Deion Sanders aiming for quick turnaround at Colorado behind overhauled roster, dynamic coaching staff

After almost two decades of mediocrity, Colorado decided to go big and brought in Deion Sanders to head up their football program. Sanders has become one of the most famous coaches in the sport after leading Jackson State to a 23-3 record over the past two seasons, but now the NFL legend faces his most intriguing coaching challenge in a dying Boulder program.

In Carl Dorrell’s final season, Buffalo went 1–11, with the only win coming in the first game after Dorrell was fired. Losses averaged over 30 points per game. It was not only one of the worst programs in the Power Five rankings, but arguably the worst program overall in FBS football – it even became the first Power Five team to win the Tom Fornelli Trophy. Championship bottom 25 at the conclusion of the 2022 regular season.

Sanders is not interested in returning to the bottom of the sport in 2023. He was aggressive, bringing together a dynamic staff with great potential for growth. The list will look completely different: 46 additions to the list of 85 people, and perhaps more will be on the way.

The program switch at the Power Five level is very different from the FCS level, but all eyes will be on the Buffaloes as Sanders tries to work his magic. How many times have we said this since Rashaan Salam left Boulder?

Here’s what to watch as Sanders enters his first spring training season as Colorado head coach.

Off-season changes

Perhaps there is no team in college football that has changed its identity more than the Colorado Buffaloes. After three bleak years behind Dorrell, the Buffs hitched their van to Deion Sanders’ train and quickly became the talk of college football.

While Sanders has been in the spotlight since he was hired, it’s easy to overlook that he’s also built up an impressive workforce. Offensive coordinator Sean Lewis excelled as a coach at Kent State and was shortlisted for several positions with the Power Five during the off-season. Defense coordinator Charles Kelly held a similar position in Alabama. Tight Ends coach Tim Brewster is considered one of the best recruiters in football.

Coach Prime made it clear from the start that he planned to turn the roster around, telling the players during their first meeting that he was “bringing his own baggage.” He backed this up with 45 new additions in the 2023 cycle, including the #1 transfer class in the country. Seven of his transfers came with him from Jackson State, including former top recruit Travis Hunter.

Coaches have quickly found success with the transfer portal, but Colorado is a unique challenge. Outside of the 2020 pandemic season, the Buffaloes have achieved just one bowl game since 2007. Since switching to the Pac-12, Colorado has an overall record of 27–76 in conference games.

Names to know

  • Schedeur Sanders, defender: Sanders’ son became a legitimate superstar at the FCS level in just two seasons as a Jackson State signaller. Sanders completed 70.6% of his passes for 3,732 yards, 40 touchdowns and six interceptions, and added six more touchdowns on the ground. The rising junior should fit perfectly into offense coordinator Sean Lewis and immediately become one of the best passers in the Pac-12.
  • Travis Hunter, cornerback: Hunter was the #1 rookie in the country and arguably beat the hype in his first season. He made a couple of interceptions, interrupted 10 passes and even caught four touchdowns for the Jackson State team. Now he’s becoming the most famous recruit to ever walk the Colorado campus, and he has the potential to be the rare turnaround factor on both sides.
  • Taylor Upshaw, defender: A talent skill can go a long way in a year. Linear talent takes much longer. Colorado decided to bring Michigan’s super-senior Upshaw with him to help provide key leadership to the fledgling unit. Upshaw has been a key player on Michigan’s back-to-back Big Ten title teams, throwing 7.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks in the past two seasons. He should be the starting player of the first day for the Buffs.

Spring forecast

Few programs need a stronger spring schedule than Colorado. In 2022, more than half of the roster was not on campus, and more could change soon. Seven transfers from Jackson State will help set the baseline, but the holes are deep.

Offensively, Scheder Sanders should fit well into Lewis’s offense. Lewis coached under Dino Bubers at all three of his stops and led the lowly Kent State to the No. 2 overall offense in the MAC. Following Lewis’ departure, defenseman Collin Schley moved to UCLA. Sanders can do even more on this offense if Lewis can find the right pieces. South Florida’s two top wide receivers, Xavier Weaver and Jimmy Horn Jr., will help set the tone.

In defense, Kelly interrupted his work. The Buffaloes had the worst Power Five defense in the country, trailing over 509 yards per game. The only hitter on the roster, Josh Chandler-Semedo, is out of high school. Hunter and five-star rookie Cormany McClain should help close the gap, but in the Pac-12 there’s little chance of a passable lineup.

However, the ceiling for the Sanders team will be in the trenches. Nine of Colorado’s 26 transfers were offensive or defensive linemen, plus two others from junior college. All eyes will be on offensive line coach Bill O’Boyle, who will try to put together a tolerable unit.

Colorado bottomed 1–11 with one of the worst teams in program history in 2022. Sanders can’t afford to lose a workout as he hopes to bring the Buffalo back to prominence.


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