win a national title here 23 years ago.
The Ducks are 4-0 and the second-highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 59.8 points per game. They have scored at least 55 points in each of their four games so far this season. Oregon has been setting offensive records for years but not even its powerhouse teams of the recent past have managed to score at this rate. Four consecutive games with 50 or more points is a school record and three of those four opponents were from Bowl Championship Series conferences.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy based on his play in the first month. The fact that starting running back De'Anthony Thomas isn't supposed to play today because of a sprained ankle almost seems insignificant.
On paper at least, it appears the Ducks could play nothing but second and third teamers and still beat up the Buffs, who haven't beaten a ranked team since an Oct. 17, 2009 win over Kansas. The Buffs haven't beaten a top-10 team since Sept. 29, 2007 when Helfrich was coaching here and helped orchestrate an upset of No. 3 Oklahoma.
CU coach Mike MacIntyre has previously said this season that two-time defending national champion Alabama is the best team in the nation, but this week he referred to the Ducks as the cream of the crop.
"I would say that right now to me, they look like one of the top two or three teams in the country," MacIntyre said when asked about saying the Ducks are the best team. "But, I would say right now the way they're clicking off and beating everybody, I mean it's not even close. At halftime, it's over every game .. it's over. So, hopefully this one won't be over and we will be right in it and that's what we're planning on doing."
It seems farfetched at least and maybe even comical to suggest the Buffs could upset the Ducks today as nearly 40-point underdogs, but every so often these things happen in sports. If the Buffs are going to pull it off it would seem they would need:
A slew of turnovers from an Oregon offense that rarely turns it over
Big plays in the kicking game which mostly seem to be happening for opponents this season.
Stellar play from quarterback Connor Wood, who hasn't yet proved he is capable of it against BCS-level competition.
A big day rushing the ball from an offense that ranks 103rd in the nation on the ground.
And an extraordinary defensive performance.
All of that might not be enough.
The Ducks are the No. 1 rushing team in the nation. They average 332.5 yards a game on the ground. Mariota leads the nation in yards per carry at more than 14.
"They move people, they move the back a lot," MacIntyre said. "They go really fast and they get all these different formations and if you don't line up right then all of a sudden there's a big gap and they go so fast that they're gone.
"So you have to understand where to line up and hopefully we've practiced against ourselves enough, and we do fast speed periods, that we can line up correctly and then you have to tackle them in open space. That's what we have to do so hopefully that's what we do."
MacIntyre said in addition to playing the run well on defense, CU will need to get off to a solid start and be the first team to force Oregon's starters to play deep into the second half. If the Buffs can give themselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter, it would be a success story for the home team.
"So, we need to keep them at bay and not let them suffocate us too early and all of a sudden, we will have more options on offense," MacIntyre said. "We will move the ball better than people have moved on them if we (don't) let them get up 28 points -- bang, bang.
"So, that's a big 'if.' Nobody's done it, so that's our goal to be able to do that and compete in every play. To be able to have the chance to take it into the second half and see what happens. Nobody has taken them into the second half yet and that's what our goal is, and to win the game is our main goal."