The number of kickoff returns, like this one by UA's Daniel Jenkins against Louisiana-Lafayette last season, may decrease this year because of rule changes to improve safety.

Rather than detail to his players their NCAA tournament chances, and how they might improve with a perfect week to end the Pac-12's regular season, Dana Altman defers to computers.

"Players, they're always on the Internet," the Oregon coach said Tuesday. "They see all that stuff.

"What we talk about is just the next game. We know if we don't win the next game and the next game after that, it's a very shaky proposition for us."

Oregon's next game will shift the Pac-12 landscape, one way or the other.

Their home game against Colorado might be as close to an elimination game as the league has had all season.

The winner will have the inside track toward finishing in the league's top four, receiving a bye in the Pac-12 tournament.

The loser will likely have to win four straight games at the Staples Center to take the tournament.

"The difference between three and four games is pretty obvious," Altman said.

Both the Ducks and Buffaloes sit at 11-5 in league play.

If CU wins Thursday, it would claim both regular-season contests against Oregon, giving it the tiebreaker regardless of what happens Saturday.

If Oregon wins, it would be a home win against six-win Utah.

That assumes, of course, that the heavily favored Arizona Wildcats (21-9, 12-5) win Sunday at Arizona State.

"The way I look at it is, we're playing Oregon on Thursday for basically the opportunity to hopefully get a bye in the conference tournament," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "It puts a lot of emphasis on the game Thursday."

Boyle called last week "the most important" of the year, too, but his team had mixed results

After winning 10 straight home games, the Buffaloes lost Thursday to middling Stanford by a whopping 24 points.

"We were awful on Thursday night," Boyle said. "That was obviously a deflating loss for our program, for our players, for our fans."

They recovered in time to upset Cal three days later, making Thursday's game in Eugene Ore., relevant again.

Oregon won by one at Oregon State on Sunday to stay in position for one of the top four spots. Four Ducks scored 13 or more points, led by Garret Sim's 25 points. Devoe Joseph and E.J. Singler, the team's two leading scorers, combined for 29 points against the Beavers.

The Ducks have won 20 games in back-to-back seasons for the third time in their history.

They'll need two more to secure the coveted Pac-12 bye.

"We just gotta win games," Altman said. "I think our guys know that. You just gotta find a way to win games.

"We got our work cut out for us this weekend. Fortunately, we're at home."