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Oct. 5: 'What If' Day For CU Fans

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Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and the mighty Ducks will take on Colorado on Oct. 5 in Boulder, where Helfrich served as offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008. Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and the mighty Ducks will take on Colorado on Oct. 5 in Boulder, where Helfrich served as offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008. Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.

Jordan Webb takes the snap, does a quarter turn to his right and places the ball high against Tony Jones’ chest without giving it away completely.

Everyone on defense takes the bait and converges on Jones, but Webb yanks the ball back and sprints around the right side for a 25-yard touchdown scamper.

The inside zone read has worked beautifully once again. The sold-out Folsom Field crowd goes wild on this cool November evening in 2012. Webb now has three touchdown runs and 125 rushing yards. Colorado leads Utah 41-10 and has all but punched its ticket to next week’s Pac-12 championship game…

Oh, the what-ifs.

What if 2008 had played out differently in Boulder?

What if the man behind one of the country’s most potent offenses today hadn’t decided to ditch the black and gold for the green and yellow?

What if Mark Helfrich had remained at Colorado?

Many consider the 39-year-old Helfrich, now Oregon’s head coach, to be one of college football’s greatest thinkers and innovators.

And who can blame those who do?

As the Ducks’ offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly from 2009 to 2012, Helfrich helped lead Oregon to a combined 46-7 record and four straight BCS bowl appearances, including the national championship game in 2010 against Auburn.

Helfrich’s recipe for success? A no-huddle attack, deception and speed — lots of speed.

That is the Helfrich blueprint, the same blueprint that he wanted to roll out in Boulder a few years ago.

“Yes, long term,” Helfrich said in October 2011 in response to a reporter who had asked him if the same no-huddle spread offense used by the Ducks is what he had envisioned for the Buffs. Helfrich was Colorado’s offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008. He said that moments after the Ducks demolished the Buffs, 45-2, at Folsom Field.

Helfrich served under Dan Hawkins, who failed to produce a winning season as Colorado’s coach from 2006 to 2010.

Many have wondered why Helfrich’s offensive system wasn’t implemented in full while he was at Colorado, but he certainly wasn’t about to talk specifics during that press conference in the Dal Ward Athletic Center.

“There’s a lot of reasons. I wasn’t here for very long once we were trying to do that and get that implemented. And there were just kind of other factors,” he said.

Perhaps Hawkins and Helfrich didn’t see eye to eye on which system should be used, but it’s anyone’s guess.

After the Buffs finished 5-7 in 2008, Helfrich bolted Boulder for Eugene to put his plan into action.

Needless to say, it’s worked. Last season, the Ducks’ 49.6 points a game and 315.2 rushing yards a game ranked second and third in the country, respectively. Without question, Oregon’s offense is one of the prettiest and most effective in college football.

Meanwhile, back in Boulder, the Buffs are reeling and searching for answers. Their last coach, Jon Embree, was fired after last season’s program-worst 1-11 record. They haven’t had a winning season in eight years. They haven’t won a bowl game in nine years. They haven’t won a conference title in a dozen years.

But don’t worry, Buffs fans. Helfrich will be back in Boulder on Oct. 15 — this time as the head coach of one of the most feared teams in all the land.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota likely will toss for a couple hundred yards. Don’t be surprised if running back De’Anthony Thomas runs for several scores.

And once the dust has settled and the Ducks likely have won by 40 points or more, Colorado fans will probably look to one another and say:

“What if…”