One of the more remarkable aspects of Oregon's dynamic and dominant four-year run under Chip Kelly was that the Ducks never lost to a bad or even mediocre team.
Sure, Kelly went a scintillating 46-7 as the Ducks head coach. But it's perhaps as notable that those seven losses came to teams that were a combined 82-12, and five of those defeats belonged to an 8-5 Stanford team in 2009. No other foe that beat Kelly had more than two defeats. Kelly lost to two teams, Boise State and Auburn, that went unbeaten.
Just about everybody gets upset at some point. Pete Carroll and USC went down to Stanford, a 41-point underdog, in 2007, the same year that Nick Saban and Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Good programs become complacent on a random weekend and get upset. It's a fact of sports.
But the Ducks avoided that under Kelly while operating under his sometimes annoying -- at least to reporters -- mantra of "Nameless Faceless Opponents."
And so we have new Ducks coach Mark Helfrich taking his second-ranked team to Colorado, which has had a mostly positive start to a massive rebuilding project under Mike MacIntyre.
The Ducks are 39-point favorites Saturday in Boulder. You will not find anyone in the country picking Colorado to win. Or even to keep it close. But MacIntyre has a story to tell about an epic upset. He can tell his locker room about what he participated in on Oct. 17, 1998.
"I've been a part of [an epic upset] before as a coach," he said. "I definitely know it can happen."
MacIntyre was an assistant at Temple in 1998 when the woeful and winless Owls, 35-point underdogs with a freshman making his first start at quarterback, overcame a 17-point deficit on the road to shock previously unbeaten and 14th-ranked Virginia Tech. It was Temple's first win in 27 Big East Conference road games. Ten Owls players made their first career starts in the game because of injuries.
The shocker also inspired one of the best and most honest quotes to ever come out of a losing locker room.
"I've never been so embarrassed in my life," Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore said. "I'm shellshocked. We're the laughingstock of college football right now and deservedly so."
Again, we are not suggesting the Buffaloes are going to embarrass the Ducks. But, well, you never know.
For one, Helfrich noted, the Buffs look a lot different on film from the team Oregon effortlessly obliterated 70-14 last year, a game the Ducks led 56-0 at halftime. It's not so much about new schemes. It's about how the Buffs are playing.
"Just their culture -- you can see it on film," Helfrich said. "They are just kind of better. I think Coach MacIntyre has done a great job of resetting the standard, probably starting from scratch in his way."
So what needs to happen for the Ducks to go down? Start with turnovers.
Ignore that Oregon was the first team since 2010 not to turn the ball over in its first three games of the season. The Ducks had two giveaways last weekend against California. Sure, that game was played in torrential rain, but perhaps the performance presaged an epidemic of poor ball security?
Then move on to explosion plays. What if Oregon's typical flow of them runs dry and the Buffs suddenly seem touched by the spirit of Sammy Baugh? What if Colorado receiver Paul Richardson busts out another 200-yard game, hauling in a handful of TD bombs from Connor Wood?
And what if Oregon QB and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Marcus Mariota decides to -- finally! -- have a bad game?
Hey, it's all a reach. But stranger things have happened. Not many. But they have.
Said MacIntyre, "The kids got to believe. They've got to execute and play ball."
Of course, the more realistic "victory" for the Buffs would be keeping the game competitive well into the third quarter.