Colorado-Oregon Preview

BY foxsports • November 18, 2014

Marcus Mariota is doing his best to try not to pay attention to the Heisman Trophy hype surrounding him or Oregon's increasing chances of reaching the College Football Playoffs.

It seems likely the junior quarterback will be playing his final home game this weekend.

Mariota and the third-ranked Ducks figure to enjoy an afternoon of celebrations Saturday against an awful Colorado team that has dropped 11 straight Pac-12 road games.

Oregon (9-1, 6-1) has already clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game Dec. 5 in Santa Clara, and the Ducks are No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

This season's success is largely because of Mariota, who has 29 touchdown passes to tie for fourth in the country. He leads the nation in yards per pass attempt at 10.04 and has rushed for a conference-best eight touchdowns to become one of the front-runners for the Heisman.

"People always kind of talk about it but for the most part, I just kind of focus on what I have to do and find ways to get better for this team and try not to worry about what other people think," Mariota said.

Mariota has not declared if he will forego his senior season to join the NFL, though he acknowledged how special this game will be.

"A lot of these guys are going to be leaving as seniors, some of the closest friends that I've made here " Mariota said. "And it's going to be an awesome experience. Autzen's always fun to play in. No matter what, we'll enjoy."

Saturday's outcome figures to be lopsided. Colorado (2-8, 0-7) is the only winless team in Pac-12 play and has been outscored 172-32 in the meetings the three previous years.

Mariota has played in the last two, throwing for 491 yards and seven touchdowns while running for three more scores.

"Marcus Mariota is playing at a high, high caliber," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He's healthy and he's running around and making plays. So, it is going to be a tough test and our kids are looking forward to going up in there and playing."

MacIntyre is unsure whether he will start his quarterback, Sefo Liufau. Liufau suffered a concussion in a 38-20 loss to then-No. 21 Arizona on Nov. 8, and backup Jordan Gehrke went 0 for 5.

Liufau says he has been cleared to play, though he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles against the Wildcats, causing MacIntyre not to name a starter.

The Buffaloes will try to slow down an Oregon attack that is third in nation in points per game (46.0) and fifth in total offense (531.2 yards per game).

One change this week is Mariota may be forced to work with a new center. Hroniss Grasu suffered an apparent left leg injury in a 51-27 victory at then-No. 20 Utah on Nov. 8, and redshirt freshman Doug Brenner would take his place.

Tight end Pharaoh Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury in that contest, and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu exited with a toe injury, but he has indicated he will play.

While Oregon's high-powered offense draws the bulk of the attention every week, Colorado has a major weapon in Nelson Spruce. The junior receiver is tied for fourth in the nation with 11 TD receptions and seventh with 1,091 yards.

Spruce has found things difficult lately, scoring just one receiving TD in his last five games.

"I think any time you get a little more attention from a defense, it's a sign that you're doing something right," he said. "So, I'm glad to get that attention and open things up for the running game really."

Colorado has rushed for an average of 172.9 yards in Pac-12 games for the conference's third-best mark.

Buffaloes senior defensive lineman Juda Parker will face Mariota, his former teammate at St. Louis High School in Hawaii, for the last time. Parker has yet to sack Mariota, who has only been dropped once by Colorado.

"I think for our high school, it's been a pretty cool thing," Mariota said. "And it'll be fun again to go onto the field, this will be the third year now and we're looking forward to it."