5 ways Deion Sanders' Colorado team can shock Oregon and move to 4-0

Deion Sanders has asked this question before:

“Do you believe now?”

Some do believe, sort of. But many still don’t, even after he’s led his Colorado football team to a 3-0 start, instantly turning around a program that finished 1-11 in 2022.

So what will it take to convince the nonbelievers that the Buffaloes are more hustle than hype?

Sanders, Colorado's first-year coach, hopes the answer comes in their toughest two-week stretch of the season this week and next – at No. 11 Oregon Saturday and then home against No. 5 Southern California next week.

Here are five ways the No. 19 Buffaloes can get to 4-0 despite heading to Oregon as 21-point underdogs:

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If Shedeur Sanders does it again

Sanders’ son and quarterback has become the college version of his mentor, NFL quarterback legend Tom Brady. He’s so accurate, intelligent and steady that he seems to do exactly what is necessary in moments of trouble. Last week, he led his team back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Colorado State in double overtime, 43-35.

His dad even elected to start the first overtime on offense instead of defense, which is the opposite of what many teams choose. Other teams typically want their offense to go second so they know how many points they need based on what the other team's offense did.

“I wanted to put the darn ball in Shedeur’s hands,” Deion Sanders said. “Why? Because I know what he’s gonna do and it’s going to put pressure on (the opponent).”

The problem is Shedeur Sanders' protection. He’s been sacked 15 times this season. Overall, Colorado is tied for second nationally for most sacks given up (16).

The worst-case scenario for the Buffs is if he gets injured on one of those plays. Their No. 2 quarterback is a freshman with only two passing attempts so far.

If DC Charles Kelly can help nix Oregon's Bo Nix

The Buffs have been survivors on defense, getting by with turnovers and timely stops despite ranking 122th out of 130 teams nationally in yardage allowed per game with 460.3.

But now their next two foes rank No. 2 and No. 1 in the nation in scoring offense, averaging at least 58 points per game.

Both of those opponents also are led by NFL-caliber quarterbacks: Bo Nix of Oregon and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams of USC.

How do the Buffs answer all of that?

Charles Kelly is the man to ask. The Colorado defensive coordinator is a family friend of Nix and has known him since he was born. He also faced him when Nix was quarterback for Auburn and Kelly was a defensive assistant at Alabama. Their record against each other is 1-1, including a 48-45 win by Nix in 2019.

Kelly called Nix a “big challenge” but downplayed the notion that he has special insight that could give him an edge.

“You’ve got to be able to put the fire out when bad things happen,” Kelly said of his players Wednesday. “That’s just part of football. What I do like is they play extremely hard, and they never lose their composure. Even when things started going bad… sometimes it’s like in a basketball game. If somebody gets hot shooting, you’ve got to survive the run and you’ve got to play to win the game. I have not seen our guys lose composure this year.”

If they show depth behind Travis Hunter

Colorado is expected to play the next two games without one of their two best players – Travis Hunter, the receiver-cornerback who played more than 120 snaps in each of his first two games before being knocked out of action with a lacerated liver last week.

Deion Sanders said Colorado would replace him on defense via “cornerback by committee.”

That includes Carter Stoutmire, a freshman with three tackles this season. It might not include Cormani McClain, another freshman who joined Colorado as the nation’s top cornerback recruit but has yet to impress. Asked what is holding McClain back, Sanders gave a blunt response Tuesday:

“He is.”

Colorado head coach Deion Sanders on the set of ESPN's "College GameDay."
Colorado head coach Deion Sanders on the set of ESPN's "College GameDay."

If they get their running game going

For all the talent the Buffs have at running back, it hasn’t showed up in the statistics. The Buffs rank 127th in rushing yards per game with 61. Last week, when freshman Dylan Edward rushed for 57 yards against Colorado State, it was a season high for an individual CU running back.

Sanders still downplayed any concern about the team’s run-pass ratio, which is 60-40 pass-run.

“I don’t like us to run the ball just for the sake of running the ball and it’s a 2-yard loss or a 1-yard gain,” he said.

But it won’t hurt to take the load off of his son at quarterback. It also won’t hurt to get some more help in the backfield. Houston transfer Alton McCaskill has been cleared for contact this week after sitting out the 2022 season with a knee injury. Before the injury, he rushed for 961 yards and 16 touchdowns as the rookie of the year in the American Athletic Conference.

If the turnover throne stays busy

Colorado players who snatch turnovers from the other team are treated like kings. As a reward for their takeaways, they get to sit on the team’s “turnover throne” and soak up hosannas from their teammates on the sideline.

This week and next, they’ll want to keep that seat as warm as it’s been the previous three, when they racked up 10 takeaways, tied for best in the nation. Nix has completed 78% of his passes this year with no interceptions.

“It’s just another offense,” Colorado safety Trevor Woods said Wednesday. “We’re gonna try to get the ball like we always do.”

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Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Deion Sanders and Colorado football can upset Oregon in Week 4