Colorado Games at Inside Deion Sanders' First Month

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Colorado Games at Inside Deion Sanders’ First Month

BOULDER, Colo. — In the lead-up to Saturday’s game, an intriguing spectacle unfolded at Folsom Field, capturing the essence of a college football matchup like no other. Approximately 90 minutes before kickoff, Colorado assistant coach Tim Brewster embarked on a circuit around the stadium, pausing near the area where USC quarterback Caleb Williams was immersed in his pregame ritual.

Williams, the reigning 2022 Heisman Trophy winner and the highly touted prospective No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL draft, naturally drew a swarm of television cameras and smartphone-wielding spectators as he rhythmically moved to the beat of his music. However, the attention directed at him paled in comparison to the frenzied, paparazzi-like crowd gathered in front of Colorado’s tunnel, nestled in the northeast corner of the stadium.

The procession began with the arrival of prominent athletes: C.C. Sabathia, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, DeAndre Jordan, and Desean Jackson, followed by other notable figures frequently seen in the company of coach Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes, such as Terrell Owens and Warren Sapp. Next in line were the renowned rappers: DaBaby, who showcased some high-stepping moves as he and Sanders led the team onto the field, alongside Tobe Nwigwe and Lecrae. While there had been rumors of Jay-Z and LeBron James attending, they ultimately didn’t make an appearance.

The grand finale and the moment everyone had been eagerly anticipating was the entrance of Deion Sanders himself, flanked by a retinue of security personnel. Sanders has managed to captivate the public’s attention in a manner unprecedented for a first-year coach in the FBS. Just as he did during his illustrious career as a Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback, Sanders retained a firm grip on the spotlight, ensuring that the limelight never strayed too far away during this remarkable first month of his tenure.

“It’s transcended the realm of college football,” remarked Brewster, who had previously worked on Sanders’ coaching staff at Jackson State before joining Colorado. “Every game has become a full-blown event.

From the moment Colorado brought Sanders on board in December, he became a focal point of attention. The Buffaloes made headlines during the offseason with their audacious roster overhaul. However, as the season kicked off, Colorado and Sanders found themselves competing for the spotlight with more prominent brands, esteemed Hall of Fame coaches, and more recognizable star players, including Williams. With a demanding schedule and low win predictions, it appeared that Colorado might be overshadowed.

Yet, Sanders and the Buffaloes managed to capture the imagination of fans in the opening month of the season. Colorado consistently attracted sellout crowds, shattered ratings records, and even drew national pregame shows and high-profile celebrities to their campus for all three home games. They had tangible evidence of their success and won over believers. They introduced catchy slogans, with “Ain’t hard to find” being particularly fitting after such a prominent start to the season. Their gestures, such as the watch flex, also became popular.

A team that had struggled to a 1-11 record in 2022 suddenly won its first three games and finished September with a 3-2 record. Their offense scored more touchdowns (22) in that short span than it had managed in the entire previous season (21). Colorado introduced two rising stars to the national scene: cornerback-wide receiver Travis Hunter and quarterback Shedeur Sanders, who, as the son of Deion Sanders, made a significant impact among the elite Pac-12 quarterbacks.

“We’re genuinely thrilled by the attention that this wonderful, beautiful university is receiving,” Sanders commented after a closely contested 48-41 loss to USC, a game in which Colorado staged an impressive comeback after trailing 34-7. “I’m ecstatic and honored to be the coach here. I’m enthusiastic about highlighting the fantastic qualities we possess.

“I’m happy and grateful that we’re a source of hope, of determination and desire. That’s what’s resonating with people across the nation.”

Sanders then shifted the conversation to a recurring theme: the notion that many are rooting against him and his team due to their unconventional and bold approach. Sanders and the Buffaloes may divide opinions, but their captivating September performance ensured that all eyes were on them—and it’s likely that this attention won’t wane anytime soon.

