The University of Colorado football team is riding high on a three game winning streak and coming into its biggest test of the season so far, a showdown with the Oregon Ducks. While the Ducks are coming off of a shocking 62-20 defeat to No. 18 Utah, the Buffs have hope to pull off what would be the team’s biggest victory since joining the Pac-12.
Saturday night’s game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN and CUI Sports spoke with ESPN’s Adam Amin, who will be commentating the game. CUI asked about what to watch for, the game’s implications for Colorado and the national perception of the improving Buffs.
CUI: What made ESPN Choose to air this game?
Adam Amin: Regardless of the fact that Oregon is out of the top 25, it’s still Oregon, it’s still a brand. It’s still a program that brings in eyeballs and it’s a Pac-12 conference game. Really at the end of the day that’s all anybody wants to watch. Conference games are going to be intriguing. I think Colorado, the fact that they’ve started 3-1 is impressive and that’s probably something that’s probably helped add to the intrigue of this matchup. ESPN has opportunities to show Pac-12 games on Saturdays so there’s no reason not to show it. Again, I’m not part of the programming department. I’m not my boss so I don’t want to speak for them, but I can see why you’d want to see this game. It is Oregon. It is a Pac-12 game and they’re on the road against an improving team.
CUI: What do you think the biggest matchups will be going into the game?
AA: I think [Nelson] Spruce is the first guy that comes to mind for Colorado certainly. Whether they put Arrio Springs, [Glen] Ihenacho or [Chris] Seisay at corner like whoever they decide to put against him. Whether they even line them up that way, whether they just go feel and boundary. When you have a speed team often times you’re going to have your defensive backs kind of stuck on one side of the field regardless of where the receiver is from the other side. And we’ll see what Colorado looks like. If they’re going a little bit up-tempo, if they’re going to slow things down. We’ll see if Oregon wants to match somebody up with Spruce. Their defensive backs had a lot of problems last week. Their defensive backfield in general had a lot of problems last week giving up 60 plus points. There were a lot of big plays that the DB’s gave up. The numbers for Spruce have gone a little bit down based on efficacy numbers and some of the metrics from last year to this year, but if he can be a downfield threat. If he can beat whoever he’s matched up against I think that’s probably the most important for Colorado.
CUI: What about on the other side of the ball?
AA: I think it’s the front because Royce Freeman is so good. He is really one of the premier backs in the Pac-12 in conference that I think has a lot more impressive running backs than people might give them credit for. I think up front is the most important matchup because if you win up front that allows your linebackers to come up and stop Royce Freeman. I think the linebacker corps is good enough to stop him, but they need some help from the defensive line. [Freeman’s] really good between the tackles so if you can force him to the outside with good penetration I think the linebackers are good enough to get him and make tackles. … It’s an improving defense. And that Mike MacIntyre’s kind of calling card has always been he’s a defensive minded coach. I think he’s starting to turn the tide for Colorado.
CUI: That’s what I was going to ask about. Are people starting to pay attention nationally to the fact that, Colorado’s clearly not back, but they’re obviously on the way. Are people starting to realize that?
AA: I think a game like this helps. I hate to put it this way, but in the broad stroke, national landscape of you-know power brands, if Oregon loses this game… forget even saying it like that. If Colorado wins this game I think people are going to think it says more about Oregon’s program this year than it will about Colorado necessarily, but that doesn’t mean all the attention is going to be on the Ducks. If Colorado wins this game that, I think, signals a shift. I do think it signals a shift in the program. I think this is a big enough type of win against a branded team like this … against a team that has a lot of talent, a team that has had a ridiculous amount of success and a team that frankly they’ve just gotten schlacked by the last four tries … to get a Pac-12 win against Oregon I think that signifies a shift in what the culture of the program is going to look like. And I’m glad Mike MacIntyre is at the helm of that. Because I got to cover him a few times at San Jose State and I really liked him. I really thought he was like a heady coach, I thought he was a smart guy, a likeable guy. When I saw he got hired at Colorado, the way he did it at San Jose State, I thought that that was a possibility at Colorado. I don’t know if you go to like 12 losses to 10 wins. I don’t know if that’s the type of turnaround you can do in one year or two years, but I think you can get to a point like that at Colorado with the right guy and I think Mike MacIntyre is the right guy.
CUI: The other thing I was going to mention on that front is the Leavitt hire. That I feel is a huge storyline for this year especially given how the team is playing. Do you think that also turns a lot of eyes given that he’s a big name?
AA: I don’t think it has yet and I think it could Saturday. For us, that’s a big storyline because it’s a recognizable name. South Florida has yet to have the type of success that they had since Jim Leavitt was there. The greatest years at South Florida, and I’m talking top-five in the polls type years, when Jim Leavitt was there. He was an entertaining guy and an energetic guy and he’s kind of wild on the sidelines. He’s a hard guy to miss. I think to have him come over with the NFL experience that he has to take this job for a bad defense and have them playing-. I mean they’re coming off a shut out. Even if it is against Nicchlols State I mean it’s a shut out. It’s not giving up points. To have him come in with the experience he has in this job and see an immediate flip … I think that’s a big national storyline and I think that it could become even more so on Saturday. Colorado hasn’t had a true national game for exposure yet. I think when fans go, ‘Oh, I remember Jim Leavitt.’ They’re gonna have an ah-ha moment and a lot of the credit is going to him and obviously Mike as well, for the improvement and the turnaround that the defense is starting to put together.
CUI: Last thing. Do you think this is a winnable game for Colorado?
AA: I do. I’m not a gambling guy who spends hours at cafe casino establishments, I’ve never gambled on a game in my life, but I do look at spreads just to see what do the people out west think because at the very least it gives us some kind of context for the game. And when you’ve lost four games by 43 and a half points to this particular team I think it says something. (Editor’s note: the betting line for this game had Oregon favored by 7.5 points as of Friday night) I don’t know what exactly it says. I’m not smart enough nor do I want to know what it says, but it says something. Whether you’re a casual fan of football or a diehard football fan it gives us something to latch onto as a tree top kind of headline. At least we can say, ‘Well maybe it won’t be as bad as it has been for the last four tries.’ And at the very least you can say that people believe Colorado can be competitive in this game and if you can be competitive in the game it’s a winnable game.
And I think Colorado has proven that its been much more competitive than its been in the last four years. And whether its Oregon’s struggles early or Colorado’s success early, its probably a combination of both, … that has made this a winnable game. Oregon’s gonna be hungry, they’re gonna be angry but Mark Helfrich told us that Colorado is playing with a confidence that’s hard to come by for any team. But to win three in a row at a program where you have won three in a row in seven years that means something. Remember the last time they won three in a row, Mark [Helfrich] was the offensive coordinator at Colorado. They haven’t won three in a row since. So he understands where the program was and is and potentially I think where it could be.
Contact CU Independent football beat writer Sean Kelly at email@example.com.