Oct. 11 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — Colorado (3-2) at No. 13 Oregon (4-1)

(Justin Herbert photo courtesy Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Friday, Oct. 11, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oreg., 10 p.m. EDT.

So far, Justin Herbert has been more than validated his decision to bypass the NFL Draft and return to Oregon for his senior season.

The Heisman hopeful looks to continue his solid play and keep the 13th-ranked Ducks atop the North Division of the Pac-12 as they host Colorado on Friday night.

One of the question marks about Herbert’s ability that prompted his return to Oregon (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12 North) was his accuracy after completing 59.4 percent of his passes in 2018. He has addressed this issue well heading into the midway point of the season, completing 71.6 percent of his passes for 1,341 yards and 15 touchdowns with only one interception.

Herbert, though, got a boost from the Ducks defense and special teams in their 17-7 win over California on Saturday. He took advantage of a short field set up by Jevon Holland’s 24-yard punt return and set up the go-ahead touchdown with a 30-yard completion to Jacob Breeland. Herbert put the game out of reach midway through the fourth quarter with a 1-yard scoring toss to Jaylon Redd.

Herbert finished 20 of 33 for 214 yards with that touchdown and one interception while Travis Dye rushed for 81 yards as Oregon finished with 404 total yards.

Colorado (3-2, 1-1 South) is playing its third ranked opponent of the season, having beaten then-No. 25 Nebraska and then-No. 24 Arizona State by a combined six points. The Buffaloes, though, are coming off a 35-30 loss at Arizona on Saturday in a game that featured nine lead changes.

Steven Montez completed 28 of 42 passes for 299 yards, but the absence of top receiver Laviska Shenault and defensive end Mustafa Johnson proved too much to overcome for Colorado, which gave up 487 yards and allowed Arizona to convert 8 of 14 on third down.

Shenault, who was sidelined with a core muscle injury, has 17 catches for 226 yards and two TDs. Troy Brown picked up the slack with a career-best 10 catches along with 141 receiving yards and has 19 catches for 299 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games.

Colorado recorded its first Pac-12 victory over Oregon in six tries in the most recent meeting in 2016, winning 41-38 on the road as Montez threw for 333 yards and three TDs — including the go-ahead score to Bryce Bobo with 8:43 to play.

Buffs dealing with spate of injuries on both sides of ball

Colorado coach Mel Tucker’s media availability Tuesday at one point resembled a list of the walking wounded with everyone who is listed as day-to-day, or questionable, for Friday night’s contest. That again included Shenault and fellow wideout K.D. Nixon, who is second on the team with 18 catches for 302 yards.

Johnson is also among those day-to-day, as is safety Mikial Onu — he was not on the injury list, but Tucker said he was dealing with a torso injury suffered in the loss to Arizona. Onu has four of Colorado’s six interceptions and a key reason why the Buffaloes lead the Pac-12 with a plus-1.6 turnover margin per game.

“They’re going to be ready when they’re ready,” Tucker said of Shenault and Nixon according to the Denver Post. “Those guys want to play. Obviously, they’re competitors and they’re going to do everything they can to help the football team … we’re going to continue to treat them and see where they end up.”

Colorado has outscored opponents 37-3 on points off turnovers, having just four giveaways while recording 12 takeaways.

For Montez, this game brings his collegiate career in full circle as he made his Buffaloes debut in Eugene. In addition to the 333 yards and three scores, he also threw a pair of interceptions. Montez enters this game four touchdown passes shy of matching the school record of 60 set by Cody Hawkins from 2007-10 and matched by Montez’s predecessor Sefo Liufau from 2013-16.

Since the Pac-12 added Friday night games to its conference scheduling matrix, the road team is 5-14, including 2-11 when traveling out of state according to the Denver Post.

Ducks defense aware of challenge Montez brings

While Herbert gets most of the attention when it comes to Oregon, the Ducks defense has put together some impressive numbers in terms of national rankings. The Ducks rank sixth in scoring defense at 9.8 points per game allowed and also are in the top 10 for sacks (19) and passing defense (166.0 ypg) as well as 17th in rushing defense (95.4).