Colorado coach Deion Sanders has listened to his haters. “I keep the receipts,” he said. Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Colorado Athletic Director Rick George’s decision to hire Deion Sanders had a far-reaching impact that extended beyond the realm of college football. Sanders, a charismatic figure with a massive following on various social media platforms, brought a new level of visibility and authenticity to the Buffaloes program.

The September schedule was designed to put Colorado in the spotlight. Facing off against formidable opponents like TCU, Nebraska, Oregon, and USC was a daunting challenge. Many experts predicted a 1-4 start for the Buffaloes, with a sole victory against Colorado State. These pessimistic forecasts didn’t go unnoticed within the Colorado camp.

However, the Buffaloes surprised everyone by upsetting TCU with a 45-42 victory. In the post-game press conference, Sanders confidently asked a reporter, “Do you believe now?” He added, “I keep the receipts,” underscoring his determination to prove doubters wrong.

The following week, Colorado dominated Nebraska with a convincing 36-14 win. Shedeur Sanders, Deion’s son and a player on the team, took issue with comments made by Nebraska coach Matt Rhule during the offseason. Shedeur expressed his lack of respect for Nebraska and their program, citing Rhule’s earlier disparaging remarks.

A seemingly less exciting matchup against Colorado State turned into a hot topic of discussion. Colorado State coach Jay Norvell’s comments about removing his hat and sunglasses before meeting with ESPN broadcasters sparked a reaction from Sanders. In response, Sanders distributed Prime 21 sunglasses from Blenders to his entire team and the ESPN hosts, fueling the excitement further.

The Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State generated significant buzz. ESPN’s “College GameDay” and Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” covered the event, attracting celebrities like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Lil Wayne to Boulder. Despite Colorado’s status as a heavy favorite, Colorado State controlled much of the game, and it ended in double overtime with a 43-35 victory for the Buffaloes. The late-night thriller set records as the most-watched late-night college football game on ESPN and the most-streamed game of all time.

Sanders, acknowledging the incredible ratings, highlighted the exposure that the Buffaloes were getting, emphasizing that “our kids are getting eyeballs.”

One notable aspect of Colorado’s newfound visibility was its diverse viewership. The Buffs attracted a more diverse group of viewers compared to typical college football games, with Black viewers making up a significant portion of the audience, as revealed by ESPN Research.

Even opposing teams and coaches took notice of Colorado’s rise to prominence. During a game against Oregon, Oregon’s coach Dan Lanning acknowledged the viewership and took a subtle jab at the Colorado hype machine, emphasizing the difference between chasing clicks and pursuing victories.

In summary, Deion Sanders’ presence at Colorado brought a surge of attention and excitement to the program, surpassing expectations and drawing a diverse and engaged viewership. The Buffaloes’ journey to relevance in college football became a compelling story that captivated fans and critics alike.

After a disheartening 42-6 loss, Sanders had limited words to offer, but it was clear that Lanning’s name had made its way onto Sanders’ figurative list.

“I don’t speak just for the sake of generating clicks, despite what some may believe,” Sanders asserted. “Yeah, I keep records.”

Colorado now exists in a realm quite distinct from its recent history.

Comparing last year’s matchup between the Buffaloes and No. 8 USC, a game that held the same ranking as USC did on Saturday, only 528,000 viewers tuned in, as reported by sportsmediawatch.com. This number paled in comparison to the audience for a previous game between Ball State and Toledo, despite the Trojans showcasing the Heisman front-runner, Williams.

However, this past Saturday marked a significant shift, with roughly 30,000 viewers watching the postgame news conference live on YouTube after Colorado’s loss to USC. By Monday morning, that number had surged to over 170,000. (The Fox TV ratings for the game had yet to be published at that point.)

And the signs suggest that interest is not waning anytime soon.

Debut games under new coaching staffs always carry an air of uncertainty, and Colorado’s inaugural outing under Sanders at TCU felt like an enigmatic theater performance.

