State of the Union: Is Deion Sanders creating the blueprint for how struggling college football programs can succeed in this new era?
What is happening in Boulder, Colorado? Colorado Buffaloes Head Coach Deion Sanders tried to tell us time and time again: “We comin.’” Now, as Coach Prime told his players before Saturday’s road game against No. 17 TCU, “We here.”
On Saturday, the Buffs went on to beat the Horned Frogs in a 45-42 shootout. The Buffs came into Fort Worth more than 20-point dogs. It was the best game I’ve seen Colorado play that I can remember—and my father went to Colorado, so I’ve seen many games in my life. Most have been double digit losses.
Oh, how a single offseason changes things. Last year, Colorado went 1-11 and was quite possibly the worst FBS team in the country; TCU played in the national championship game.
In December of 2022, Colorado brought on Sanders and signed a massive five-year $29 million deal. Athletic Director Rick George, who was seen in tears after the Buffs beat TCU, admitted at the time that Colorado did not have the money to pay Deion, but he’d make it work come hell or high water. In short order, the Buffs raised $28 million.
Sanders, hired from his role as head coach of the HBCU Jackson State University, told his new players at Colorado, “I’m comin,’” and “I’m bringing my own luggage with me, and it’s Louis”—in reference to the players he would be bringing with him to Colorado from Jackson State thanks to the transfer portal and other rules that have allowed more mobility for college football players.
Sanders was true to his word. His son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders who followed his father from Jackson State, broke the record for single game passing yards in his debut with the Buffs. He threw for 510 yards and four touchdowns with a completion percentage of over 80 percent. Travis Hunter, another Jackson State transfer, racked up 119 receiving yards at wide receiver and had crucial pass breakups and a diving interception at the goal line while playing cornerback. Yes, Hunter played both ways—over 100 snaps total. A two-way player making a huge impact at corner and wide receiver? Where have I heard this one before?
Get weekly emails in your inbox
In December 2022, he also told his new players that not all of them would be on the team come the start of the 2023-24 season. He kept his word here, too. Only ten players who were on scholarship before Sanders’ tenure are still on the team (the players who had scholarships and were cut were able to keep their academic scholarships). He added 57 transfers and walk ons and another 56 newcomers. In total, he’s minted 68 new scholarships. It’s the biggest roster overhaul in college football history.
So far, the gamble has paid off—though Sanders would probably never say it was a gamble but a guarantee. This Saturday, Colorado hosts Nebraska at Folsom Field in Boulder, the centennial anniversary of one of the most historic venues in all of college football. Tickets are going for hundreds if not thousands of dollars to see the Buffs take on their biggest rival in the Cornhuskers.
I have a lot of mixed emotions about college football. I appreciate player mobility and NIL—within reason, of course. With that, however, has come the predictable concentration that plagues many industries throughout our economy. My PAC-12 is dead. My California Golden Bears will soon be in the ACC (the thought of Cal being associated with anything “Atlantic” makes my skin crawl). Yet, Coach Prime might be showing us a formula for programs that have struggled in recent years to succeed in this new college football landscape. If his blueprint works, Sanders could be saving not just Colorado, but college football.