They led the Pac-12 in all those categories, yet there is also some fool’s gold among those statistics based on who Oregon has played. The list includes two freshmen quarterbacks, an FCS quarterback, an injured starting quarterback, and most recently against Cal, a backup. That makes facing Montez — especially if his receiving corps are fully healthy — a formidable matchup.

“There’s no question this is going to be our biggest challenge,” Ducks defensive coordinator Andy Avalos told 24/7 Sports.. “We come every week and say that, but here’s the bottom line — this team has a really good OL, their wide receivers are the best we’ve seen and the quarterback is the most experienced and has a talented arm.

“He is physically very talented in terms of his mobility and his ability to keep his eyes downfield and extend plays when the pocket does break down. There’s a lot of challenges that he poses.”

The Ducks also have to make an adjustment on the defensive line after losing Gus Cumberlander for the season with a left knee injury. Cumberlander had 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while starting four of Oregon’s five games.

Herbert’s offensive numbers aside, Ducks coach Mario Cristobal is looking for bigger things from his offense — specifically, more big plays. Oregon has just 22 plays of 20 or more yards, which ranks them in the bottom half among FBS teams, but has recorded 85 of 10 or more yards, which puts the Ducks in the top quarter.

“It’s certainly trending in the right direction,” Cristobal said. “We feel that way because of that 10-plus yard plays that we’ve had. I am with you 100 percent; we want that 20-yard plus because those will make the drives more successful.”

Notable Trends

Oregon is:

  • 5-1 ATS in its last six games vs. Colorado.
  • 4-1 ATS in its last five games following an ATS loss.

Colorado is:

  • 5-13-1 ATS in its last 19 games vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 4-13 ATS in its last 17 games vs. Pac-12 teams.
  • 1-5 ATS in its last six games following a straight up loss.

General:

  • The favorite is 5-1 ATS in the last six games between the teams.

*****5-Star Pick*****

OVER 57.5 points (-110)

Friday games have been good to Oregon in terms of the over, which is 6-1-1 in its last such eight contests. The Ducks also have shown an ability to bounce back offensively, with the over 21-8-2 in their last 31 after being held below 20 points in the previous game.

The over has been trending with Colorado for most of the season and is 5-1 in its last six overall. The over has also posted a 5-2 mark in the Buffaloes’ last seven Pac-12 tilts, with four of those games featuring 65 or more points. This line has spiked three points higher to 60.5 points, so hopefully you jumped on this early.

****4-Star Pick****

Colorado +13.5 first half (-110)

The Buffaloes have been a solid first-half team offensively, scoring 20 or more points on three occasions and racking up 44 in their two conference games versus the Arizona schools. The expectation is for the Ducks to lead at halftime, possibly by 10 points, while Montez keeps Colorado within two touchdowns.

***3-Star Picks***

Oregon -21 (-110)

It is a big number here and a flat touchdown total to boot, but the hedge is Oregon has a better offensive game after being well-contained by Cal. The “explosion plays” Cristobal is looking for do not seem to be that far off, and with the receiving corps of  finally at full strength, the expectation is for Herbert to have a big day as Oregon rolls up a large point total.

This line has since added the high-side hook in some places at 21.5 points, so shop around to see if anyone is offering the flat touchdown total.

Oregon OVER 41 points (-110)

With Shenault still day-to-day, picking the Buffaloes’ team total is a fool’s errand. That brings us to Oregon, which is sitting a full point below a touchdown total and due for a breakout performance offensively.

The Ducks have scored 41 or more points in six of their last 14 conference home games since the start of the 2016 season, and the Buffaloes have yielded 31 or more in eight of their last 14 Pac-12 road tilts. Herbert has looked sharp all season, and there is every reason to believe that will continue here.

OVER 31.5 points 1st half (-105)

The high-end hook on a TD+FG combination makes it difficult to be aggressive with this pick, but there is confidence in both offenses being effective enough to deliver. Herbert and Verdell should find success after being bottled up in the first half last week by Cal, which has the Pac-12’s best defense.

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