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Could Colorado’s 2024 Season Decide the Future of College Football?

Credit: Rich Eisen Show on YouTube

On September 9, 2023 you could hear the excitement and optimism in Gus Johnson’s voice as he called FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, “The biggest story in College Football.”

The Colorado Buffaloes had defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 36-14. Lil Wayne was performing at pre-games in Boulder, Colorado. First Take and Undisputed were on location in the week leading up to the game.

It felt like college football was about to feel its latest seismic shift in a two year period where they seemed nonstop. 

The Model

The model that Head Coach and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders was putting to use was a radical use of the new NIL deal in college football, the transfer portal and social media.

After taking over before the 2023 season, Sanders brought in a record 72 new scholarships to Colorado, gutting the previous regime and instilling his own way of doing things. That’s not to say this was the wrong move – Colorado was abysmal before Sanders’ arrival. But, it was unlike anything seen before in college football recruiting.

Led by his NFL prospect son Shedeur at quarterback, expectations remained relatively low going into the season. That all changed when the Buffs beat defending Big 12 Champions and 2022 College Football Playoff finalists TCU in week one, and subsequently Nebraska. 

The hype peaked after the Nebraska game, though. The Buffs beat Colorado State in an overtime thriller filled with trash talk the next week, and things went off the rails from there. Sanders’ squad would go on to win just one more game the entire season, finishing 4-8.

Believe it or not, this is a three game improvement from Colorado’s 2022 season. The argument can be made that Prime Time is slowly working his magic in Boulder. However, the offseason has left little to support that claim. 

Colorado and NIL

In specific, Colorado is using the new NIL rules like no other team in the country.

Coach Sanders will advertise his program as a place to play on social media and market to players by showing off the perks of being a player in Sanders’ program.

At the height of football hype in Boulder, Sanders released his own line of sunglasses. Each member of the team got a pair.

This is an example of the kind of perks being advertised to Colorado players that allow them recruit some of the best players in the nation. The perks that come with NIL and just being a player under Deion Sanders are enough to attract great players, and a major reason for the hype around the program in 2023.

Recruiting Issues

Dylan Edwards – Credit: Breakshot Media on YouTube

Remember those 72 new scholarship players Colorado brought in before 2023? 61% of them are no longer Buffaloes in 2024, according to CBS Sports. Coach Sanders has already brought in a whole new host of recruits, with Colorado’s transfer class already running 38 players deep. 

While Colorado has brought in lots of new recruits, players that were meant to be pillars of the program for the future have left Boulder. Players like running back Dylan Edwards and defensive back Cormani Mcclain – gone. 

Football is a team sport, and teams need chemistry. While constant roster turnover can show improvement to a team on paper, it fails to create a culture of winning and reflects poorly on the coaches of Colorado for not sticking with players through dips in level of play.

While NIL has made players more valuable to programs, it has also made them more expendable. 

Social Media Beef

Perhaps the oddest part of Colorado’s offseason has been how frustration has boiled over on to social media. While social networking has been a recruiting tool for the Buffaloes, with Coach Sanders having an entire team of people churn out Colorado Football content, things have gone awry as unruly transfers have taken shots at the program. 

The most recent example of social media issues surrounding Colorado came from former Buffaloes Safety Xavier Smith, who told his story of leaving Colorado in an article for the Athletic. Sheduer Sanders did not take too kindly to this: 

Shedeur’s comments led to players and coaches around college football finding time to defend or attack Smith in some way, but the main concern for Colorado is that the storm of expectations is intensifying.

They are no longer America’s sweethearts like they were after beating TCU and Nebraska. Players are feeling deceived, and fans of College Football may feel the same way if things don’t change in 2024. 

The Future

Shedeur Sanders – Credit: Shedeur Sanders on YouTube

While smaller schools around the country may have been rooting for Colorado’s model to succeed in order to level the playing field in College Football, attitudes have flipped due to the danger of the transfer portal.

Coaches spend years recruiting players out of high school just to have them flip their commitment or transfer out after not getting enough playing time or NIL money. The pressure is on Sanders to show that his model can build a program and not be so volatile. 

Right now, despite being able to attract high profile recruits, it appears Sanders’ model is failing to build the culture that bigger programs instill through coaching and development of players in one program.

Colorado needs veterans. Not the kind that can be plucked through the transfer portal when NIL money is dangled in front of them, but the kind that develops through three or four years in a program.

While everything is changing in college football with NIL and conference realignment, culture is still king. If Deion Sanders can combine winning culture with the transfer portal, he may have his revolution after all. 

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