Questions loomed: How would Hunter and Shedeur Sanders adapt to the FBS level? Could Colorado overcome a shortage of depth along the line of scrimmage? Would a team that mostly coalesced after spring practice find chemistry immediately?

The Buffaloes swiftly provided clues to their improvement, marching 73 yards on their opening drive for a touchdown and leading 17-14 at halftime. Even more impressively, they clawed back from three deficits against a TCU team that thrived in the second halves of games in 2022, scoring touchdowns on their final three drives before running out the clock. Sanders showcased his prowess with 510 passing yards, setting a team record in his Colorado debut. Hunter hauled in 11 receptions for 119 yards and snagged an interception near the goal line, an astonishing feat given his 129 snaps. Deion Sanders used the postgame platform to call out Colorado’s critics, quipping, “For real? Shedeur Sanders? From an HBCU? The one that played at Jackson last year?” However, both Shedeur and Hunter appeared unfazed by their immediate success.

“It’s the same recipe, the same preparation, the same routines we’ve been following,” Shedeur Sanders remarked. “It’s just magnified now, with more cameras and all. The only difference is the media, and everyone is shaping the headlines.”

At some point, it becomes futile to draw parallels between the 2023 Buffaloes and the team that managed just one win a year ago, as the continuity is minimal. Colorado doesn’t exemplify a team steadily progressing year after year but rather serves as an experiment in rebuilding a roster, featuring 53 incoming transfers and a total of 86 new players, in an era resembling free agency.

However, Colorado’s approach sets it apart from others, as evidenced by their 3-2 record. This team may not be poised to contend for a conference championship, but a bowl game berth appears well within reach.

“One thing I can say unequivocally and candidly: This is the worst we’re going to be. You better catch us now,” Sanders declared following the loss to Oregon.

Even though the Buffs are not currently an easy adversary, they were never in a position to triumph against USC last Saturday. Nonetheless, their second-half resurgence to make the final score more respectable is an encouraging testament to their resilience. Statistically, their progress is nothing short of remarkable. Looking back over 20 seasons, Colorado has never averaged more points per game in a season than they have thus far, with an impressive 34.2 points per game.

At his current pace, Shedeur Sanders, playing for his father, will surpass Colorado’s total passing yards from 2022 in his next game. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Last season, a group of six players collectively threw for a total of 2,075 yards. However, this year, things are looking quite different for the Colorado Buffaloes. Their star quarterback, Sanders, has already amassed an impressive 1,781 passing yards, and it’s anticipated that he’ll easily surpass last year’s total by the midway point of the regular season, particularly in the upcoming game against Arizona State. Remarkably, Sanders has already notched three games with over 350 passing yards, placing him second in the all-time list for a Colorado quarterback in a single season, just behind Koy Detmer’s record of five such games in 1996, as per ESPN Stats & Information research.

What’s even more intriguing is the transformation happening on the defensive side of the ball. Despite ranking last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing an average of 36.2 points per game, this year’s defense is holding opponents to nearly eight fewer points per game compared to the previous season. This remarkable improvement is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the team.

It’s important to note that these achievements have occurred in the absence of Hunter, the Buffaloes’ standout all-around player, who has been unavailable for the last two games. Hunter’s incredible performance in the first two games made him a national sensation, capturing the attention of sports fans across the country, including those who have witnessed similar feats in the past.

Even former Ohio State wide receiver and cornerback Chris Gamble, renowned as one of college football’s most impactful true two-way players, admitted that he had never seen someone perform at such a high level on both sides of the ball. Gamble, who played a pivotal role in Ohio State’s 2002 national championship win, recalled his own remarkable achievements, including 31 receptions, 35 punt returns, 11 kickoff returns, four interceptions, one pick-six, 24 tackles, and six pass breakups during that season. He acknowledged the toughness required to excel in such a dual role but also recognized that Hunter is exceptionally suited for the challenge.

