Yes, Deion Sanders’ first season at Colorado was a success and a failure
OPINION: The Buffaloes may have ended the season with six straight losses, but Coach Prime shook up the college football media landscape and improved the team's win-loss record over last year. What will next season bring?
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Say what you will about Deion Sanders’ first season at Colorado because you have to say something. It’s the law.
No matter which side you’re on, silence isn’t an option after he stirred up college football like no one ever. There are plenty of talking points to bolster whichever stance you take, whether Colorado’s four wins were an astounding success, or the eight losses represent an unmitigated failure.
The Buffaloes were 1-11 last year before Sanders rolled into town and gutted the roster. Las Vegas oddsmakers set the win total at 3.5 wins and one analyst said Sanders might have the nation’s worst roster. In the end, both predictions were close to accurate, though each seemed off when Colorado improved to 3-0 on Sept. 16
Those were the days — and late nights — as Sanders made Colorado the biggest story in sports, drawing monster ratings on TV and A-list celebrities to the stadium. The Buffs shocked the world in their season-opener by upsetting national runner-up TCU, which was favored to win by 17 points. Sanders asked skeptics afterward if they now believed. Seems like a long time ago.
Lately, doubters are asking if Sanders’ fans still believe.
The Buffs ended the season with six consecutive losses, as the spotlight moved from stars on the sidelines to weaknesses on the field. The offensive line couldn’t block unwanted phone calls, let alone the defenders who broke quarterback Shedeur Sanders’ back and crushed Colorado’s ground game. Coach Prime’s megawatt magnetism didn’t keep his team from ranking next-to-last among 130 FBS teams in sacks allowed (56) and dead-last in rushing yards per attempt (2.31).
The defense wasn’t much better, ranked 119th in points per game (34.83) and 126th in yards per game (453.3). Disciplined play was elusive as well, with Colorado committing more penalties (107) than every team except another 4-8 squad, New Mexico. Multiple mistakes didn’t hurt fellow Pac-12 members Oregon and Washington – national title contenders despite being ranked 120th and 125th in penalties – but Colorado’s miscues were coupled with coaching blunders in Sanders’ third full season leading a college program.
Sanders still believes, though, and continues to prophesy success ahead.
“We getting ready to start cooking,” Sanders said Saturday after the season-ending loss against Utah. “We getting ready to pick up that grocery and sure we do it right. You know what we need. Everybody knows what we need, so we’re gonna get it.”
Expecting him to say anything else is foolish.
But clearly the rebuild is harder than it appeared three weeks into the season. And not every top recruit can be sold on Boulder, Colorado, over traditional powerhouse programs in Alabama, Georgia and the Midwest. Players have newfound freedom and earning power in the age of transfers and NIL deals (name, image and likeness), which increases their options.
The competition for blue-chip talent led Sanders to sound hypocritical last week when a top recruit decommitted from Colorado. Sanders advocated for a rule change, saying “If you’re committed somewhere, you can’t go on any other visits.” He also lamented athletes looking for a bag wherever they sign: “We’re not an ATM,” Sanders said. “That’s not going to happen here.”
Two other recruits decommitted on back-to-back days since then, with Sanders complaining that rival coaches are telling players he won’t stay long at Colorado. He said he doesn’t engage in negative recruiting tactics, which probably puts him in the minority and makes one wonder how he flipped Travis Hunter from Florida State to Jackson State.
It’s fair to wonder if Sanders is in this for the long haul, whether that means remaining at Colorado after his sons leave in 2024, or continuing to coach football much longer at all. The media and other business interests will always be options, just as lucrative and way less demanding. College coaches leave for better jobs all the time and recruits are aware of that fact.
So, was Sanders’ first season a success? A failure?
How about both?
Sports is a zero-sum activity with clear winners and losers, but we’re free to use nuance in making assessments. Poor recruiting and another 4-8 record next season would give us more to consider. But all we have at the moment is his first year, taking a program from one win to four wins and dominating the mediascape.
Whatever else, it was hella interesting and sparked mad excitement before fizzling at the end.
I can’t wait for the encore.
Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron.
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