Furthermore, Gamble highlighted the importance of having Coach Prime (likely referring to Deion Sanders, who is known as “Coach Prime”) as part of the coaching staff, emphasizing the role of the right coaching staff in Hunter’s success. Gamble expressed his ongoing support for Hunter, Coach Prime, and the Colorado team, vowing to follow their progress as if they were his own. He eagerly anticipates witnessing the impact Hunter will continue to make on the program, echoing the sentiments of fans across the nation who are captivated by the Buffaloes’ remarkable journey.

“If you can’t see what’s coming with CU football, you’ve lost your mind,” Sanders said. Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

What Lies Ahead: A Test of Sanders’ Ability to Capture the Nation’s Attention

As the Buffaloes continue their journey through Pac-12 play with a 0-2 record, the spotlight now shifts to Coach Deion Sanders and his ability to maintain the nation’s interest. Colorado might not face a ranked opponent until November 4th when the 15th-ranked Oregon State visits Folsom Field. While previous matchups against Oregon and USC were seen as measuring sticks, the upcoming games against Arizona State (on the road) and Stanford (at home) will provide a different kind of test. ASU and Stanford have struggled this season and are currently considered two of the weakest teams in the Pac-12. Anything less than two victories in these games could potentially harm Colorado’s standing even more than their earlier humbling defeat against Oregon.

Under Deion Sanders’ leadership, Colorado has shown improvement, but there are still areas that need attention. One glaring issue is the number of sacks allowed by the Buffaloes, with only Old Dominion allowing more in the nation—26 in total. The health and protection of quarterback Shedeur Sanders are of utmost importance. Additionally, Colorado has been outscored 90-28 in the first halves of their last three games. Shedeur Sanders noted that the second half against USC was the first time the offense truly clicked since the TCU game. The defense has experienced breakdowns, and the special teams have been inconsistent, as Deion Sanders himself pointed out.

We are yet to establish our identity,” Deion Sanders admitted. “I’ve challenged the team all week to define who we are. I don’t know our identity from week to week, and that’s something we need to figure out. We have consistency in practice, but we must translate that into our games. So, we are still searching.”

The return of Hunter, possibly as early as this week, holds the potential to enhance Colorado’s relevance in October. At a time when the boundaries of athletic abilities are being pushed, Hunter’s unique role and effectiveness add an intriguing dimension to the Colorado story. It’s worth noting that he plays for Deion Sanders, the only individual to have competed in both the Super Bowl and the World Series, making his return even more captivating for fans and observers alike.

Aside from his coach, Hunter is arguably one of the most prominent figures on Colorado’s campus. Prior to the USC game, Hunter confidently strolled through a crowd of celebrities, sporting a hoodie that boldly proclaimed “I’M HIM” on both sides. He graciously took photos with fans who had gathered near the Buffaloes’ bench, cementing his status as a campus celebrity.

While Deion Sanders, Hunter’s coach and a former NFL star, has been cautious in his praise for Shedeur, emphasizing his role as a coach rather than a father, he couldn’t help but express his admiration for Hunter. Sanders believes that the sophomore has a future even brighter than his own illustrious career.

Under Deion Sanders’ leadership, Colorado’s future is looking increasingly promising. While the Buffaloes may not be immediate contenders for a title in the highly competitive Pac-12, which is widely regarded as the nation’s premier and most competitive college football conference, their rapid improvement is undeniable. The coaching staff, entering its first full recruiting cycle, has already generated significant attention and visibility for the program.

Long after the USC game, prospective recruits donned Colorado uniforms and gathered at midfield for a memorable photo shoot, accompanied by blaring music that resonated throughout the stadium. It was a clear indication that the future of Colorado football had arrived and was brimming with potential.

Coach Sanders articulated this optimism, saying, “If you can’t see the bright future ahead for CU football, you’ve lost your perspective. You’re simply harboring negativity if you can’t recognize the remarkable progress and the exciting developments that will unfold over the coming months.

Reference

www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/38550749/inside-deion-sanders-first-month-games-colorado

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